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on 4 July 2008
(Disclaimer- I am an American who saw the film in its initial release.)

The formerly preposterously rare (two extant prints in the universe) 1967 film "Privilege" has just been digitally restored in its original color and will be offered for sale by Amazon et al in a month or so.

This matters for several reasons. Firstly, because the film was as prescient as many consider Nostradamus to have been. Its plot, considered so far-fetched at the time that the film was oft labeled science fiction, centers around an increasingly totalitarian government in a first world country that attempts social engineering at all levels, including utilization of pop culture. It's hit on the formula to control youthful rebellion and dissent in general by investing a young pop idol with state-sponsored power (more in a minute) as centerpiece of national obsession. EVERYONE cares about this particular pop idol and what happens to him every week, since his act has been designed to attract universal sympathy and diffuse caring about one's self and one's own troubles. I'll not reveal how because the strange design of the first tour of his that viewers see is a revelation within itself.

What he says, what products he endorses, and how he steers the populace into state-sponsored trends and philosophies is a fait accompli in the film. The government notes a surplus of apple crops, idol Steven is immediately shown eating lots of apples, as now will the general populace. Got religion? Steven now does, and you will too. It always works. You buy what he wears, what he endorses. But what sort of personality would go along with being such a figurehead? And what sort of actor could even pull this messianic stardom off realistically, since the film is made in documentary style?

Luckily, the answers are pretty good. The plot centers on the gradual breakdown of this personality, as no one but an insane megalomaniac could keep this up forever, his world of his every action micro-managed by others and every "creative" output predetermined for him. (Not in 2008!) This person hired to quell all rebellion eventually starts to rebel against the state-sponsored "love." And the actor hired to be both this convincing a pop star and soul tormented practically to torpor was an actual rockgod, Paul Jones, the tall, good-looking blond singer of the Manfred Mann group of the mid-60's, if you recall the hearty voice on classic Brit oldies "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" and "Pretty Flamingo."

"Privilege"'s director Peter Watkins, known for terrifying all of Britain with the first realistic, ultra-violent post nuclear apocalypse film "The War Game," knew how important casting is, despite trade-offs. Paul Jones was of the minute modern, and could convey this fantastical idea of Orwellian government control through a pop star by being a credible pop star known at the time. His co-star, 1960's icon Jean Shrimpton playing the instigation of the star's rebellion, was the most beautiful and famous model ever, at that particular moment in history. The trade-off was you believed them in their roles, even if you didn't believe them as trained actors.

It's not so much that they can't act, more that both leads were directed to be underplayed a la Garbo: you put your own reflections of the proceedings on their visages, in contrast to the freneticism of Steven's fans and the steely controlling of his handlers. Suffice it to say, their roles and performances well hold up today: they are who they play, and they look perfect.

Jones is actually a compelling performer and great vocalist, singing real (as opposed to "movie") rock songs in this film. Pretty good rock songs too: one was covered 25 years later by Patti Smith and Paula Pierce and The Pandoras, which then sounded as modern as ever. Punk legends Chainsaw based their one ballad on the opening concert scene of "Privilege."

And Shrimpton!* Even with purportedly wooden acting, she remains a focus you can't take your eyes off of. You instantly understand her visual domination of the first half of the 1960's and her incontrovertible allure.

In fact it all holds up pretty well today, and the film appears far more tellingly intelligent than it did when it was released and reviled enough to force its director to move abroad. It's been a lost cult classic ever since 1967, and, with the recent release of Brian Wilson's lost "Smile" album, finally completes gaps in the best of pop culture from the 1960's, ironically so with its very indictment of pop culture manipulation gone totalitarian. "Privilege" feels more real and works better today in 2008 than when it was released forty one years ago. Check this treasure out!

*Her photographer mentor/lover David Bailey and she were heroes to my generation, for being their own personas and successes to boot: the "one of ours" syndrome. A wrongly ascribed shyness was assigned to this, her one acting role. In front of the still camera she was as extrovert as you can get, confident, dazzling and compelling. I'm a still photographer, and I know what it takes for model to project: something from within beyond the interaction of mere direction.

She was ultra-successful, but not well remunerated, as the book "Model" which explored the various decades of the profession pointed out (only models after the mid-70's became millionaires as the business changed along with the agencies and licensing practices.) She even verifies this, without bitterness. Folks question why she retired seemingly off the face of the earth (Cornwall, actually.)

Lastly, people who were successful in their aspirations but not necessarily in finances offtimes think in terms you might not suspect: I've done it all firsthand, I was at the center of the hurricane's eye, I don't need to continue immersing myself in this business anymore and pretend to go along with the changes in fads; I can happily go away and be at peace. This just makes heroes like Shrimpton, (and little known photographers like me) artists, not artiste manques.
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on 24 February 2010
Great to see this on DVD, and the film is impressive.
It's a pity the soundtrack is not easily available on CD, the music is great.
Paul Jones was obviously better at singing/songwriting and performing at this stage than he was at acting, and Jean Shrimpton was not really an actor at all, but both are effective in this film. It's very 60's, although set in some future year after the film was made. Its themes have become somewhat prophetic over the years, as we look at society allowing itself to be brainwashed by government, church, advertisers etc, with the culture of celebrity worship being their tool to work with.
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on 13 April 2011
I get fedup of what seems to be the generic criticism - it's dated - that functions almost as a self-generating comment in response to older films. Of course older films will be dated, but this claim often offers little more than a comment upon the technicalities of film-making.

Anyway, with Privilege that claim is redundant. This is a fascinating work up there with 'If...' as a landmark in British cinema.

