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Star and Shadow Cinema Presents


Peter Watkins - An English Radical

Dir: Peter Watkins, UK, 1967, 103minutes, BluRay

Fri 25 October 2019 // 19:30 / Cinema

Tickets: £7/£5

Privilege is a savage satire of celebrity culture, as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. Steven Shorter is the biggest pop star in Britain, influencing millions of his fans. However, he is carefully managed by the government to keep the country's youth under control. Featuring Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones and model Jean Shrimpton, Privilege  beautifully skewers the surreal imbecility surrounding the world of the 'celeb'.

The idea of using a pop star to influence millions of young people seems very contemporary, yet the film was made in 1966 and released in 1967 at the height of Flower Power. The Church, state and celebrity culture are mercilessly skewered, despite the satire. The huge concert scene borrows heavily from Triumph of the Will. Perhaps predictably, the film’s pessimistic message meant that reviews were mainly negative. Rank cinemas refused to show the film, and Universal withdrew it from circulation after a handful of screenings. However, like much of Watkins’ work, the film has subsequently been re-evaluated and is now seen as a key British film of the period.

Peter Watkins - An English Radical film season we present 5 of Peter Watkins' films, mixing his better known works such as The War Game and Punishment Park, with the rarely seen The Gladiators. The selection of films gives a flavour of Watkins unique style, and provides a powerful critique of mainstream media, and the Hollywood derived narrative style which he refers to as the 'monoform'.

His body of work is one of the most formally inventive of any British filmmaker, displaying a relentless questioning intelligence, and his predominant use of documentary techniques gives an urgency and immediacy to the material. Many of his films were poorly received on release, yet in this era of fake news and celebrity culture seem totally relevant.

Peter Watkins was born in 1935 in Surrey, and started his film making career at the BBC in the early 1960s. His first film was Culloden, made in what would become his trademark documentary style. Meant to echo the style of reportage from Vietnam, historical events are portrayed in an urgent contemporary style. His next film, The War Game turned to near future events, documenting the effects of a nuclear strike on Kent. Banned by the government of the day, it was the end of Watkins career at the BBC. He then made Privilege, his first narrative feature for Universal. The film was poorly received on release, but has grown in reputation since. After Privilege, Watkins moved abroad and has never returned to the UK. Moving back to his documentary style he made Punishment Park in the USA, and the Gladiators in Sweden. More ambitious works followed, a near 3 hour biopic of Edvard Munch, Resan, a 14 and a half hour work made across the world, addressing nuclear madness,and The Commune, a 6 hour recreation of the Paris Commune.

Thanks to Peter Watkins and the BFI for their help in organising this season.