Please Note: This event will take place at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.
Bridging the worlds of cinema and literature, the recurring series Print Screen invites our favorite authors to present films that complement and have inspired their work, with discussions and book signings to follow screenings.
To mark the recent release of But What If We’re Wrong? (Blue Rider Press), a collection of interviews with a variety of creative thinkers interwoven with the type of high-wire humor and nontraditional analysis only Chuck Klosterman would dare to attempt, the author joins us for a screening of Peter Watkins’s politically charged black comedy Privilege, followed by a conversation and book signing.
Klosterman is the best-selling author of seven nonfiction books (including Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs and I Wear the Black Hat) and two novels (Downtown Owl and The Visible Man). He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, GQ, Esquire, Spin, The Guardian, The Believer, Billboard, The A.V. Club, and ESPN. Klosterman served as the Ethicist for The New York Times Magazine for three years, appeared as himself in the LCD Soundsystem documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits, and was an original founder of the website Grantland with Bill Simmons.
Peter Watkins, UK, 1967, 35mm, 103m
British filmmaker Peter Watkins stoked controversy and earned accolades throughout his career as a director of documentaries and docudramas that cast an unflinching gaze on the social and institutional power structures that dominate modern life. In Privilege, his first theatrically released feature film, Watkins imagines a near-future in which the forces of political power and celebrity interact in ways that are at once startlingly sinister and disturbingly familiar. Heartthrob Steven Shorter (Paul Jones) plays a universally beloved pop star, revered by the masses in a Britain ruled by a coalition government. The country’s leaders take notice, appropriating Shorter’s trendsetting influence to advance the coalition’s agenda with the public. Only when he meets a kindred spirit in Vanessa (Jean Shrimpton), a beautiful artist, does Shorter begin to question the role he’s been given to play, and see how he might use his position of power to very different ends.
“Privilege is a complicated film, further complicated by the timing of its creation. Here is a movie made in 1966, set in the near future of the ’70s—which now, of course, feels like the semi-distant past. Its premise is that the government has manufactured a messianic rock star (portrayed by Manfred Mann vocalist Paul Jones) as a means for manipulating and mollifying the teen populace. The puppet superstar performs inside a cage, shackled in handcuffs, literally singing about freedom. Filmed in a documentary style that was initially criticized for being too similar to television, Privilege is one of those rare films that seems both awkwardly dated and remarkably forward-thinking, often at the same time. Because it was made in an era when the whole idea of a rock star was still relatively new, its fear of the sinister potentiality of celebrity culture scans as hysterical and reactionary and primitive. That’s the part that seems dated. But the part that seems prescient matters more: The dystopic society Privilege visualizes really did become reality. The only difference is that it happened without any conspiracy from the church or the state. It’s simply the culture modern audiences prefer.” — Chuck Klosterman