Privilege (1967) Poster


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an empty vessel is a puppet used by the men behind him
blanche-229 September 2006
Paul Jones is rock idol Steven Shorter in "Privilege," a 1967 film from Britain that also stars Jean Shrimpton. Shorter (Jones) has the minds and hearts of the British public with his Beatle-like appearance and music, so the people behind him use him to promote any agenda they have, be it pushing the consumption of apples, conformity, religion, you name it. He goes along with their current manipulation of the public until he meets a beautiful young artist (Shrimpton) who encourages him to delve deeper into his own feelings and desires.

The film has a great premise and lots of potential but for this viewer, it wasn't realized. It's very detached and meandering, and the acting is so "natural" as to be nonexistent. As Bette Davis once said, "Acting today is too natural. Real acting is larger than life." Well, what she was saying is that real acting has real energy - which the acting in "Privilege" lacks. There are some very good scenes, however, the ultimate being the outdoor rally which comes off as something from Hitler's Germany at the height of his political power. The rock versions of "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "Jerusalem" are great.

Jean Shrimpton at one time was a world-famous supermodel and a spectacular beauty. However, her lush hair, perfect bones, enormous luminous eyes and leggy stature could not help her - she would have easily flunked out of the Copacabana School of Acting. Paul Jones is actually a very good actor, and gets to show it in a couple of scenes, but he was directed to have that empty vessel syndrome - where you're such a blank that an audience can infuse anything they want into you. It's a good, true phenomenon - Greta Garbo was one such empty vessel - but it doesn't come off here.

For people who remember the British "mod" era, this will be of great interest.
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Compelling , Incisive , But Painfully Dated And Obvious
Theo Robertson19 May 2007
Both the strengths and the flaws of PRIVILEGE are easily spotted within the first five minutes of its running time . A voice over announces it's Britain in the near future and Stephen Shorter messianic rock god is thrown over a barrier , dragged into a cage and harassed by sadistic warders much to the disgust of his captivated female audience of all ages . The background music of discordant guitar feedback changes to one of a synth with a guitar rift and Stephen bursts into a song that will have you playing air guitar and tapping your toes . In short the music is by far the best thing about the movie

So what's wrong with the rest of the miss en scene ? Peter Watkins insists on directing in the Italian Neo-realist style which while very popular amongst European film makers in the late 1940s and early 1950s - And not to mention amongst European film critics in the 1960s - is a style of film making that didn't catch on in mainstream cinema . It worked fine in Watkin's previous work like CULLODEN and THE WAR GAME but these were precursors to what we now call " docudramas " , the only time we see a natural home for the Italian neo-realist style . It should also be mentioned that the shots of weeping teenage girls gnashing their teeth and running their hands through their hair could only have come from the 1960s and isn't there something laughably ridiculous having women in their late middle age drooling over a music god ? Do the words " Monty " and " Python " and " Sketch " spring to mind ?

As the story continues there's something of a lack of internal continuity to this scene . You see both the state and the church want to use the popularity and charisma of Shorter to control the population for their own end , in short to make popular music in general and Stephen Shorter in particular the new opiate of the masses . If that's the case then why have Shorter portray himself as the angry young man and rebel in the start of the film ? Wouldn't that give rebellious youth a few ideas that the state would prefer them not to have in the first place ? There are a few more ridiculous scenes in the movie with pride of place going to the monks recording Onward Christian Soldiers . You can't help thinking this movie influenced Palin , Cleese , Chapman and co to start up a comedy troupe

These criticisms are noticeable but shouldn't be used as a weapon to attack the film as being a schlock movie or meaningless . Let's not forget if Bush and Blair want to be seen doing good in the world then all they have to do is call a press conference and have Bob Geldof and Bono talk about AIDS , starving babies and third world debt and the link between Nuremberg rallies and present day rock concerts is presented very well , it's just that you're never entirely convinced an Illuminati would never need to pull strings in order to bring about fascist regimes or fundamentalist theocracies because these type of societies come about via more obvious methods

