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Here is a movie that cannot be classified in any subcategory. Many
viewers of now and then seemed to be disturbed by its lack of evident
meaning or message. Starting more or less like a gangster flick, it
abruptly turns halfway through into a psychedelic trip, where Mick
Jagger appears, in one of his rare screen roles, as a retired rock
No doubt, "Performance" doesn't do much effort to be easily understood. If you like stories with a clear plot, well defined characters and a happy ending, then skip this one. In order to enjoy that movie, you should better give up your rationality for a while. There are many interpretations one can have about it, but they will most likely come in the second run. Like a dream, "Performance" is a visual and mental shock where nothing comes as expected, and it lets you wake up dazed and confused by its so peculiar atmosphere.
What I find most puzzling about it is how far ahead of its time this movie was in every aspect. It was shot in 1968, but released only two years later because the distributors were obviously not prepared for this kind of "performance", and had not seen anything alike before. Western society was undergoing incredibly fast and drastic mutations, and the culture shock that happened in those days is at the very heart of the picture. It was "time for a change". Just like the main character, the western world would never be the same again afterwards.
Interesting fact : a mere five years before, the lead actor James Fox had played in "the Servant", a film based on a play by Harold Pinter with a story that has a lot in common with "Performance". "The Servant" appeared highly controversial by then because of its allusions to seedy sex, but it was shot in black and white with very conventional filming, editing and acting, and a very outdated jazzy soundtrack. Hard to believe it takes place in the same city (London) with the same lead actor within just a five year gap.
Nothing about "Performance" is conventional. It takes off immediately into a hectic pace, flashy colors, haunting music, and very graphic sex and violence. The London crime world is photographed with a rare accuracy. Actually, one of the guys playing the gangsters happened to be a real life gangster. Then suddenly, by a random twist of fate, the cockney villain (no heroes here) is propelled into another completely different underground scene, where "nothing is true, everything is permitted". He meets his alter ego as a has-been pop musician living secluded in a red-walled mansion covered with mirrors, together with a duet of intriguing women. Hallucinogenic mushrooms are casually served at breakfast, notions of time and space fade away, while gender, identity and truth get blurred. The two main characters gradually merge together and though both of them seemingly get doomed by their fate in the end, you don't know by then which of them is whom anymore.
I don't know of any other movie where you see a Rolls Royce burning down in an acid bath, gangsters performing a strip-tease show, or a plunging view inside a skull as a bullet is shot through it, least all of them together. Besides, the recurring use of mirrors all throughout the picture, the constant play with colors and the superimposing of faces and images don't have many parallels either in film history.
Of course, if you are a Rolling Stones fan, this movie is a must-see, but then you probably have seen it already. Like the main character, the Rolling Stones began as English street kids, and came to explore a world of sex, drugs and rock&roll where one of them actually lost his life. In "Performance" , an androgynous long-haired Mick Jagger with pouting lips is at the acme of his character, while blond and foxy Anita Pallenberg, who had affairs with three members of the band, and freckled boyish Michèle Breton fit perfectly into the scenery .
If there was to be a "pop-art" movie, that would be it. You may love or hate this film, but for sure, it is daringly creative and experimental, and anything but ordinary. To quote the character played by Jagger : "the only performance that makes it, that really makes it, is the one that achieves madness".
Thirty years after its release 'Performance' still remains one of the most
controversial movies of the 60s/70s. For many it is an arty pretentious bore
that is only worth remembering for being a mother lode of imagery that has
been mined extensively by MTV "talents" over the last twenty years.
(Cammell/Roeg must be up there with Bunuel and Kenneth Anger as the most
plagiarized source for rock video!)
For the rest of us 'Performance' could well be THE great movie of the psychedelic era, rivaled only by Antonioni's 'Blow Up' and Jodorowky's 'El Topo'. 'Performance' merges the hard boiled Cockney gangster world of the Kray twins (exemplified by James Fox's brutal Chas) with the freaks of the rock/drug world (Jagger's enigmatic Turner) and shows they have as much in common as they differ. Reality and fantasy blur, gender and personas get confused, and Chas and Turner become increasingly hard to tell apart.
All of this unfolds to an ultra-cool soundtrack of The Last Poets, Randy Newman, Jagger's lost classic 'Memo From Turner' and former Spector/Stones/Crazy Horse collaborator Jack Nietsche's Moog. Add to this plenty of sex, trips and Jorge Luis Borges references, and you've got yourself a mind-blowing movie experience!! Highly recommended to Grant Morrison fans.
Just recently released on DVD, this film is, no doubt, about to have a
whole new group of fans.
