Privilege (1967)

Privilege (1967), directed by Peter Watkins.

A pop music icon (Paul Jones of "Manfred Mann") is the center of a hysterical national cult with religious overtones. His act is a strange one: he is chained, caged and beaten while his crying ecstatic fans enjoy an orgy of masochism-by-proxy.

He is closely managed: a coalition government wants young people happy and off the streets and their parents buying the right products. His business managers are making a fortune from his concerts, stores, TV stations, and by hiring him out for commercials.

He seems perpetually uncomfortable and embarrassed by this. In private he is shy and stammering. He has a chance with an artist (early supermodel Jean Shrimpton) but his paranoia about being used ruins even that.

When the Church wants to use him for a revival effort, complete with stadium, illuminated crosses, fascist salutes and a laying on of hands for healing, he has had enough. He says the one thing unforgivable from any guru...

Pop music as social control. For more on entertainment ecstasy see A Hard Day's Night (1964), Wild in the Streets (1968) and Lisztomania (1975).

One of the kindly corporate bigs explains life to our singer:


There are millions of people down there. Millions of little people. First we must be clear in our minds about one thing: that the liberal idea that given enough education these millions will grow into self-aware creative human beings is nothing but an exploded myth. It can never happen. They're stunted little creatures with primitive emotions that are, in themselves, dangerous. They've got to be harnessed, guided. We've seen it happen over and and over again for an evil purpose. Germany, Russia, China... But now we've got a chance to make it work for their own good.

The 1960s balladeering is too light to be effective these days. You could do new covers and the songs are indeed rerecorded from time to time.

This is supposed to be a sort of docudrama and the actors respond to the hand-held camera. It took inspiration from Lonely Boy (1962), a short film about the promotion of teen idol Paul Anka. Some scenes are copied closely, and "Uncle Julie" is a character in both. Honestly, to me he seems like an anti-semitic caricature in the second film.

Filmed in Birmingham.

Available on a DVD edition which includes the Lonely Boy (1962) short. A region B Blu-ray is available from BFI in the UK but I have not seen it.