PRIVILEGE was a film that was supposed to make a star out of Paul Jones and put Watkins on the map as Britain's most important film director . Unfortunately due to the rather heavy handed story which suits the director's style it caused a lot of distributors in both Britain and the United States to either refuse to show it or confine it to very limited release which meant very few people saw it . It's also a film that very rarely crops up on network television either , to my knowledge Channel 4 last showed it 20 years ago which is a great pity because this deserves to be at least a cult classic whatever its flaws and for music fans who have bought Patti Smith's Easter album just wait till you hear Jones perform the original Set Me Free
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Much underrated
christopher-underwood30 July 2017
Still powerful after all these years. This was a film I saw back in the day and was always wanting to bring up in film or political discussions, except nobody else ever seemed to have seen it. Much underrated even now. Paul Jones is fine but maybe could have dropped that sulky, sour puss look some of the time. Jean Shrimpton doesn't have a lot to do except look pretty and she certainly manages that. Peter Watkins does a good job here, imagining a state in need of the support of its youngsters so it reaches down draws the current teen idol in. The church also gets involved and although, in reality, the Festival of Light would galvanise some worrying support over the next couple of years, it never really came to anything and I feel the film exaggerates the power of the church, certainly how it is today. Nevertheless the film remains a useful reminder on the power of suggestion and mass hysteria. On a side issue I was rather surprised to note that the clothes, particularly the girls' seemed very much pre 1967 but thought maybe I was wrong and then watched another 1967 film (The Sorcerers) and there the cameraman is almost climbing up the slinky mini skirts so not quite sure why Watkins' girls looked from previous time.
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Christ, you know it ain't easy...
Lejink8 January 2021
Following the success of his TV productions "Culloden" and controversial "The War Game", Peter Watkins turned to the subjects of fame, consumerism, the church and the pop music business for this ambitious black satire set in the near future. Recalling John Lennon's (in)famous remark about the Beatles being bigger than Jesus Christ, here we are presented with a young, handsome pop singer, Paul Jones, late of Manfred Mann, mass-marketed to the public as some sort of Messianic figure, but whose every move and utterance is controlled and scripted for him by his management team.

The film starts with a well-staged powerful scene demonstrating the Steven Shorter character's impact on his adulatory public in a staged concert situation to brooding, pounding music as he acts out a bizarre crime and punishment retribution scene driving his fans of mostly young women into a frenzy of excitement. It seems that this young man is the most successful star the entertainment industry has ever known and we see him used to advertise the most banal of products. With seemingly no artistic input to his work, here we have a man of the people set apart from society, with no inner life of his own. He has no friends or confidantes, not even his band mates, manager or record producer until he runs into a beautiful young female artist, played by Jean Shrimpton, top model of the time, with whom he starts a tenuous human connection. Can she help him find himself, even as he's propelled into a ludicrous business enterprise promoting, of all things, religion which sees a change in his material from the dark power of his recent rebellious-sounding music to rock versions of "Onward Christian Shoulders" and "Jerusalem"?

Rather like young Steve himself, the film ultimately can't bear the various loads piled upon it. I found the tie-in with the church just too ridiculous and obvious to accept, especially as Lennon had already effectively enunciated its fast-fading influence in society. It works slightly better as an exposé of the shallowness of fame and the machinations of moneyed interests in the music industry but ultimately this too lacks incisive focus.

The set-piece musical scenes are well-staged, the opening scene-setter I've already mentioned but particularly Shorter's coming-out as a Christian at a major outdoor concert, deliberately staged as a neo-Nazi type event, with his blackshirted group wearing Union Jack armbands, giving Nazi salutes in a setting reminiscent of Leni Reifenstahl's work in Germany before the war. However, it's all a bit heavy-handed and slow-moving, with too many static scenes over-staying their welcome.

Jones and Shrilmpton are undoubtedly pretty faces but there's little spark between them and their limited acting experience and indeed ability is obvious throughout. One wonders if the more charismatic Mick Jagger, who I readily appreciate is no Olivier in the acting stakes, or Julie Christie might have worked better in the lead roles, while no one else in the cast really steps out of the background to act as a makeweight for their deficiencies, where again you could imagine someone like Dirk Bogarde, for one, perhaps giving more heft to the role of the profiteering financier pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Still, the film doesn't lack ambition, the musical soundtrack by Mike Leander is as interesting as it is sometimes odd (especially the Byrds-like take on "Jerusalem") and the crowd-scenes exemplify Watkins' already-acknowledged skill in these. Ultimately though, it was hard to really care for "our Steve" in a film which couldn't quite bear the cross it had made for its own back.
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Lost Classic ... and rock music at its best
A_Different_Drummer6 November 2013
Take a moment and think kind thoughts about the Baby Boomers. I am asking you to do this mainly because no one else on the planet is doing this, and most people tend to blame them for everything. One thing you cannot blame them for is rock, and what puzzles me is that even current day self-proclaimed rockers draw a blank when you mention this film. Other reviewers have covered the basics. A futuristic film exploring the hypothetical somewhat Orwellian scenario of a society that worships its media stars (check) to the point of lunacy (check) and ultimately takes guidance and instruction from these stars because they become true authoritarian figures (half-check, give us another few years to get to that point). Very McLuhan-esqe. Marshall McLuhan believed that media shaped culture moreso than any other influence and this film speaks to that. But the real secret of the movie is the music. IT WAS GREAT. The theme "Privilege" has the kind of repetitive pacing that you could only match in the theme to Tommy (the rock opera). The soundtrack for this film was the first film soundtrack I ever purchased. Really, a lost classic.
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Interesting and important
tomgillespie200213 February 2011
Made on the cusp of 'swinging' London/Britain, this rather prescient story of the states use of popular culture as a form of mass control (in this instance, pop music), and the abuse of a single human in place of controlling everyone else of the same age group, is a bizarrely forgotten piece of British cinema. Even the presence of two well-known figures of the time, did not seem to help this piece; these being Paul Jones (famous as front man for pop group Manfred Mann), and Jean Shrimpton, who is said to have been the world's first supermodel.

