- Gareth Crook
Steven Shorter (Paul Jones) is a pop star. Adored by the masses. Think Beatlemania hysteria and you’re on the right track. There’s no ‘I wanna hold your hand’ hope here though. This is “Britain, in the near future” with Shorter peddling an act born of desperation, a sadistic conduit for violence as he’s beaten up by the rozzers on stage for the gratification of a baying audience. This we’re informed by the narrator, is necessary to give the population a release of tension, to allow the troublesome youth to vent anger in a controlled manor, tearing up concert halls and keeping them off the streets. It’s another pseudo doc from Peter Watkins, but this one seems to have more of a dark comic satirical feel than films like Punishment Park or The War Game. Perhaps because the unpleasant nature of it is more nuanced, the whole thing wrapped up in a troubling farce. Is it the eerie commentary (that reminded me of Philip Stone in The Shining), the gaudy fake chintz of 60s Britain, or the fact that Shorter is clearly a mere puppet, a prop, miserable in his fame that makes this captivatingly uncomfortable. Steve is a vehicle to sedate the masses and keep them consuming. Used to sell all sorts. From apples to a moral code. Always with a swinging 60s swagger. It’s this that gives it the most comedic value, no where more than a banging version of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ performed by a band of hip sandal wearing monks sanctioned by a bunch of priests looking to improve the church’s brand before “The only people going to church are the clergy”. It’s an odd balance of offbeat humour and naziesque levels of patriot control. Watkins is an interesting director specialising in this style blurring the lines between fiction and a horrifying yet plausible fact. I’m not sure I like this as much as his other films, it seems to labour just a little too much, but it’s compelling none the less.