Monday, November 06, 2017


Directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg and written by Cammell, Performance is the story of a gangster who goes into hiding following a botched assassination attempt on his life where he stays at the home of a reclusive rock star. The film is an exploration of a man dealing with the life he’s been as he’s looking for a change as he meets someone who is also in need of a change in his life. Starring James Fox, Mick Jagger, and Anita Pallenberg. Performance is a stylish and whimsical film from Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg.

The film is a simple story of a gangster who survives an assassination attempt by thugs over a dispute with his boss as he finds himself at the home of a reclusive rock singer where things get weird. It’s a film that plays into not just identity but also the need to change things when a certain lifestyle has taken its toll where this gangster had nearly been killed and wants to do something different. Donald Cammell’s screenplay starts off with the world that Chas (James Fox) is in where he works for a mob boss in collecting money owed to his boss where he makes a great living. Yet, when his boss wants to do business with a betting shop owner that Chas has an unfortunate history with. Things go sour where Chas is attacked in his home and ends up killing the man his boss wants to do business with as he goes on the run.

Upon staying at the apartment building owned by this reclusive rock singer in Turner (Mick Jagger), he finds himself in this strange world where Turner is living with two women in Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michele Breton) plus a child maid in Lorraine (Laraine Wickens). Chas finds himself in this strange world where fantasy and reality blur as it relates to the idea of masculinity and identity as Turner is coping with writer’s block as well as dealing with his own identity where he finds inspiration in Turner and vice versa.

The film’s direction by Cammell and cinematographer Nicolas Roeg is definitely stylish in the way they would present the film as it was shot in 1967-1968 at a time when Swingin’ London and the flower power era was in full swing. Shot on location in London as well as various locations in the city, the film showcases the air of different cultures which play into the different personalities and ideas of masculinity of both Chas and Turner. The gangster culture is very gritty in its presentation while Cammell and Roeg would infuse it with some style including some different film stocks to play into the air of fantasy that Chas is craving for through Roeg’s high-octane cinematography as it show a world that is grey but also dangerous. When the film is set at Turner’s apartment, it is more colorful with an array of different styles where Cammell and Roeg would create some unique compositions in the close-ups and medium shots. 

There are also these moments that are quite extreme in terms of the sexual content, by standards of the late 60s/early 70s, as it relates to Turner’s own interest in his femininity as well as the fact that he’s sleeping with two women. Once Chas begins to embrace other sides of himself in the hope that it would get him out of Britain, it does become a film about identity as its ending is about the blur of fantasy and reality into what these two men want. Overall, Cammell and Roeg create a surreal yet exhilarating film about a gangster who hides out at the home of a reclusive rock star in the hopes to create a new identity.

Editors Anthony Gibbs, Brian Smedley-Aston, Frank Mazzola, and Tony Palmer do excellent work with the editing as it is very stylized in its approach to jump-cuts, dissolves, and fast-cuts to play into something that feels manic but also wild in the spirit of the 1960s. Art director John Clark does brilliant work with the look of the spacious home of Chas in the film’s first half to the arty and sort of claustrophobic home of Turner that is quite dirty and filled with lots of art and recording equipment. Sound recordist Ron Barron and sound editor Alan Patillo do superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere at Turner’s house as well as the clubs and places that Chas goes to as a gangster. The film’s music by Jack Nitzsche is terrific as it is this mixture of blues and jazz that play into the period of the times as the soundtrack also feature contributions from Mick Jagger including a scene where he sings as a gangster as well as pieces from Randy Newman, Ry Cooder, and Buffy Sainte-Marie.

The film’s fantastic cast feature some notable small roles from John Sterland as a chauffeur that Chas was beating up for money, John Bindon as a thug, Johnny Shannon as Chas’ boss Harry Flowers, Laraine Wickens as a young girl who is a maid for Turner in Lorraine, Kenneth Colley as a friend of Chas who would be his only contact in hiding, and Anthony Valentine as a betting shop owner in Joey Maddocks whom Chas dislikes as he would later try to kill him in a botched assassination attempt. Michele Breton is wonderful as Lucy as an androgynous woman whose look is boyish yet she seems to connect with Chas who would also have a liking towards her. Anita Pallenberg is excellent as Pherber as a secretary-of-sorts for Turner as well as a lover who takes an interest in Chas as she thinks he can get helpful for Turner.

Mick Jagger is brilliant as Turner where he provides that sense of energy but also a pretentiousness that is expected in a rock star where Jagger is definitely enjoying himself where he pretends to be a gangster as well as provide some humor as the rock star. Finally, there’s James Fox in an amazing performance as Chas as a tough gangster who deals with an attempt on his life as he struggles to find a life outside of crime as well as become this unlikely muse for a rock singer as he deals with the drawbacks of his own masculinity.

Performance is a marvelous film from Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg. It’s a very stylish film that explore male identity and the need to change it as it also feature some dazzling visuals and a killer soundtrack. In the end, Performance is a remarkable film from Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg.

Nicolas Roeg Films: Walkabout - (Glastonbury Fayre) – Don’t Look NowThe Man Who Fell to Earth - (Bad Timing) – (Eureka) – Insignificance – (Castaway) – (Aria-Un ballo in maschera) – (Track 29) – (The Witches (1990 film)) – (Heart of Darkness (1993 film)) – (Two Deaths) – (Full Body Massage) – (Samson and Delilah) – (Puffball)

© thevoid99 2017

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