Steven Shorter (Paul Jones), is "the most dangerously loved entertainer in the world". Arriving back to the UK, after a successful tour of America, it is decided, by the collection of his entourage, that they need to change Steven's image from anguished rebel (who in the opening song, is beaten by prison guards, locked in a cage, and pleading to his hysterical fans to set him free), to a born-again Christian. That is to repent all of his sins to his adoring fans, changing their attitudes, making them fit for society. This culminates in a Riefenstahl-like rally.

Shorter walks through the film in a child-like way, petulantly giving short answers, and looking to the floor. In public and in photo shoots, he visibly winces, screwing his face up, as if in severe distress or pain. He is utterly and helplessly controlled. A puppet used by the state; by the Christian church. Vanessa Ritchie (Shrimpton), is commissioned to paint a portrait of Steven. So begins a dialogue between the characters, as Vanessa attempts to break through the closed Steven, and to teach him that there is more to the world, he doesn't have to be a prisoner. The portrait we see later (we are unaware if the piece is completed) is haunting. Like Jones' character it is not complete, the surface of the canvas marked but not whole.

Directed by British filmmaker Peter Watkins, it was a progression of his experiments mixing documentary and drama. Whilst working for the BBC, Watkins made such a realistically, and horrific 'docudrama' about a possible nuclear attack on Britain, and the visceral effects of this, that The War Game (1965) was immediately deemed too dangerous and horrible a programme that it was not shown until 1985. Later, in 1971, Watkins released the American-set Punishment Park, which again plays with the conventions of both dramatic and documentary cinema, to tell of a not-too-distant dystopian future, where subversives are rounded up in detention camps, and made to either surrender or to undergo major physical and mental forms of torture in the heat of the desert. Watkins is quite often (particularly his earlier films) prescient in the political landscape of the western world. Punishment Park, could be seen to mirror recent events in our history, Guantanamo Bay 'detention centre' springs to mind. Many would have to make this similar decision.

Watkins has subsequently blurred line of drama and documentary further. His film La Commune (1999), about a collective of radicals during the Franco-Prussian war, Watkins has the film crew interviewing the 'character's'. Whilst Privilege is not a perfect movie, it certainly has it's charms. The film is also very funny at moments. This is provided by the eccentric cast of the pop-machine entourage. British cinema was receiving a lot of international attention, as the beginning of the 'summer of love' made the UK a focal point for fashion and popular culture. Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up (1966), and Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 (also 1966), only perpetuated the 'Cool-Britannia' philosophy of the time. I believe Privilege should have its place along with these, and other British/European films of the time, and remembered for being a wildly interesting, and important British film - both sociologically and politically.
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We will conform!
Captain_Couth14 October 2003
Privilege was Peter Watkins' feature length debut. Using the faux documentary style, Watkins' follows a year in the life of a pop star. Stephen Shorter, Britian's most beloved pop icon. Shorter's handlers pimp him out to the highest bidder. What's so scary about this movie is how it's still relevant, even in today's society. One of my favorite scenes in this movie is when the Church of England uses Shorter's services to try and lure more converts. Utilizing a set that's eerily reminded me of a large Nazi youth rally (crosses replacing swastikas) The crowd is led by a young charismatic priest (who speeches commands an audience like Hitler)he leads the audience chanting "We will conform".

Critics called this movie heavy handed and others called it paranoid. I say it's excellent and Mr. Watkins did a fantastic job directing this film. It's too bad this movie's virtually impossible to find. Oh well, if you ever happen to come across it don't even stop and pause. Watch it!

Highly recommended.

