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Not for everyone but definitely original
francheval10 February 2006
Here is a movie that cannot be classified in any subcategory. Many viewers of now and then seemed to be disturbed by its lack of evident meaning or message. Starting more or less like a gangster flick, it abruptly turns halfway through into a psychedelic trip, where Mick Jagger appears, in one of his rare screen roles, as a retired rock star.

No doubt, "Performance" doesn't do much effort to be easily understood. If you like stories with a clear plot, well defined characters and a happy ending, then skip this one. In order to enjoy that movie, you should better give up your rationality for a while. There are many interpretations one can have about it, but they will most likely come in the second run. Like a dream, "Performance" is a visual and mental shock where nothing comes as expected, and it lets you wake up dazed and confused by its so peculiar atmosphere.

What I find most puzzling about it is how far ahead of its time this movie was in every aspect. It was shot in 1968, but released only two years later because the distributors were obviously not prepared for this kind of "performance", and had not seen anything alike before. Western society was undergoing incredibly fast and drastic mutations, and the culture shock that happened in those days is at the very heart of the picture. It was "time for a change". Just like the main character, the western world would never be the same again afterwards.

Interesting fact : a mere five years before, the lead actor James Fox had played in "the Servant", a film based on a play by Harold Pinter with a story that has a lot in common with "Performance". "The Servant" appeared highly controversial by then because of its allusions to seedy sex, but it was shot in black and white with very conventional filming, editing and acting, and a very outdated jazzy soundtrack. Hard to believe it takes place in the same city (London) with the same lead actor within just a five year gap.

Nothing about "Performance" is conventional. It takes off immediately into a hectic pace, flashy colors, haunting music, and very graphic sex and violence. The London crime world is photographed with a rare accuracy. Actually, one of the guys playing the gangsters happened to be a real life gangster. Then suddenly, by a random twist of fate, the cockney villain (no heroes here) is propelled into another completely different underground scene, where "nothing is true, everything is permitted". He meets his alter ego as a has-been pop musician living secluded in a red-walled mansion covered with mirrors, together with a duet of intriguing women. Hallucinogenic mushrooms are casually served at breakfast, notions of time and space fade away, while gender, identity and truth get blurred. The two main characters gradually merge together and though both of them seemingly get doomed by their fate in the end, you don't know by then which of them is whom anymore.

I don't know of any other movie where you see a Rolls Royce burning down in an acid bath, gangsters performing a strip-tease show, or a plunging view inside a skull as a bullet is shot through it, least all of them together. Besides, the recurring use of mirrors all throughout the picture, the constant play with colors and the superimposing of faces and images don't have many parallels either in film history.

Of course, if you are a Rolling Stones fan, this movie is a must-see, but then you probably have seen it already. Like the main character, the Rolling Stones began as English street kids, and came to explore a world of sex, drugs and rock&roll where one of them actually lost his life. In "Performance" , an androgynous long-haired Mick Jagger with pouting lips is at the acme of his character, while blond and foxy Anita Pallenberg, who had affairs with three members of the band, and freckled boyish Michèle Breton fit perfectly into the scenery .

If there was to be a "pop-art" movie, that would be it. You may love or hate this film, but for sure, it is daringly creative and experimental, and anything but ordinary. To quote the character played by Jagger : "the only performance that makes it, that really makes it, is the one that achieves madness".
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You shoot too much of that s***, Pherber.
dondutton17 February 2004
This film operates on multiple levels and in cultures that we barely knew existed in 1970. The East End London mobster culture being one and the London counter-culture of drugs and music another. To further lend a surreal air, Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammel (who co-directed the film) present metaphors and psychological homologies- sadism, homosexuality, hierarchy in gangs and organizations- all stemming from central psychological needs for power and dominance combined with and expressed through sexuality. The first half of the film seems to anticipate Guy Ritchie- a glimpse into Cockney gangsters and "poofs" and then, Chas steps into Turner's lair and the film alters along with our consciousness. Suddenly, underneath the gangster/rockstar theme another, more deeply embedded theme emerges about identity and the part of others that we share in common(the deeper motivations and identities). Turner and Chas sense it in each other's "performance", all four main characters (arranged on a sexual continuum from the very female Pherber through 2 personae of androgyny to the very male Chas) explore their other parts as when Pherber puts a mirror, reflecting her breast on Chas. The shared motivational part comes from the "performance" of violence or art that Chas and Turner are fascinated by in each other. Add in some very strange camera angles and you have one of the very few films that ever did the impossible- represented altered consciousness to an audience (mainly) in straight consciousness. That last part depended on what year you saw it in theatres. In all, a very profound movie. Donald Cammell was a genius who never got his proper due.
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Psychedelic Borgesian masterpiece!
Infofreak30 November 2001
Thirty years after its release 'Performance' still remains one of the most controversial movies of the 60s/70s. For many it is an arty pretentious bore that is only worth remembering for being a mother lode of imagery that has been mined extensively by MTV "talents" over the last twenty years. (Cammell/Roeg must be up there with Bunuel and Kenneth Anger as the most plagiarized source for rock video!)

