Performance (film)  

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"The most disgusting, the most completely worthless film I have seen since I began reviewing." -- Richard Schickel


"As Performance evolved the story became significantly darker. Donald Cammell was influenced by the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (a portrait of Borges on a book cover can be seen at a crucial moment in the film), as he redrafted the script to create an intense, intellectual film dealing with an identity crisis." --Sholem Stein


"Several aspects of Performance were novel and it foreshadowed MTV type music videos (particularly the "Memo from Turner" sequence in which Jagger sings) and many popular films of the 1990s and 2000s." --Sholem Stein


Borges shots in Performance : "Those are actually shots from different scenes as the book recurs throughout the film. 1) Gangster Rosie Bloom is reading it (A Personal Anthology) while waiting in a car. 2) Turner’s kitchen where Mick Jagger has been reading from the story ‘The South’. A fly hits him in the eye and he drops the book. 3) Rosie retrieves his book after having visited a friend of Chas’s. 4) Borges’ face appears at the end when one of the characters (I won’t say which one) has been shot." --John Coulthart [1]

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Performance (1970) is a British film directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, written by Cammell and photographed by Roeg. The film stars James Fox as a violent and ambitious London gangster who, after carrying out an unordered killing, goes into hiding at the home of a reclusive rock star (Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones, in his film acting debut).

The film was produced in 1968 but not released until 1970 due to the reluctance of Warner Bros. to distribute the film owing to its sexual content and graphic violence. It received a mixed critical response initially, but since then its reputation has grown in stature; it is now regarded as one of the most influential and innovative films of the 1970s as well as in British cinema.

In 1999, Performance was voted the 48th greatest British film of all time by the British Film Institute; in 2008 Empire magazine ranked the film 182nd on its list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.

Cammell was heavily influenced by the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (a portrait of Borges can be seen at a crucial moment in the film) as he redrafted the script to create an intense, intellectual film dealing with issues of identity crisis, reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman's film Persona. On its release the film received mixed reviews to say the least. Most reviewers focused on the graphic sexual elements. One reviewer (Richard Schickel) described it as “the most completely worthless film I have seen since I began reviewing.”

Throughout the late '70s and '80s Performance gradually acquired a cult following on the late night and repertory cinema circuits. By the 1990s the film had undergone a complete critical reappraisal. When Performance was released, several aspects of the film were extremely innovative, and historically its use of the cut-up technique is seen as a precursor to MTV type music videos.

Contents

Plot

Chas (James Fox) is a member of an East London gang led by Harry Flowers (Johnny Shannon); his specialty is intimidation through violence as he collects pay-offs for Flowers. He is very good at his job and has a reputation for liking it. His sexual liaisons are casual and rough. When Flowers decides to take over a betting shop owned by Joey Maddocks (Anthony Valentine), he forbids Chas to get involved, as he feels Chas' complicated personal history with Maddocks may lead to trouble. Chas is angry about this and later humiliates Maddocks, who retaliates by wrecking Chas' apartment and attacking Chas. Chas shoots him, packs a suitcase and runs from the scene.

When Flowers makes it clear that he has no intention of offering protection to Chas but instead wants him eliminated, Chas decides to head for the countryside to hide, but after overhearing a musician talk about going on tour and leaving his rented room in Notting Hill Gate, Chas goes there and pretends the musician was a friend who recommended him. He tells Pherber (Anita Pallenberg), a woman living there, that he is a fellow performer, juggler Johnny Dean. She lives there with Turner (Mick Jagger), a reclusive, eccentric former rock star who has "lost his demon", and Lucy (Michèle Breton), with whom he enjoys a non-possessive and bisexual ménage à trois. Floating in and out of the house is a child, Lorraine (Laraine Wickens).

