Friday, July 19, 2013


I'm not quite sure what to make of this film, a satirical parable of pop culture and politics which has some good ideas but can't follow through on most of them. In the near future, pop singer Paul Jones is the new hot commodity. In his masochistic stage act, he is beaten and jailed, then freed but kept in handcuffs; he attacks his guards who then beat him up some more. All the while, he's singing and the teenage audience is yelling and cheering. We soon discover that Jones's act is actually subsidized by the ruling government in England, who see his show as catharsis for unmoored, violent youth who might otherwise be involved in protest or political agitation. Offstage, Jones is a passive cipher who always looks like he's on the verge of tears, his private life nonexistent, waiting for his handlers to guide his career to its next step. The only people who seem at all close to him are his bodyguard and a model (Jean Shrimpton) who is also his half-hearted girlfriend. When there's an apple glut, Jones does an ad to sell apples. More seriously, when the powers that be decide that the masses need to find God, Jones is set up as a pop messiah. The large open-air concert/crusade is the highlight of the movie, as Jones leads chants like, "We will conform," and does a rock version of the hymn "Jerusalem" while cripples are brought forward for healing. It's done like Leni Reifenstahl shooting a Billy Graham revival and the movie could have used more of this stylistic power throughout. The ending isn't quite as predictable as one might think—there is no explicit martyrdom, just a kind of slow fade as Jones finally rebels against his handlers—but the film really has nowhere to go after the big crusade scene. The ideas floating around about consumerism, pop culture, and politics are interesting, but the script could have used some tightening, and Jones (the original lead singer for Manfred Mann) doesn't make a very charismatic figure. [TCM]

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