Friday, July 20, 2012

PRIVILEGE (Peter Watkins, 1967, UK)

Steven Shorter’s fame is as ephemeral as his surname, his identity subsumed by a confederacy of dunces. Director Peter Watkins’ faux-documentary explores a year in the life of a pop star and the consummation of his diabolical marriage to the conforming masses, his sacrifice upon the altar by a cult of personality.

Steven is the most recognized star in the world, a supernova in the downward spiraling galaxy of popularity. He is an image, an icon, an avatar that nourishes the fans who are starving for assimilation: he has become a one dimensional advertisement, an opiate for the masses. Slave to his corporate masters, Steven is used to endorse everything from appliances to apples, and in one stunning promotion the Catholic Church itself. The Church, in need of witnessing to the disenfranchised youth, recruit Steven to record a pop version of Onward Christian Soldiers. His stadium appearances at religious rallies is reminiscent of the Hitler’s orgiastic demonstrations. Crosses substitute for the swastika but the message is the same: We Will Conform! But his life of privilege is a cage, his physical sacrifice no illusion, and his invitation to stardom will soon be revoked. 

Peter Watkins merges documentary techniques with fiction, creating a narrative vicissitude that both informs the audience…and condemns it. An omniscient voice-over offers trite exposition which heightens spectator awareness of this unreality; that is, the audience never falls into the story, self-aware of their passive participation. This disenfranchisement becomes cold and calculating, an impersonal dissection not of a human being but a static representation. Steven belongs to everyone but himself, the unhealthy side-effect of this popular disease. Watkins’ film could be the precursor to Roger Waters conceit, as the wall crumbles to a handful of dust. Steven is finally cast aside and disparaged, just another star that has imploded. 

Final Grade: (B+)


Dusty said...

Well done sir. I think I like your positive reviews much better than your negative ones. The role is usually reversed for me. However, I could see why liking a movie would inspire better writing. Very good review, keep it up. I may actually see this film.

Alex DeLarge said...

What happens with a negative review (for me, anyway) is I write from emotion instead of intellect, making personal attacks against those involved. I believe any salient points I make get lost in the mix. I write very few but you've given me insight in how to express myself better, so I can be taken seriously.

If you have a region/code free Blu-ray player, this film is available on blu in the UK. I really enjoy Peter Watkins' films and urge you to check them out. I'll try to post more reviews of his films. Also check out PUNISHMENT PARK and THE WAR GAME.