Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Chilling Portrait of Pop Culture

Cleveland Press October 20, 1967

It is England in the near future, but it could be any country in the Pop Culture Era. The government, business interests, sociologists and the church have joined forces to manipulate the public through its devotion to a rock-and-roll singer.

"Privilege" is a film satire that deals with the possibility of thought control through a combination of advertising techniques with a personality cult.

FROM A CHILLINGLY REALISTIC ROCK CONCERT to an evangelistic meeting that has frightening overtones of a Hitler youth rally, director Peter Watkins ("The War Game") sweeps forward with satiric thrusts at the calculating methods of a firmly entrenched establishment that controls the masses.

Watkins uses some of the same documentary techniques that were so effective in "War Game." But here his movie has a regular plot line and continuing characters.

In the beginning a voice tells us that the violence of the act of singer Steve Shorter (Paul Jones) has been designed to offer audiences a release from the tensions of the world. The act consists of dropping the manacled singer to the stage of a theater while characters in police uniforms beat him and hurl him into a cage as he sings a song about freedom.

IF THE ACT SEEMS FAR FETCHED, the emotional jag of the tearful, frenzied audience is not, as those of us who have lived through two Beatles' concerts know.

As cynical as this carefully staged violence is, it is nothing compared to the action of the corporate board that controls the singer. The next step is turn the youth into the steps of conformity with singer Steve leading the way in a church-sponsored rally. The moment of revelation for him will be the moment of revelation for all.

Paul Jones is excellent as the hero of "Privilege," the taut lines of his face suggesting the weariness and tension of his role. Model Jean Shrimpton is effective as an artist who understands him. Other characters in the movie all are disturbingly real.

If this Orwellian look at thought control through hero worship seems farfetched, give a second thought to the remark of Beatle John Lennon, the one about his group being more popular than Jesus.