Tuesday, 8 July 2014


Donald Cammell’s films involve the blending of sexual identity and his debut film certainly underlined that fact. It was Cammell’s fascination with the power of Mick Jagger over an audience and the power exerted by London’s gangster community that lead to the making of Performance (1968).  The original story was about an American gangster stranded at London Airport who meets a fellow American at one of the airports fast food outlets and develops a relationship. But it eventually transformed into a chilling nightmarish portrait of the dark decadent side of the sixties involving LSD and gender bending.
Chas and Turner.
What we have got to remember is that Warner Brothers only agreed to finance the movie because they saw is as a vehicle for the Mick Jagger whose band The Rolling Stones was riding high in the music charts at this time, although they were classed as ‘dangerous’, intriguing the young but scaring their parents. When the film was premiered at Warner’s offices there was a tremendous uproar when they realised that Jagger was not even in the film until half way through and the subject matter was a little avant-garde for their conservative sensitivities. Therefore Cammell, and he alone, was responsible for a complete re-edit in Los Angles that delayed the release of the film for almost two years until 1970. If you watch the films trailer I think you will agree that it does push Jagger to the forefront of the story, which is really not the case with the actually film. But what transpired from the more intense editing is a more interesting film. The movie does however show quite clearly Donald Cammell’s on screen love affair with the rock star.

Menage a trois.

When the film opens we see a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce traversing the quite country lanes of England but this tranquil landscape is juxtaposed with an explicit sex scene, which could or could not be in the back of the car? This is an intention that is continued through out the film, can we believe what we are seeing on the screen - is it actually happening? The narrative is split into two half’s, the first ‘the gangster segment’ follows the script until we move to 81 Powis Square, Notting Hill Gate where the second half ‘the psychedelic segment’ allegedly deviates quite a lot from Cammell’s original script. In the first section we meet Chas Devlin (James Fox) who is a ‘performer’ carrying out Harry Flowers (Johnny Shannon in his first acting role after being taken on originally by Cammell as a voice coach for Fox) violent dirty work involving intimidation and the collection of debts. When Flowers decides to take over Joey Maddocks (Anthony Valentine) betting shop Chas is excluded from the operation because Harry says that he has a personnel history with the man going back some years. But Chas takes umbrage and disrespects Maddocks who in turn wrecks Devlin’s flat. Devlin’s response is to shot and kill Joey Maddocks and go on the run! Over hearing a conversation he applies for a vacant room in the basement of the aforementioned Powis Square and hide away until he can get out of the country. Its there he meets Turner (a feminine Jagger at his satanic magisterial best in his debut feature film role) a reclusive rock superstar and the two women who share drugs and sex with him, the beautiful androgynous Lucy (French actress Michele Breton) and ultra sexy Pherber (Anita Pallenberg). Chas, or as he now calls himself, Johnny Dean gradually becomes closer to Turner and with the help of some amanita muscaria (magic mushrooms to you) he rediscovers himself and enjoys a bi-sexual relationship: or does he or are the two main characters merging? 
Pherber and Lucy.
It was a case of life imitating art with drugs being used during the filming!  It even coursed a riff between Jagger and Keith Richards over Keith’s girlfriend at the time the Italian born Pallenberg who plays out some explicate sex scenes in the movie with Jagger. James Fox role in the film as a psychopathic villain, which is allegedly based on a gangster by the name of Jimmy Evans a notorious underworld figure, affected him personally as this was a difficult and different role and he was unable to get it out off his system for a long time. Donald Cammell himself did not make another film for five years.
The director with Pallenberg.
It was Cammell who originally asked Nicolas Roeg to be his cameraman but he refused and eventually become co-director although he is still credited with the cinematography. It was said to be the first British movie that demonstrated the world of casual drugs and sex, mixed with filmmaking influences from Europe. The original music was by Jack Nitzsche and included musicians like Ry Cooder and Lowell George. The soundtrack was released as an album by WB and a single from the album Memo from Turner by Mick Jagger, said to be the first music video, reached number 32 in the UK singles chart.

Albeit that the viewer must decide the meaning of the ending, which is by no means clear, this is a timeless film classic that reflects the madness and fantasy that was the Armageddon in Cammell’s mind at the end of the cult ridden 1960’s. Strangely it brings to mind the Jim Jarmusch film Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) proving Cammell’s footprint is still influencing filmmakers today.

"Performance was not only the greatest seventies film about identity, if any movie in the whole Story of Film should be compulsory viewing for film makers, maybe this is it.[1]"

“Nothing is true; everything is permitted[2]” See also White of the Eye (1987)

Chas Devlin say's its the end!!

[1] Mark Cousins The Story of Film.
[2] Turner.

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