Obviously highy recommended - but you might want to seek out the earlier DVD release featuring the short film 'Lonely Boy' - a better thematic accompaniment, although Watkin's short films are not without some merit.
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on 23 October 2009
I 1st saw this film in about 1985 on Channel 4 very late at night, I only watched it because I had seen a trailer which included the song/ theme tune "Prvilege" which I recognised as the song Patti Smith had covered on 'Easter'. About 10 minutes in I realised that it was brilliant and dived into my pile of vidoes to find a blank one to record it onto.

Eventually I got the ex-rental top loader to record, but by then I'd missed a good 15 mins of the film.

I watched that grainy VHS tape again and again for years. I've been waiting for this to be reissued every since, resorting a couple of years ago to buying a dodgy bootleg of a VHS to digital transfer, which was almost as grainy as my original VHS copy.

Now, at last there's a pristine DVD available, and I jumped at it as soon as I knew it was out.

It took me a while to realise that Peter Watkins was the same man who'd made "The War Game" and "Culloden", and this is made in the same quasi-documentary style.

It's dated a bit - some of the swinging 60's stuff is pretty embarasing, and neither Jones or Shrimpton are what I'd call great actors, but the ideas expressed in the film still hold up now, in fact they may be even more relevant...

The part about the two main parties being so close to each other that they've stopped pretending there's any difference and formed a coalition government is not too far from the truth today for instance, and the Nuremberg style rally is chilling if again a bit dated (although this was made in the time of "The festival of light" and other right wing/ religious groups beginning to raise their heads.

You can see some of the budget limitations in the sparsly peopled 'crowd' scenes, but all in all I would recommend you get this if you are at all interested in Film History, Political/ Media studies or just 60's pop culture.
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on 7 June 2016
i had ordered this product but it never arrived, anyhow, my dad found it someplace else and he watched it and he liked it. very much actually. the music is pretty impressive too, i admit i was not quite convinced at the beginning, but in the end it was pretty alright. it's not bad to say the least and time is not wasted when watching this. :)
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VINE VOICEon 28 April 2013
The film has some interesting ideas about political control through manipulation of culture but to discover it was released as late as 1967 for me renders it somewhat too late. Others had done it all already and it added nothing. It feels like a cash-in on the debate about counter-culture and reactions to it but without contributing to it

Obviously one could point to Nineteen Eighty-Four as the reference enriched somewhat by Beatlemania and similar phenomena but it's not seminal. UK Sci-Fi had a long history of envisioning such dystopian futures including but not limited to Bob Shaw and John Wyndham from the 1950s and early 60s. The original episodes of Dr Who carried the darkness of the period, other more mainstream material from BBC drama and elsewhere form the early sixties had trodden the ground.

The only joy is Jean Shrimpton looking totally stunning
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on 19 October 2014
A little disappointed with this film, too much of it was just music and singing - of which I couldn't help but cringe because it was so cheesy. Although I found the plot very interesting and of course, seeing Jean Shrimpton in her only ever film role was extraordinary, her beauty really brightens up the many depressing scenes in this film and I thought her acting was brilliant. So, if you like Jean Shrimpton then I recommend this film as she is in it regularly, but apart from that, the film does tend to drag on and as another reviewer pointed out, they have cut out some music scenes, but I'm glad they did as they too are dull and turn the film into more of a musical, which in my opinion, isn't necessary to the film.
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on 23 April 2011
Imagine! My professor of English literature telling his students, in those pre-68 days, to go and watch the film Privilege, and he mentions "the dark satanic mills", "the bonds of retribution", "Onward Christian soldiers", and the film is showing in English (V.O. as we say) in a cinema in the heart of France.
So I did as I was told, and I remember I liked the film. Well, any opportunity to hear some English, to watch the singer of Manfred Mann turned actor was welcome.
So I bought the blu-ray, especially at that price. Good technical quality. And that's quite a walk down memory lane!
But was I disappointed!
You don't make a film with just one or two ideas. Yes, the film is dated because it fails to be a film. It is no more than a pamphlet, and not a very subtle one at that (I like the fact that the reverend sounds like Hitler though) and there is nothing worse than prophecies that never happen.
Paul Jones looks suitably sad and depressed throughout the film, and four decades later, I still find his little boy lost look quite appealing (but I won't repeat what a nasty critic said about his skin), and I clearly remember the semi-detached suburban Mr. Jones hit by Manfred Mann as a response to his leaving the group.
Jean Shrimpton is "quite a doll" as the bodyguard says, but she is little more than that. And there is not one single character that looks remotely like a real human being. They are all there as ideas, as "them" (as opposed to some virtual "us", the discerning viewers?), the manipulators who exploit poor Steve Shorter. There being no characters, we cannot expect any character development.
We could say that the film-makers succeeded so well into making Steve a "nothing" that we cannot be interested in any way in what happens to him. There is a big scandal when Steve Shorter finally manages to speak out and tells his audience that he is manipulated and he is nothing, but then Paul Jones looks again so sad and depressed and he is still moved about, this time away from the photographers, but where to? The film-makers do not care. How can we?
Now, I wonder what I would think of films like Scum, with a teenage Ray Winstone before he was digitally beefed-up for Beowulf, or In fortune and men's eyes? Would they stand the test of time?
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on 29 December 2009
This is a ground-breaking film which shows - through the medium of pop music - how a consumerist society manipulates us. It is as relevant now as it was when it first appeared in 1967. The high point of the film is the singing of Jerusalem by the Runner Beans at a neo-fascist style stadium concert filmed in the manner of Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will.
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on 7 August 2015
Paul Jones,who really should have stuck to singing,here plays a singer who becomes manipulated by Church and State in order to repress the Actions and Feelings of His young Fans.In the process He becomes a sort of Spiritual Guru.A Clever idea but rather slow in places.Also Jean Shrimpton might have had the Privilege of Good Looks but sure as hell Can't act.
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