Friday, May 14, 2010

Performance (Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, 1970)

One moment you're shaving a chauffeur's head, the next you're ingesting psychedelic mushrooms in the presence of a bored rock star with pillowy lips. Such is the mixed up spiritual trajectory of a gangster named Chas in the astutely weird Performance, Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's oblique meditation on what it must feel like to be repeatedly confronted by loopy foreign chicks in an enclosed space. Shrewd camera angles, an irregular film score (Jack Nitzsche), and flashy editing attack the viewer right from the get-go, as the film makes its bohemian intentions nice and sparkling clear the second we encounter our modishly svelte protagonist. The universe we first enter may seem trite and familiar–British organized crime–but make no mistake, the techniques used to depict this well-worn world are anything but. It's true, they still throw around words like, "ponce" and "geezer" when threatening rivals, yet I don't many mobster movies that feature scenes where disrobing henchman are serenaded by Mick Jagger in a sharp business suit. It's this singularity, the clash between buttoned-down gangsterism and freewheeling hippie culture, that made the film so fascinating.

Despite the aforementioned irregularities, the film starts off like a million of other gangster flicks: A well-regarded crime syndicate foot soldier, Chas (James Fox), finds himself on the lam after a shakedown goes awry; his boss sent a couple of thugs to his flat after he disobeyed him and one of them ends up dead. Desperate to find a place to crash until he get his getaway plans in order, the beaten and bruised Chas stumbles upon a building where a reclusive musician named Turner (Mick Jagger) and two unusual women, Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michèle Breton), are living in a chaotic stupor.

The ruthless Chas, one who is used to having everything properly organized (we see him early on meticulously arranging the magazines on his coffee table), is shocked by the level of perversion and topsyturviness that permeates this lair of inactivity.

Conning his way into renting a room in the basement, Chas thinks he's got it made–after all, it's a pretty cool hideout However, the innate inquisitiveness of his free spirited flatmates is starting to test the ostracized gangster's resolve. You see, he's told them that he's an artist and juggler, and, as you would expect, he's having a hard time convincing them that he is. And can you blame him? I mean, it's not that easy to go from being violent hoodlum to a sensitive artist in the span of twenty-four hours.

Luckily, Anita has a giant bag of hallucinogenic fungi, Lucy has her awkwardly boyish frame (like Chas, I, too, thought she was a twelve year-old boy), and Turner has his voluptuous lips to help unlock the dapper goon's plethora of secrets.

Unfamiliar with the music of The Rolling Stones ("Undercover of the Night" is the only song of theirs I will listen to on purpose), I viewed Mick Jagger with a fair amount of puzzlement. At first, I found his appearance to be strangely alluring. But after while, I was downright mesmerized by Mick and his kooky mannerisms. Whether provoking Chas with a florescent pole, haphazardly strumming his guitar, or belting out the lyrics to "Turner's Song: Memo from T" in the film's lone surrealistic musical number, I found the sparing nature of Mick's performance to be top drawer in terms of modesty and decorum.

Since I've already mentioned his lips twice, I'll stay consistent by saying how full and rich they looked when ever they came on-screen. Call me needle-shaped, but every time Mick opened his mouth, I would think of that toothless mountain man from Deliverance and his immortal line: "He got a real pretty mouth ain't he?" A dreamy, intimidating gob if I ever saw one.

Nasty and cruel one minute, a blank canvass the other, James Fox gives the most complex performance in Performance, a role that requires him to do a fair amount of multitasking. Overcoming some of the film's more meandering, hippie-fueled moments, I thought Fox did a terrific job of balancing the many different emotional states his character goes through. Of course, that doesn't mean he was balling in every other scene (he pretty much sports the same expression from start to finish). But as far as creating feelings through body language and nuance, Fox was a steely behemoth.

Deep and profound, yet maddening at times, this hippie era curiosity created a sense of being trapped under a soiled poncho better than any than any film I've seen all year. Whether that's a good or a bad thing, I've haven't decided yet. Mentally stable viewers, proceed with caution.

video uploaded by Performance786


  1. Hello. I hope this finds you doing well. I've been on a blogging hiatus since the beginning of the year, so it's been quite some time since I've been around to visit some blogs. I'm back from my break now. I wanted to make sure to visit your blog. I enjoyed checking out the latest posts on your blog. Great job. I'm back blogging now myself. I hope you'll take a look at what I'm doing. Thanks. Take care. Have a great week.

  2. Hey! Welcome back, Keith. I missed your comments. :)