Sunday 29 June 2008

Privilege (1967)

Steven Shorter is a British pop singer, played by Paul Jones, who was a British pop singer. Given that he was the singer for Manfred Mann and The Blues Band and I know him best as the presenter of the blues show on Radio 2, he certainly didn't warrant the sort of tickertape parade he gets at the start of this film. He's just back from a successful US tour and he goes straight into his show that has made him the most loved entertainer on the planet. It involves being handcuffed and locked in a cage on stage, thus sending all the women in the audience (which is the entire audience, it seems) into hysteria and apparently offering catharsis for all the troubles in the world.

Yes, this is a bizarre musical, and yes, I'm sure that Roger Waters was paying attention. Apparently there's a coalition government who have asked for all entertainers to divert the attention of the youth of Britain away from violence and so there are now 300 Steven Shorter discotheques dedicated to spreading happiness and keeping the youth a long, long way away from politics. Next door is the Steven Shorter Dream Palace, where people can be sure that everything they buy is British and Steven Shorter approved.

All artificial of course, with insane commerciality and exploitation for very deliberate goals. This 1967 film actually says more about the music industry of today than anything else I've seen. The artist is the means by which everything happens, a wide range of people make their living and the powers that be ( get whatever effect on their public is desired, but he's exploited ruthlessly and systematically by all and sundry and nobody gives a monkey's about him. The only person who really seems to care about Steven Shorter is an artist called Vanessa Ritchie, who doesn't really know him at all. However she's interesting beyond her character because she's played by Jean Shrimpton, notable model in her only film appearance.

I particularly enjoyed the scene where Shorter listens to the radio on his wristwatch. It's playing one of his songs, so Ritchie asks him to change the station, which he does twice but all three stations are playing the same song. It sounds just like our modern ClearChannel world. The handcuffs are a great symbol of ownership, restricted contracts and legal inability to go bankrupt. The use of artists as arbiters of political opinion is everywhere now, from political campaigning to Tommy Lee on the Green Channel. The only thing missing is the prosecution of four year olds without computers for downloading mp3s.

The film is outrageous, wild and stunning. The performance at the National Stadium with a burning cross, Nazi salutes and parades of boy scouts doing a take on Triumph of the Will. If Roger Waters hasn't watched this film fifty times I'd be amazed. It then turns into a faith healing ceremony where Steven Shorter gets to heal the sick through the power of his song. It's hardly commercial stuff so isn't widely known, especially as owners Universal are doing a good job at suppressing it. Then again given that it's directed by Peter Watkins, who had already shaken up a lot of people with The War Game, the controversy is hardly surprising.

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