Factoid: A movie and audio clip from this movie can be found on the Big Audio Dynamite song and video "Just Play The Music"
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Interesting, but flawed, obscurity
gortx28 June 1999
Fascinating, baffling, confused and prescient -- sometimes all within the same scene. A true artifact of the late 60's. Unfortunately, because it was released by Universal Studios (often referred to as "The Movie Studio that hates Movies"), PRIVILEGE has been near impossible to see for decades. Still, never released on home video (shocking). Fortunately, the American Cinemateque just showed the ONLY existing print in the world. It was pretty ratty, with a constant hiss on the soundtrack, but at least it was shown. The idea of a pop singer turning into a national icon that transcends his commercial status is even more relevant today than in '67. The one major flaw of the film is Paul Jones' performance as the Singer Steve. He's just too dull and boring to be believed as the greatest Rock Star of All Time. See it if you can. And write those letters to Universal Studios and hope this gets released on video, soon.
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Flawed but Worthy Warning
dglink1 April 2014
Set in Britain's near future, Peter Watkins's "Privilege" puts forth a fascinating premise, despite the limitations of both budget and the talent of its leads. Steven Shorter is a charismatic pop star with mesmerizing influence over his young impressionable audiences. His stage performances use violence and brutality to cast him as society's victim, and, with powerful background music, he whips devotees, especially female, into a frenzy. The emotional impact is not unlike the Beatles, who coincidentally were at their peak in 1967, when the film was made. Shorter's opportunistic handlers, however, want to influence the youth of Britain with his cooperation, and, in an unholy alliance with the established church, undertake a campaign to promote conformity and traditional values. However, the campaign's launch coincides with Shorter's awakening desire to break free of his burdensome role and become an individual. In this struggle, he is encouraged by the young artist who is painting his portrait.

The original songs by Mike Leander and rock versions of "Jerusalem" and "Onward Christian Soldiers" are catchy and provide the movie's best moments. Unfortunately, the film's stars do not match Watkins's ambitions. Paul Jones lacks a charismatic presence and fails to convince that he could move millions with his voice and image. Although Jones is only adequate as a dramatic actor, the former lead singer of the group Manfred Mann manages the stage sequences quite well. However, his non-singing dramatics lack depth and are largely expressionless. Although Jean Shrimpton is astonishingly beautiful as Vanessa Ritchie, the portrait artist, her talents as an actress are woefully lacking. Despite success as a fashion model, her lackluster performance herein was likely one reason she has only two film credits.

In support of the two leads, Shorter's handlers and the clergy are convincing, and the film has a fascination that transcends its flaws, which include lazy overuse of narration. The manipulation of religion for political ends is as relevant now as in the 1960's, and combining religious faith with popular music and canny advertising is still a potent mix. Burning crosses, hysteria-induced "miracles," screaming young women with tear-stained cheeks, pounding hymns and anthems, sinister-looking clergymen, police brutality: "Privilege" seems to have been drawn from "Triumph of the Will" and, in turn, later inspired "Pink Floyd, The Wall." An often powerful warning about the evils of mixing church and state, restricting individual rights, and following demigods, "Privilege" remains a flawed work that is definitely worth a look.
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Interesting, but not Watkins at his best.
garethcrook8 December 2020
Steven Shorter (Paul Jones) is a pop star. Adored by the masses. Think Beatlemania hysteria and you're on the right track. There's no 'I wanna hold your hand' hope here though. This is "Britain, in the near future" with Shorter peddling an act born of desperation, a sadistic conduit for violence as he's beaten up by the rozzers on stage for the gratification of a baying audience. This we're informed by the narrator, is necessary to give the population a release of tension, to allow the troublesome youth to vent anger in a controlled manor, tearing up concert halls and keeping them off the streets. It's another pseudo doc from Peter Watkins, but this one seems to have more of a dark comic satirical feel than films like Punishment Park or The War Game. Perhaps because the unpleasant nature of it is more nuanced, the whole thing wrapped up in a troubling farce. Is it the eerie commentary (that reminded me of Philip Stone in The Shining), the gaudy fake chintz of 60s Britain, or the fact that Shorter is clearly a mere puppet, a prop, miserable in his fame that makes this captivatingly uncomfortable. Steve is a vehicle to sedate the masses and keep them consuming. Used to sell all sorts. From apples to a moral code. Always with a swinging 60s swagger. It's this that gives it the most comedic value, no where more than a banging version of 'Onward Christian Soldiers' performed by a band of hip sandal wearing monks sanctioned by a bunch of priests looking to improve the church's brand before "The only people going to church are the clergy". It's an odd balance of offbeat humour and naziesque levels of patriot control. Watkins is an interesting director specialising in this style blurring the lines between fiction and a horrifying yet plausible fact. I'm not sure I like this as much as his other films, it seems to labour just a little too much, but it's compelling none the less.
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Ahead of its time and dated
brefane28 July 2008
Ambitious, flawed, and influential mockumentary helmed by provocative director Peter Watkins who made the superior War Game(65) and Punishemnt Park(70). Manfred Mann lead singer Paul Jones stars as Steven Shorter(SS),a pop star who is the creation of church and state. It seems to have been an influence on Wild in the Streets and The Apple as well as Tommy and A Clockwork Orange. Jones' gives an effectively introverted, naturalistic performance that was subject to unfairly harsh criticism when the film was released. The film is most compelling when Jones is on screen. The other characters are not interesting, and the narration is overly emphatic. Worthwhile, if flawed. Privilege has an interesting theme and premise that along with several arresting scenes make it worthwhile. Unfortunately, the recent DVD release does not present the film in widescreen.
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Patti must have liked it, but it didn't do much for me
Twins655 September 2012
I basically stumbled into watching (most of) this movie through an old record album I recently revisited. Yup, I pulled out my well-worn copy of Patti Smith's "Easter", and the rockin' lead off cut on side 2 is "Privilege (Set Me Free)". Now I always thought this was another Patti original, but noticed for the first time it wasn't. That led me to click the Wikepedia link on the song title, which in turn led to the song being the focal point of a sixties movie I'd never heard of.

