PERFORMANCE (1968 Britain)

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“Business is business and progress is progress…”

One can’t help thinking the trial and subsequent jailing of the Kray twins might have had something to do with the delay of this cinematic ejaculation. The mobsters seen here lounge in bed all day lusting over gay porn. I mean its obvious they’re based on Ronnie and Reggie Kray, “the professionals of violence” as their biographer John Pearson called the most notorious London gangsters of the 1960s. One can’t help believing that if the Krays were found not guilty, this film’s release would have been delayed even longer than the two years it took before revealing itself to stunned cinema goers everywhere.

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It doesn’t really matter whether you like the Rolling Stones or not, but it may help if you know about the late sixties drug busts, the demise of Brian Jones, and the end of the flower power dream to appreciate this classic. Like a shattered kaleidoscope you can’t put down it resonates long after the credits have rolled. Mick Jagger (Turner) plays a washed up rock star trying to get back into contact with his muse–any muse available. James Fox (Chas) is a brutal gangster on the run looking only for somewhere to hide. Pretending to be a juggler on tour, Chas moves into a basement suite in Notting Hill owned by Turner.

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He becomes absorbed into a new world. Mr Turner wears lipstick and dresses to hide the macho characteristics that lie buried in his persona and which later come to the surface. Turner/Jagger has two women in his life: Pherber (Anita Pallenberg-WOW!) and Lucy (Michele Breton). Pherber is Turner’s lover and the sex scenes in bathtubs and beds are convincing enough to suggest they are real and not simulated. What you can’t see on the dvd made the avant-garde porn circuits of Scandinavia. Lucy is a boyish looking French girl who feels comfortable sleeping with either male or female. There is also a neighborhood girl named Lorraine  who does odd jobs for them and calls Chas “dad.” Every member of the cast is spot on. The performances are terrifyingly real. Turner has not been able to perform in public because he has lost that inner spark, the creative energy to move to the next level and sees in Chas a man possessing the demon he requires.

1+a+ok+98Trying to capture that quality for himself, Turner gets Chas high on psychedelic mushrooms and both men begin to see life in terms of new possibilities as Pherber challenges Chas to explore his feminine side. Chas tries to resist at first but when Chas asks for a Polaroid for a passport photo and dons a reddish wig, the blurring of identities comes full circle.

The musical high point of the film is a number called “Memo from T.” Turner takes on Chas’ identity in the segment. Addressing some of Chas’ mob associates, Turner slicks his hair back like a hit man and suggests the kind of sexually threatening pose we have come to identify with the Stones. Filled with surreal images, MTV-style jump cuts, memory and fragments of memory that blend past and present, illusion and reality, the film takes us on a wild ride, forcing us to discard our conventional way of seeing a film. Disjointed, baffling, profound, and unforgettable, Performance is an experience not to be missed.

Nicholas Roeg’s camera-work is superlative as he makes his compositions into forms that look like they’re not of this cinematic world: close-ups merge into wide-shots, the folds of menace coming around like the cutaways to the trial early in the picture where shots seem subliminal, deranged, even satirical.

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But nothing beats how the editing works. Even for Roeg, who’s reputation is iconic, he makes this structure like the way we see memory, image association, thoughts, moods, colours, beauty, horror and other madness in our minds. Just watch how he splices in the gangsters splashing the room with blood, or the mushroom shots. The soundtrack is unique. The sound editing itself is unsubtly designed.

The film looks and sounds as if it was done with many different cameras and recorded on many different mics/edited in different studios, but it’s clear from the concept of the ‘story’ itself that this is the point. James Fox became so emotionally involved in his role that after the film he became a born-again Christian and did not make another picture for ten years. Performance IS literally a performance and an expressionist film….”The only performance that really makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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