Film Review: Privilege

February 7, 2010

As I was saying in my previous review of Permissive, I have recently acquired three films on BFI’s Flipside series. Since I love all thing Sixties and groovy some of these films are rather appealing to me.

Next up for review is Privilege.

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Privilege is about a pop star with the dull name Steven Shorter, played by the boringly named Paul Jones of Manfred Mann. His act is a recreation of his time in prison where he is put in a small cage and sings while being tortured by his guards. All the while girls scream and eventually rush the stage. Backstage we see that he is managed by stereotypical music business types. Further, we learn that he is employed by “the establishment” to contain the masses by channeling their outrage into these performances.

Later on we also find that he is used to sell British products, promote the governments views on healthy eating, and eventually he is promoting the Church of England.

All through the film we can see that all is not well with Shorter as he appears to be deeply uncomfortable at all times. Eventually he encounters a pretty young painter, played by Jean Shrimpton, someone with whom he can finally open up about his unhappiness which opens the door to his inevitable public breakdown.

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The more eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that the two lead roles are Paul Jones (a singer) and Jean Shrimpton (a model), two people who’d never acted before this film. While their performances are not great they’re not the worst offenders in this film. (There’s a guy who plays a musical arranger who is also a “self confessed anarchist” and it’s a shockingly poor performance.)

The more eagle-eyed will also have noticed some flawed logic where the establishment is redirecting rage from themselves by directing it the prison services who, presumably, are also part of the establishment. Yeah, I don’t get it either. These lapses in logic are littered throughout the film.

The film was made in 1966 and the most dated aspect of the film is the idea that it’s the government that has somehow gained almost exclusive control of culture to push their propaganda. I guess back in the sixties the idea of Britain turning into a quasi-Communist state seemed more realistic than now. These days I think most of us realise that it isn’t the government that’s all powerful, but the wealthy; the government is just as manipulated by these people as the rest of us. However this film isn’t so far off the mark when you consider that people these days often feel more animated to vote for X Factor than their local MP.

Privilege is a flawed film that seems to be pulling in several directions at once. There are many cliches and a serious lack of tension or sympathy. Steven Shorter’s meltdown is eventually a big anti-climax and the repercussions of his actions for him or anyone else are not investigated.

Still, I wouldn’t want to be too negative. The film is beautifully filmed and many scenes look fantastic. Also it does hit some high points when it strays into more exotic imagery: toe-tapping bishops, walking apples and ticker tape parades.

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Ultimately it’s hard to recommend, but anyone who has a love of the quirkier end of sixties film-making will find at least some of this film very enjoyable.

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