Well, thanks to the wonderment of DVD's and libraries, I was able to order a copy through my local reading establishment. Good thing, too, as I doubt my local Blockbuster (if it's still open) is stocking this next to all those copies of "The Hunger Games".

Well, having read a bit about the movie's subject matter, I popped Privilege into my DVD player. It worked for me for about 25 minutes, as I enjoyed the movie version performance of the aforementioned song, but it seemed like a long downhill slog from there. I'm not going to get into the plot and/or meaning, as others here have both defended its merit and trashed its nonsense quite ably.

Let me just say that it's a unique movie, as it gets the Christopher Guest "mocumentary" treatment on an alternate universe semi-futuristic rock and roll story that just doesn't quite seem to work. Paul Jones seemed to do OK as the lead (even if he wasn't a "trained" actor), and Jean Shrimpton sure is nice to look at, but of course also not being a real actor, her part didn't seem too believable.

You're going to have to really work to see this movie in 2012, as it won't be easy to find, or to make it all the way through a viewing. Just make sure you know that going in if you attempt the challenge of seeing Privilege.
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ignored at the time of its release, but way ahead in what it says
grumpy-31 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
this film came out in the late sixties and pretty much died on its release, i saw it and did not like it that much, nor did most of the critics. having just watched the very excellent DVD of it i must say i was wrong about the film. it stands up very well and what is most striking is how prophetic it was. the mixture of celebrity and politics predicted the way the two have now become so intertwined and banal that all life is now show business. made in 1967 it makes the point that there is no difference in the main political parties, so they become one totalitarian party, an elected dictatorship. it predicts virtually the rise of the reality TV phenomena we now have, the emptiness of politics and government policy, the nanny state, the surveillance culture that we now have to endure. paul jones gives a restrained and emotional performance. this is a film that will make you think about life and what it has become in a facile and superficial world, where appearance is important, where conformity and sheep mentality is becoming the norm. peter watkins the filmmaker with this film and his punishment park, another film which unbelievably is more relevant today than when it was made over 30 years ago, seems to have known where the world was going whilst the rest of us just partied on without a care. if only his films had reached a mass market, maybe things would have turned out a bit different, who knows
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George Orwell Meets Sgt. Pepper
michaeldukey20005 October 2008
As first features go this is dynamite and a great piece of cinema history representing commercial flops that refuse to die and slowly gain staunch cult popularity. Fortunately The Sundance Channel has picked this up and hopefully it's reputation will grow. It's really the first feature about the ugly side of the music business and with a thinking mans vile of sci-fi brew tinged with British black humor it's point is probably easier to convey than it was back then since we have seen so many media manufactured teen stars selling everything from, happy meals and fashions to virginity. Patti Smith covered the melody to the song Set Me Free on her Easter album but she changed most of the words to make it seem more contemporary. It's pure horror show gold. If you're looking for action look elsewhere but if you want the closest thing to the Anti version of Hard Days Night dive in. Control the little people.
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Sadly neglected prime slice of English film-making
vlvetmorning988 June 2005
Peter Watkins-directed mockumentary about a pop star whose fame is engineered by the government. Paul Jones gives a wonderful performance as Steven Shorter, possibly the most famous man in Great Britain. We watch his daily exploits as he's followed by a documentary crew that also narrates. Although Shorter is clearly in the vein of a "mod" from the mid-1960's, the film has aged quite well. The original songs are great ("Privilege(Set Me Free)" was covered by Patti Smith in 1978) and the scenes of Shorter leading a fascist-like rally are still eerie (perhaps an influence on the film PINK FLOYD THE WALL?). Another great scene deals with Shorter being conscripted into writing a Catholic rock song, which anticipates how the organized Christianity of today tries to use rock as a way of converting people. Definitely worth watching. Hopefully it will finally get a proper home video release.
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Privilege, after all those years
a-h-guicherit10 June 2019
I first saw this picture In 1967 in a cinema. I was really impressed and never forgot since. This year I happened to find it's dvd and found out it had not lost it's power. I still like this film very much. At first I thought the performance of Paul Jones lacked power, but it in all it's just good. A fine film and still very good after all those years.
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Interesting take on the use of celebrity to enforce conformity
MJBlazin25 September 1999
I wish this film was available, but I remember several images though it's been almost 30 years since I saw it on a late TV movie. One was the scene of monks in robes jamming to an updated version of "Onward Christian Soldiers." A second was the huge concert in the arena where the archbishop blessed the flags, surrounded by torches (purposely copying Nazi rites). The last were the chants of tens of thousands "I will conform!" with upheld candles, like lighters at a concert encore.
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Before Britney, there was Steve.
gein10 December 2001
Privilege is one of those `lost' rarely screened masterpieces that always seem to end up on some critic's top-ten list, but you almost never know anyone who has seen the film. It is no wonder no one has seen this film – it has never been available on video (except for crummy bootlegs), it's not shown on television any longer and revival theatres have long since forgotten about it. Why?