Here, questions of gender and sexuality are marred by the influence of drugs in the hippie enclave of Powis Square in '60s London. After a rapid fall from power within local crime syndicate, James Fox flees the mafia and finds refuge in the eclectic house of Mick Jagger. Jagger is living the life of the failed superstar with a small entourage of women; a recluse, whose appetite for sex and drugs is fueled by his royalty cheques. When this young gangster stumbles into his house, Jagger involves him into his kinky games, transforming him into one of his own. There is plenty of subtext here, if anyone is interested in digging deeper.
Perhaps the biggest letdown of the recent DVD release is that it was released in mono Dolby. Seeing as the soundtrack was released on stereo CD, why couldn't the audio, at least during the music sequences, have been similarly remastered?
The Stones rarely played "Memo From Turner" due to their "women troubles" that stemmed from the film. Jagger was sleeping with Richard's girlfriend on the set, or something to that effect. Anyway, "Memo From Turner" was released on the album "Metamorphasis" in 1976. The intro on the 1976 version is great, but the 1970 version on this album is one of the hottest tracks the Stones ever recorded without Mic Taylor. This song proves to be one of the first music videos ever made, as it appears in its entirety in Roeg's film.
This film operates on multiple levels and in cultures that we barely knew existed in 1970. The East End London mobster culture being one and the London counter-culture of drugs and music another. To further lend a surreal air, Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammel (who co-directed the film) present metaphors and psychological homologies- sadism, homosexuality, hierarchy in gangs and organizations- all stemming from central psychological needs for power and dominance combined with and expressed through sexuality. The first half of the film seems to anticipate Guy Ritchie- a glimpse into Cockney gangsters and "poofs" and then, Chas steps into Turner's lair and the film alters along with our consciousness. Suddenly, underneath the gangster/rockstar theme another, more deeply embedded theme emerges about identity and the part of others that we share in common(the deeper motivations and identities). Turner and Chas sense it in each other's "performance", all four main characters (arranged on a sexual continuum from the very female Pherber through 2 personae of androgyny to the very male Chas) explore their other parts as when Pherber puts a mirror, reflecting her breast on Chas. The shared motivational part comes from the "performance" of violence or art that Chas and Turner are fascinated by in each other. Add in some very strange camera angles and you have one of the very few films that ever did the impossible- represented altered consciousness to an audience (mainly) in straight consciousness. That last part depended on what year you saw it in theatres. In all, a very profound movie. Donald Cammell was a genius who never got his proper due.
I missed this film when it came out over thirty years ago, and have looked
out for it ever since. At last, after a rare showing on BBC's arts channel,
it has proved to be well worth the long wait.
It is a complex film, starting and finishing as a gripping and violent gangster movie, with the more philosophical and erotic section with Jagger and Pallenberg slotted between the gangster elements. James Fox as gangster on the run is a revelation. Why didn't he get parts like this again? He is far more convincing than his contemporary Michael Caine in this kind of role, with a scary viciousness combined with his 'Jack the Lad' charm.
Although Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg don't seem to be playing anything more than themselves, they are perfect foils for Fox. As they embroil Fox in their weird games, the writers/directors Nicholas Roeg and Donald Cammell create brilliantly the mushroom-based trip that they take him on and through. The film also evokes a fascinating and nostalgic picture of late '60s London and is a reminder that the "swinging sixties" had their grimy and violent side. Overall, a great film that deserves far wider recognition.
PERFORMANCE captured the perverse sub-culture of organized "working class" gangsters with an unromanticized authenticity not matched until THE SOPRANOS came along three decades later. But it's not just a gangster movie; it's a heady brew overflowing with subtle and insightful intuitions about the power and dangers of the ego, the male-female equation, power structures, sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. Mainstream viewers might be put off by the radical "rococo" editing, which was well ahead of its time -- as were the "rock video" sequences which feature some of Mick Jagger's finest musical moments (playing blues guitar; and singing and dancing at the peak of his prime in the scene where he regains his "demon.") The soundtrack also features stellar cuts from Randy Newman and Merry Clayton, a great score by Jack Nitszche, and what may be the very first "rap" song ever recorded on film, by the Last Poets. Wall-to-wall intercuts bounce us around among story points connected on the quantum level; they may seem arbitrary and confusing, but rather than trying to "get" the story as it unfolds, the first time viewer is advised to just go with the flow and absorb as much as possible, enjoying the beautifully choreographed violence, the awesome soundtrack, the quirky characters and intriguing storyline. If you get into the mystical and psychological subtext, you'll probably end watching this movie more than once, and you'll get more out of it each time. But even on a superficial level, this film has plenty to enjoy. All the performances are excellent; James Fox and Jagger are outstanding. Movies don't get any better than this. P.S. -- Although Nick Roeg is a fine director, much of the credit for this masterpiece goes to Donald Cammell.