For the rest of us 'Performance' could well be THE great movie of the psychedelic era, rivaled only by Antonioni's 'Blow Up' and Jodorowky's 'El Topo'. 'Performance' merges the hard boiled Cockney gangster world of the Kray twins (exemplified by James Fox's brutal Chas) with the freaks of the rock/drug world (Jagger's enigmatic Turner) and shows they have as much in common as they differ. Reality and fantasy blur, gender and personas get confused, and Chas and Turner become increasingly hard to tell apart.

All of this unfolds to an ultra-cool soundtrack of The Last Poets, Randy Newman, Jagger's lost classic 'Memo From Turner' and former Spector/Stones/Crazy Horse collaborator Jack Nietsche's Moog. Add to this plenty of sex, trips and Jorge Luis Borges references, and you've got yourself a mind-blowing movie experience!! Highly recommended to Grant Morrison fans.
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"Time for a Change"
ashleyallinson8 February 2005
Just recently released on DVD, this film is, no doubt, about to have a whole new group of fans.

Here, questions of gender and sexuality are marred by the influence of drugs in the hippie enclave of Powis Square in '60s London. After a rapid fall from power within local crime syndicate, James Fox flees the mafia and finds refuge in the eclectic house of Mick Jagger. Jagger is living the life of the failed superstar with a small entourage of women; a recluse, whose appetite for sex and drugs is fueled by his royalty cheques. When this young gangster stumbles into his house, Jagger involves him into his kinky games, transforming him into one of his own. There is plenty of subtext here, if anyone is interested in digging deeper.

Perhaps the biggest letdown of the recent DVD release is that it was released in mono Dolby. Seeing as the soundtrack was released on stereo CD, why couldn't the audio, at least during the music sequences, have been similarly remastered?

The Stones rarely played "Memo From Turner" due to their "women troubles" that stemmed from the film. Jagger was sleeping with Richard's girlfriend on the set, or something to that effect. Anyway, "Memo From Turner" was released on the album "Metamorphasis" in 1976. The intro on the 1976 version is great, but the 1970 version on this album is one of the hottest tracks the Stones ever recorded without Mic Taylor. This song proves to be one of the first music videos ever made, as it appears in its entirety in Roeg's film.
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A tremendous experience; a work of true power and originality
ThreeSadTigers28 August 2008
As the title might suggest, Performance (1970) is a film to be experienced, as opposed to simply endured. At its most basic level, the film can be seen as an experiment into the nature of personality, role-playing, character and the lines between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy; all blurred together by a heady cocktail of sex, drugs and rock n' roll that is representative of the late 60's art-scene that writer and co-director Donald Cammell was very much a part of. For many it will have no doubt become something of a dated relic; a film from the days when East End gangsters were all sharp-suited mother's boys or closeted homosexuals with Jags' and boxing clubs or 60's radicals with beards in bed-sits dropped acid and strummed endless drones about the doors of perception on electric guitars. Others will see it for what it truly is; a disorientating hall of mirrors of psychology and satire - part Borges, part Carroll - as Mick Jagger's self-destructive rock star becomes a sort of white rabbit figure; leading exiled gangster James Fox into a wonderland of psychological manipulation, mind-games and more.

On a secondary level of content and presentation, Performance can also be seen as a playful subversion of the codes and conventions of early gangster cinema; extending on certain well-worn characteristics of 40's film-noir - with the idea of a disgraced hood forced to hide-out after a botched job gives way to the threat of mob retaliation - whilst creating a continually evocative underworld environment that is rife with a number of recognisable references to the iconic gangland milieu of London's East End. This particular period setting is later contrasted and eventually broken down by the second half of the film, in which a combination of bohemian squalor and 60's decadence erode the carefully created facade that these troubled and enigmatic characters - "performers" even - have exploited in order to progress within their disparate social environments. The lines are further blurred by the use of drugs, which again, parallel the emotional landscapes of Lewis Carroll, as well as the more potent ideas of sex and sexuality, which are here presented as being part of a greater performance in itself.

