Sunday, August 14, 2022

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+)