Privilege has much more pertinence now than it did back in 1967. Paul Jones (lead singer of Manfred Mann) plays Steve Shorter, a British manufactured rock-n-roll icon, who is shaped and molded into a tool used to sell every product imaginable. In one humorous moment, the British Apple Growers Association, having harvested far too many apples to be sold, hire Steve to do a commercial convincing each British person to eat six apples a day.

To the nation, Steve is a god. A symbol of everything that is pure and good. Steve can do no wrong. Unfortunately, Steve has no mind of his own and is easily led from concert-to-concert, commercial-to-commercial and meeting-to-meeting by his conniving, greedy managers. Everyone wants a piece of Steve. The mere mention of a product from Steve's lips will sway the entire nation's fashion sense – if Steve wears black, the whole country wears black. His managers know this and there is no organization they will not sell him out to.

`The Church', in an act to attract more young members into its congregation, hires Steve to convince the nation's youth to become God-fearing Christians. But, this does not sit well with Steve who is becoming more cognizant of his surroundings through the help of a young artist played by sixties supermodel, Jean Shrimpton.

Privilege, even though rarely shown, is a surreal motion picture every film fanatic and music historian should seek out. With teeny-bop stars like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore, Jessica Simpson and NSYNC sprouting up like so many invasive weeds, Privilege is very worthy of a second look. Hurry, please, before it is too late.
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Expose of media manipulation behind the worlds most beloved performer.
judex-114 September 2003
Peter Watkins "Privelege" pretends to be a documentary about a fictional rock star, "Steven Shorter". Paul Jones (singer for Manfred Mann in the early, "Doo Wah Diddy"/"Quinn The Eskimo" days), struggles to deal with his personal problems, amidst violent live shows,and assorted political conspiracies that attempt to manipulate and control him. Some pretty reasonable music, (the christian rock group made up of young robed monks, is an odd highlight!), including a visually stunning climactic performance of "Jerusalem", will make you wonder why this film isn't better known in America. Hard to find, but worth the search.
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Inspired by and Inspired...
potshotk1 July 2003
As mentioned by another user, this film was clearly inspired by the b&w short subject, "Lonely Boy," including several scenes (such as the press conference) where entire snatches of dialogue from the short were integrated into the script.

The songs were quite memorable, including, as I recall, two versions of the title theme ("It's an honor to see me, an honor to free me, an honor to have that privilege...") as well as rocked up versions of "Onward, Christian Soldiers!" and "Jerusalem." And the climatic night time concert sequence was quite compelling -- and very Nuremburg Rally.

