Friday, June 06, 2008


Performance (Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg, 1970) [7]

This film has been called the best representation of the Swinging London of the late 60s but for me, that far from the most interesting part of it. Sure, it has all the sex, drugs, and music that would become the general overview of that time and yet, the story is fairly flat and uninteresting. James Fox plays Chas, a sadistic mob goon who needs to find a hideaway after killing a guy. He overhears a conversation which leads him to rent a room in a mansion occupied by a reclusive rock star named Turner, played by Mick Jagger and two young ladies (Anita Pallenberg and Michelle Breton). Once immersed in this new, strange world, Chas succumbs to Turner's mind games and the line between identities and reality get blurred. It really makes no use trying to unearth the story as it is never really there. Fox is acceptable in his role and Jagger really does nothing more than act the way people think of Mick Jagger. There's nudity, sex, and drugs; they're there but have none of the shocking nature they must have originally had. What makes the film important is Roeg's portion of the film, the photography and a result of that, the structure. It's amazing to me that a major Hollywood studio ever released this because it's one of the most experimental narrative films I've ever seen handled by an American studio. Warner Brothers whole rationale must have been solely based on the fact that Jagger was going to be in it. Cammell's basic plot plays with ideas of identity and the whole notion of performance, which he got from writings by Borges and Artaud. These ideas are stretching the boundaries of what, at least in film terms, would be acceptable and anticipated. That the ending sees a combination of Tuner and Chas's identities into one being is not surprising. By pushing some radical ideas around, the film itself can take a very loose, radical approach. There are some images in this that are challenging to decipher yet they make the film work because the film never settles down. Performance is a film that led to an opening of structure in British cinema. I feel it has a lot in common with another film out of Britain near the same time, Dyn Amo by Stephen Dwoskin. That film takes its ideas of identity, sex, and what Freud called 'the gaze' to a much more extreme area but it has the same mentality as this film. I happen to like films that are challenging the viewer with new or difficult images or subject matter and Performance, especially Nicolas Roeg's work, meet that criteria.

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