Watkins’s vision of pop culture’s future seems tame compared to how it actually turned out. A scene in which Shorter dons a medieval costume and sings in a advertisement for apples is a quaint precursor to the time when Dylan hawked women’s lingerie or Led Zeppelin pushed Cadillacs. This scrappy film is Spinal Tap‘s paranoid and disillusioned older brother.
PRIVILEGE remains a contentious film in its likening of pop culture phenomena to Totalitarian propaganda (That Watkins shot it in Britain just after the height of Beatlemania is just one instance of his daring), but it remains profound in its cartography of power, which connects advertisers to the representatives of Church and State. An unsettling, surprising, and darkly humorous work.
That predictive gaze... has been the focus of much of Privilege’s reappraisal, all of it justified; on a formal level alone, Watkins’ work is years ahead of the curve. But within Privilege’s unforgiving takedown of state-sanctioned rock as cultural anesthetic lies an equally haunting vision of another of music’s soon-to-be-favourite narratives: the suddenly-awakened star who finds themselves a prisoner of the machine that created them.