Friday, 10 February 2012


The Governments Messianic Leader. 

Disgusted with what he saw as interference from the government Peter Watkins resigned from the BBC over the banning of his faux documentary The War Game (1966) about the horrors of a nuclear war from being shown on TV, a ban that was to last for twenty years. Although it did have a limited cinema release, winning an Oscar in 1967 for Best Documentary Feature.  Watkins quit Britain for good in 1968 but before he went he made his first feature film, a political satire set in the very near future called Privilege (1967) now released as part of the BFI Flipside series. It’s the story of Steven Shorter a pop star who is manipulated into a being a state run puppet for a repressive government, who harnesses what could be describe as Beatle mania for their own ends. The state originally using Shorter’s stage routine, which includes a cage, handcuffs and bully boy police tactics, to direct any chance of a public revolt into an outburst of channelled aggression within controlled limits. Changing track the authorities decide to bring back the population from the brink of structured anarchy to state run Christianity organized by an all-powerful church. Thereafter Shorter’s stage routine changes drastically to involve a monk attired backing group doing up-tempo Onward Christian Soldier numbers and burning crosses.

Jean Shrimpton.

As you can probably gather this is rather a strange movie, it’s like an Orwellian mix between Ken Russell’s Tommy (1975) and Pink Floyd - The Wall (1982) but not as engaging as either. The biggest problem with this film is its two main leads. Paul Jones, who had been the lead singer with the Manfred Mann band and probable best known for his blues programme on Radio Two, plays Steve Shorter while Jean Shrimpton plays his girl friend and proves why she was a very successful sixties model and not an actress. Both give very wooden performances with Jones being particularly irritating. The premise of the film, based on a story by Johnny Speight, is a worthy subject, highlighting the misuse of power and showing the manipulation of mass culture to control the population. In that respect I suppose it’s a cross between pink gin and Saturday night TV!

Steve Shorter and Vanessa Ritchie.

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