Finally, this rather intellectual British art film was basically remade in '68 in the dumbed down American film, "Wild in the Streets".
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time ahead... and now so much outdated
maxi133 June 2021
This movie reminds me on a conversation with my father in the early 90s. I was a teenager and a huge fan of Nirvana and he, an old hippy in his 40s was not able to understand whats going on when we both together watched MTV for some minutes. He grew up in a world in which his parents generation were Nazis, he was extraordinary sensitive about this subject, but so was i, maybe BECAUSE of that music i was hearing. That time i went to 3 concerts a week, and i have to admit that i sometimes haven't felt well when the audience claped as one big mass and idolized those people on the stage. This experience must have had the director of this movie, who was born during the 2nd WW and who was 10 when the Nazi regime was finally defeated, but his position was even in the late 60s, when this film came out, that of an old man and absolutely not very progressive. Even the style of "mockumetary" wasnt something which haven't other people at that time have done already. What's the positive thing about using the style of an Mockumentary? You get closer to the people, it feels more real and not so much planed, but this film failed absolutely in that way. You never feel that this persons are real, they are super-flat and talking just those 2-3 sentences which are really needed to tell this even extraordinary flat story, which has just 4 or 5 waypoints they had to reach. If you have read 5-6 sentences about the plot you have already heard everything which you will see in this movie. There is nothing more! There is no elaborated futuristic world, no deeper insights in the fascist society of this "future", no fundamental critic on the media or society. Some have written here that the main-actor is somewhat flat and hasnt done his work that well, but i have to defend him. He is playing a naive and empty character, in shyness and confusion, and he is doing that quite well, but such a character is somewhat boring and this role doesn't give him more to dig out of it. His, but all other characters in the film as well, are nothing more than cardboard figures. The film has nothing to offer to analyse how a society can drift into a fascist system, nothing critical about society or media, it's just a determination that artists can be used in totalitarian systems. Even rockstars! But yes?! So what?! Thats nothing new that artists in such systems were used and that will happen also in the future, but thats not such a great idea anymore. You are right, when you say that this film was it's time ahead. For example in 2000s there were some quite hard and roaring heavy metal bands which had lyrics in the name of Jesus, which was quite absurd and some people made fun out of it, but it got that big that it was on the radar of music media. And yes, a lot of bands sold their music for comercials, even underground bands, which i thought would be much more integer to their ideas. And yes, there were bands, which were not more than entertainers and market products, but the strange thing is also, that rock music lost also it's importance for the youth of today, maybe exactly because of all that. Loosing its importance is quite obvious: MTV is gone, because noone wants to sea music clips anymore and the youth of today is idolizing YouTube-"Stars", while old people like me are going to festivals which have a line-up just if the 2000s were never gone. With all that, this film lost it's last justification to be still relevant for today. And the music? There are maybe 2 songs with the typical 60s-70s "La la La", which is far away from being that good that popular music of that time, sorry! It's good enough for the movie, to be believable that this singer has some fans, but really not that good that you want to hear it again after watching the movie. I am afraid you all have this film seen decades ago and have just good memories because of it, but time has changed and this film is just a somewhat bad film in TV quality. Go and watch "The Wave" (1981) instead, which is also cheap made, but this one has even today something to enrichen you, this one is super-out-dated and boring. Even a mainstream blockbuster like "Tribute of Panem" has more subversive criticism than this one, and thats really no compliment!
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It's only rock 'n' roll
Mr Roboto5 April 2002
Vivid, effective mockumentary about a wildly popular rock star whom the Powers that Be are trying to turn into a tool of the state. As a political document, PRIVILEGE is about as subtle as a brick thrown through a window, but it's still very well-made and will likely stick in your memory. Visually compelling, with a pretty good soundtrack. It's also a rare opportunity to see '60s fashion plate Jean Shrimpton on the big screen.
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Decent movie that is worth seeking out
ebsmooth16 December 2005
I was lucky enough to find this movie on Ebay, after hearing good things about it.Similar to other comments, I definitely can see how the main character Steven Shorter can be compared with some of today's pop stars.Originally I read that this film is a lot like the 'A Clockwork Orange', but with the exception of the whole conformity thing I didn't see it.It's a good movie in its own right, though. The story is a interesting concept on how you could use a superstar singer to exploit products and ideals.The guy from Manfred Mann(Paul Jones) plays the lead, and even though he's not that great, he's not that bad either.The way the religious folks were kind of betrayed like Nazis wouldn't play too well today, but it was effective.The stunning visuals during the musical performances and the music is very good, but forget about a finding a soundtrack.Patti Smith does a cool version of 'Set me Free'.Maybe one day they'll release this on DVD.
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Lessons from 1960's Pop Culture to ponder today
fastfilmhh21 October 2008
The formerly preposterously rare (two extant prints in the universe) 1967 film "Privilege" has just been digitally restored in its original color and is now available on any DVD sales site.

This matters for several reasons. Firstly, because the film was as prescient as many consider Nostradamus to have been. Its plot, considered so far-fetched at the time that the film was oft labeled science fiction, centers around an increasingly totalitarian government in a first world country that attempts social engineering at all levels, including utilization of pop culture. It's hit on the formula to control youthful rebellion and dissent in general by investing a young pop idol with state-sponsored power (more in a minute) as centerpiece of national obsession. EVERYONE cares about this particular pop idol and what happens to him every week, since his act has been designed to attract universal sympathy and diffuse caring about one's self and one's own troubles. I'll not reveal how because the strange design of the first tour of his that viewers see is a revelation within itself.