Gangland enforcer James Fox gets involved with decadent fading rock star
Mick Jagger in Nicholas Roeg's and Donald Cammell's cult film
Few films encapsulate drug-crazed Swinging 60s London like this one, though it was only seen three years after it was made and then heavily-edited because Warners were shocked at what they had financed. The film exceeded the boundaries of good taste that always epitomized British cinema.
This superbly shot, deeply disturbing, complex, often pretentious, often brilliant parable of confused identity was the first feature directed by leading cinematographer Roeg, sharing the credit with artist Cammell.
An eerily plausible Fox, cast against type, plays Chas, a sadistic gangster on the run who rents a room in the Notting Hill Gate home of Turner (Jagger), a reclusive, sexually ambiguous, washed-up rock star. Fox, his antithesis, is offered women and magic mushrooms before literally swapping personalities with the singer.
Fox abandoned the cinema for almost a decade after this film, such was its effect on him.
Verdict A dazzling, ideas-rich, extraordinarily inventive full-stop to the 60s
Visually compelling and disturbing look at two diverse sides of 1960s
London; the criminal underworld and hippie culture, respectively
by Fox's Chas, the wayward gangster, and Jagger's Turner, a semi-retired
bisexual rock musician.
It's Chas' world we are first introduced to during a highly charged furiously paced scene of gangland violence. It soon becomes clear to us that he is not only an outcast to society but also dangerously individual within his own mob circle. On the run from both the law and the mob he takes refuge in a Notting Hill home which he finds is occupied by Turner, his junkie girlfriend, Pherber, and her French lover, Lucy. Tunrer becomes infatuated with Chas' violent charisma and his "vital energy" he himself feels he has lost.
As the title suggests the film is all about performances. Chas is initiated into Turner's underground world of drug experimentation and gender bending. Turner's name in itself is symbolic of the way he tries to play with and turn Chas' psyche around. It is ultimately the "performance" of Turner which brings the two worlds together, as he poses as Chas' mobster boss, Harry Flowers, in a scene shot similarly to a modern day music video.
Some critics had felt the film lost its way once Chas entered Turner's world. Yet surely such disorientation is indicative of how the film successfully explores Chas' own uneasiness in confronting his own subconscious in an alien atmosphere. The film is full of visual flourishes as one might expect from Roeg, who had been cinemaphotographer on films such as 'Fahrenheit 451'. Fox is mesmerising playing out the evolving identities of Chas, whilst Jagger's persona is exhibited to its full potential. Roeg was again to explore the theme of alienation using a rock star (this time David Bowie) in a more literal sense in his landmark science fiction film 'The Man Who Fell To Earth'.
A number of Nicholas Roeg's films explore the collision of two cultures: Australian aborigine vs. urban Caucasian in "Walkabout" (1971) ... English vs. Italian in "Don't Look Now" (1973) ... and alien vs. humankind in "The Man Who Fell To Earth" (1976). "Performance" (1970) explores the collision between the world of a sadistic extortion artist and the world of a retired rock star and his companions. But the plot merely serves as a vehicle to convey compelling images and music -- the film is surrealistic and imaginative rather than realistic or film noire. At one point in the film, Jagger reads from Jorge Luis Borges's short story "The South," while his consort prepares a lunch of psychedelic mushrooms. The film touchs on BDSM sex, the harder side of the gay world, extortion, art, and imagination. Reality is not always what it seems. Jagger's performance of "Memo from Turner" is a minor triumph: "Remember who you say you area / And keep your noses clean / Boys will be boys and play with toys / So be strong with your beasts."
This is probably one of the best cult movies ever made. I have seen it about 20 times now and even the last time, it was still not boring and I stayed up late again to watch it at 3 in the morning (even though I have it on video). "Performance" shows James Fox in a part you would never expect from him. The mobster with the secret past and deep dark secrets. Violent and with a "no mercy" attitude. Very impressive. Mick Jagger debuts as an actor in this picture and you can see he wants to do well in the beginning. I know the movie was shot chronologically and Jagger seems to be growing as an actor in each scene. The most impressive performance is the performance German/Italian actress Anita Pallenberg is giving here. As the Jagger's character says in the movie: "The only performance that makes it, that really makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness!" And Anita does just that. She is beautiful, decadent, dangerous, high and grounded and very much herself as Pherber. If you watch this movie, you should really try and focus on her, because she is full of surprises. French teen actress Michèle Breton only starred in this movie and the attention is drawn away from her completely by Pallenberg. That is a shame, because Breton does have some very strong scenes, like the one with Pallenberg when they are talking about the gangster. You can see that both Breton and her character are not sure what they are yet: are they children or young women? This movie clearly deserves 10 out of 10!
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