Dystopian Idol

The ignored prophecies of Peter Watkins's Privilege
by Michael Atkinson   posted Jul 24, 2008

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Dear Michael, I read your article with great interest and was gratified that I was not the only person to have rediscovered Peter Watkins and Privilege. I saw the film in 1967 as a very young man, inspired by Penelope Gilliat's review in the Observer. The film came to mind again after reading an interview with Noam Chomsky, a few months ago, in which he said that revolutions were now impossible in developed countries as their inhabitants were too busy consuming and being entertained. I was extremely pleased to be able to get the film from the US through Amazon and have just watched it again after over 40 years. It has lost none of its power but its faults are also obvious. Paul Jones is the archetypal manipulated pop star (cf Larry Parnes stable of singers) typical of the early 1960s. But by 1967 pop/rock singers and in particular groups had outgrown their manipulators, they had become independent autonomous forces with even their own record labels (eg the Stones) and were not dictated to by anyone. Just one small point: in your article you state that Onward Christian Soldiers was being sung at the Stadium rally. This was sung in a studio. At the rally the song being sung was Jerusalem by the Runner Beans. (For me the best scene in the film: the misuse of this mystical quintessentialy English song, written by a great rebel, for fascistic purposes.) Best regards, David Beal
David Beal   posted 24.12.09


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Courtesy Project X Distribution
Paul Jones' backing band, The Runner Beans, perform "Jerusalem" at the National Stadium in Peter Watkins' Privilege
Photo Gallery: Dystopian Idol


Peter Watkins  |  film review


Peter Watkins's website


Michael Atkinson is the author/editor of six books, including Ghosts in the Machine: Speculating on the Dark Heart of Pop Cinema (Limelight Eds., 2000), Flickipedia (Chicago Review Press, 2007), Exile Cinema: Filmmakers at Work Beyond Hollywood (SUNY Press, 2008), and the novels from St. Martin's Press Hemingway Deadlights and Hemingway Cutthroat.

More articles by Michael Atkinson
Author's Website: Zero for Conduct