At first, Chas is contemptuous of Turner, and Turner attempts to return the rent paid in advance, but they start influencing each other. Pherber and Turner understand his conflict and want to understand what makes him function so well within his world. To speed up the process, Pherber tricks him by feeding him a psychedelic mushroom, and Chas accuses her and Turner of poisoning him. He soon accepts it, and in his hallucinogenic state experiments with clothing and identity, including with feminine clothes. Chas opens up, and he begins a caring relationship with Lucy. Before all this, he phones Tony (a trusted friend who refers to Chas as "Uncle") to help him get out of the country.

Flowers and his henchmen use Tony to track Chas to Turner's flat. They allow him to go and collect his things upstairs. Chas tells Turner and Pherber he is leaving, then shoots Turner in the head. As he is led to his death, Chas still wears his feminine clothes and wig, but his face is identical to Turner's.

History

Performance was initially conceived by Donald Cammell as "The Performers" and was to be a lighthearted swinging 60's romp. At one stage, Cammell's friend Marlon Brando (with whom he later collaborated on the posthumously published novel "Fan Tan") was to play the gangster role which became "Chas". At that stage the story involved an American gangster hiding out in London. As the project evolved the story became significantly darker. Cammell was heavily influenced by the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (a portrait of Borges can be seen at a crucial moment in the film) as he redrafted the script to create an intense, intellectual film dealing with issues of identity crisis. Cammell and co director Nicolas Roeg also benefited from a lack of interference from Warner Bros. studio executives, who believed they were getting a Rolling Stones equivalent of the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night (1964). Instead, Cammell and Roeg delivered a dark, experimental film which included graphic depictions of violence, sex and drug use.

Performance has gained notoriety due to the difficulties it faced in getting on screen. The film's content was a complete surprise to the studio. It has been reported that during a test screening, one Warner executive's wife vomited in shock. The response from the studio was to deny the film a cinematic release. It has been claimed that at one stage Warner Bros. wanted the negative to be destroyed.

Performance was finally released in 1970 after several recuts and changes in Warner's administration. The success of hippy road movie Easy Rider is also believed to have convinced the studio to release Performance.

"Performance" was released on DVD for the first time on February 13, 2007.

Critical reputation

On its release the film received mixed reviews to say the least. Most reviewers focused on the graphic sexual elements. One reviewer (Richard Schickel) described it as “the most completely worthless film I have seen since I began reviewing.” Throughout the late '70s and '80s Performance gradually acquired a cult following on the late night and repertory cinema circuits. By the 1990s the film had undergone a complete critical reappraisal. In 1995 Performance appeared at number 28 in an "all-time greats" poll of critics and directors. After Cammell's death in 1996 the film's reputation grew still further. It is now frequently cited as a classic of British cinema.

Influence

When Performance was released, several aspects of the film were extremely innovative, and historically it can be seen as a precursor to MTV type music videos and many popular movies of the 1990s and 2000s. This movie has a soundtrack with The Rolling Stones, Ry Cooder, Randy Newman, The Last Poets, Buffy Ste. Marie, Merry Clayton.

  • Performance was the first feature film to employ the cut-up technique (although the technique was employed in experimental shorts in the 1960s and 70s, most notably by Antony Balch). Directors Cammell and Roeg also went on to use this technique in their following movies, before it become commonplace in popular cinema.
  • The gangster aspect of Performance has been imitated by many popular directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, Jonathan Glazer and more.
  • Performance pushed boundaries by featuring extremely explicit sex scenes and use of drugs, both which have been rumoured to be real instead of simulated. Although Andy Warhol's (and other underground filmmakers') films had featured such behaviour before Performance, it was unheard that such things appeared in a major studio production.
  • Big Audio Dynamite's song "E=MC²" includes extensive dialogue samples from Performance.
  • Happy Monday's second album, Bummed, features several songs inspired by the film, including "Moving In With', "Performance", and "Mad Cyril". "Mad Cyril" is explicitly inspired by the film and included the following dialogue samples:
    • "I like that, turn it up"
    • "It was Mad Cyril!"
    • "We have been courteous"
    • "I need a bohemian atmosphere"
  • In keeping with the intellectual bent of Jagger's character, legendary Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges is quoted numerous times during the film.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Performance (film)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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