What he says, what products he endorses, and how he steers the populace into state-sponsored trends and philosophies is a fait accompli in the film. The government notes a surplus of apple crops, idol Steven is immediately shown eating lots of apples, as now will the general populace. Got religion? Steven now does, and you will too. It always works. You buy what he wears, what he endorses. But what sort of personality would go along with being such a figurehead? And what sort of actor could even pull this messianic stardom off realistically, since the film is made in documentary style? Luckily, the answers are pretty good. The plot centers on the gradual breakdown of this personality, as no one but an insane megalomaniac could keep this up forever, his world of his every action micro-managed by others and every "creative" output predetermined for him. (Not in 2008!) This person hired to quell all rebellion eventually starts to rebel against the state-sponsored "love." And the actor hired to be both this convincing a pop star and soul tormented practically to torpor was an actual rockgod, Paul Jones, the tall, good-looking blond singer of the Manfred Mann group of the mid-60's, if you recall the hearty voice on classic Brit oldies "Do Wah Diddy" and "Pretty Flamingo." "Privilege"'s director Peter Watkins, known for terrifying all of Britain with the first realistic, ultra-violent post nuclear apocalypse film "The War Game," knew how important casting is, despite trade-offs. Paul Jones was of the minute modern, and could convey this fantastical idea of Orwellian government control through a pop star by being a credible pop star known at the time. His co-star, 1960's icon Jean Shrimpton playing the instigation of the star's rebellion, was the most beautiful and famous model ever, at that particular moment in history. The trade-off was you believed them in their roles, even if you didn't believe them as trained actors.

It's not so much that they can't act, more that both leads were directed to be underplayed a la Garbo: you put your own reflections of the proceedings on their visages, in contrast to the freneticism of Steven's fans and the steely controlling of his handlers. Suffice it to say, their roles and performances well hold up today: they are who they play, and they look perfect.

Jones is actually a compelling performer and great vocalist, singing real (as opposed to "movie") rock songs in this film. Pretty good rock songs too: one was covered 25 years later by Patti Smith and Paula Pierce and The Pandoras, which then sounded as modern as ever. Punk legends Chainsaw based their one ballad on the opening scene of "Privilege." And Shrimpton!* Even with purportedly wooden acting, she remains a focus you cannot take your eyes off of. You instantly understand her visual domination of the first half of the 1960's and her incontrovertible allure.

In fact it all holds up pretty well today, and the film appears far more tellingly intelligent than it did when it was released and reviled enough to force its director to move abroad. It's been a lost cult classic ever since 1967, and, with the recent release of Brian Wilson's lost "Smile" album, finally completes gaps in the best of pop culture from the 1960's, ironically so with its very indictment of pop culture manipulation gone totalitarian. "Privilege" feels more real and works better today in 2008 than when it was released forty one years ago. Check this treasure out! *Her photographer mentor/lover David Bailey and she were heroes to my generation, for being their own personae and successes to boot: the "one of ours" syndrome. A wrongly ascribed shyness was assigned to this, her one acting role. In front of the still camera she was as extrovert as you can get, confident, dazzling and compelling. I'm a still photographer, and I know what it takes for model to project: something from within beyond the interaction of mere direction.

She was ultra-successful, but not well remunerated, as the book "Model" which explored the various decades of the profession pointed out (only models after the mid-70's became millionaires as the business changed along with the agencies and licensing practices.) She even verifies this, without bitterness. Folks question why she seemingly dropped off the face of the earth (Cornwall, actually.) Lastly, people who were successful in their aspirations but not necessarily in finances oftimes think in terms you might not suspect: I've done it all firsthand, I was at the center of the hurricane's eye, I don't need to continue immersing myself in this business anymore and pretend to go along with the changes in fads; I can happily go away and be at peace. This just makes heroes like Shrimpton, (and little known photographers like me) artists, not artiste manques.
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Let down by poor characterisation
dont_tell_duncan12 August 2011
This film feels like a missed opportunity. Whilst the concept and style is strong, where it falls down is in a very weak and two-dimensional central character. If I'm being generous I'd not entirely castigate Paul Jones' performance for this, as I suspect he was being told Stephen Shorter should have 'no personality' and is a 'blank canvas'. Nevertheless Jones' perpetually-pensive portrayal lacks any depth and completely fails to capture the sort of nuanced flashes of individual ego or rebellion underneath which renders Shorter not only unsympathetic, but rather unbelievable. The producers ought to have held out for a talented actor who could have been dubbed, rather than a pop star who should have stuck with Manfred Mann (although if he had maybe we wouldn't have got all the brilliant Mike D'Abo hits such as Mighty Quinn or Ragamuffin Man).

I thought 'Privilege' felt most like it could have been a British 'Network'? Both have a similar satirical narrative of the entertainment industry and both explore the deeper political connotations of media control. But it is the phenomenal acting in the latter which raises it from rather preposterous story to completely believable gem, with Faye Dunaway demonstrating just what can be imbued in a character designed to be just as two-dimensional and vapid emotionally as Shorter.

Looking at it 45 years on, the themes of state control and pop puppetry retain a contemporary relevance which make this film an interesting watch. But I imagine you'll find yourself wishing it had been executed a little better...
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