The film is littered with presentations of sex - both heterosexual and homosexual - and always loaded with the threat of both physical and psychological violence, power and manipulation. The sex is a continual distortion; neither erotic, nor titillating, and seemingly inspired by the paintings of Francis Bacon or Domenico di Michelino. It works in the creation of a heightened atmosphere that becomes continually more oppressive and dangerously claustrophobic as the film develops; with the kaleidoscope of images, sounds and colours all blending and blurring between extended philosophical discussions, violence and transfiguration. From here the film shows the subtle symbiosis between the self-aware rock-star and the naive gangster, as sex and drugs are again combined to break down the boundaries of personality and the literal mirroring between life and death. There are all kinds of different ways that we, as an audience, can interpret these ideas and the relationship between the characters; as Cammell - here in close-collaboration with co-director and cinematographer Nicholas Roeg - creates a continually fascinating atmosphere that is punctuated by abstract thought and dark, surrealist imagery.

As a work of artistic expression and cinematic experimentation Performance is a film that needs to be experienced. It is not only notable as a deep, penetrating expose into the human psyche and the dangerous places that narcissism and self-delusion can carry us when the walls of reality have slowly broken down, but as a time capsule to the creative spirit of the 1960's and a brief bohemian subculture that I for one find incredibly interesting. The film also manages to capture the raw energy and quiet sexuality of Jagger before he became an insufferable cliché (all gyrating, geriatric hips swinging to a packed-out football stadium as he saunters through possibly the 100,000,000th performance of Gimme Shelter), with the seductive energy and shaman-like otherworldliness instead creating a character that is self-aware and clearly self-referential, and yet - so perfectly matched against the brooding uncertainty of Fox's wayward gangster. Likewise, the art-pop, drug culture and obvious psychedelic influences never overwhelm the story; instead feeling absolutely germane to the scene that Cammell and Roeg were attempting to explore and to the themes expressed within the subtle subtext of Cammell's strange and suggestive script.

In hindsight, Performance can be seen as the point in time at which the psychedelic experimentation, expression and drug-culture of the 1960's was allowed to envelope the cinematic medium; extending on the more exciting and progressive films that had been emerging from places like France, Japan or the Czech Republic throughout the years leading up to 1967, and finally creating a complete symbiosis between content, theme, character and presentation that was socially progressive and entirely relevant. If America had films like Easy Rider (1969), Medium Cool (1969) and Zabriskie Point (1970), then we had Performance and 'If...' (1968). And if the latter remains a truly defining masterpiece of British film-making and a testament to the unsung greatness of director Lindsay Anderson, then Performance is the essence of the scene preserved as a sort of cinematic reflection; where the underground met the mainstream and the experience was allowed to take control.
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Sex and violence in swinging London!
James.S.Davies3 April 2000
Visually compelling and disturbing look at two diverse sides of 1960s London; the criminal underworld and hippie culture, respectively symbolised by Fox's Chas, the wayward gangster, and Jagger's Turner, a semi-retired bisexual rock musician.

It's Chas' world we are first introduced to during a highly charged furiously paced scene of gangland violence. It soon becomes clear to us that he is not only an outcast to society but also dangerously individual within his own mob circle. On the run from both the law and the mob he takes refuge in a Notting Hill home which he finds is occupied by Turner, his junkie girlfriend, Pherber, and her French lover, Lucy. Tunrer becomes infatuated with Chas' violent charisma and his "vital energy" he himself feels he has lost.

As the title suggests the film is all about performances. Chas is initiated into Turner's underground world of drug experimentation and gender bending. Turner's name in itself is symbolic of the way he tries to play with and turn Chas' psyche around. It is ultimately the "performance" of Turner which brings the two worlds together, as he poses as Chas' mobster boss, Harry Flowers, in a scene shot similarly to a modern day music video.

Some critics had felt the film lost its way once Chas entered Turner's world. Yet surely such disorientation is indicative of how the film successfully explores Chas' own uneasiness in confronting his own subconscious in an alien atmosphere. The film is full of visual flourishes as one might expect from Roeg, who had been cinemaphotographer on films such as 'Fahrenheit 451'. Fox is mesmerising playing out the evolving identities of Chas, whilst Jagger's persona is exhibited to its full potential. Roeg was again to explore the theme of alienation using a rock star (this time David Bowie) in a more literal sense in his landmark science fiction film 'The Man Who Fell To Earth'.
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A great film, well worth the wait
gray423 June 2004
I missed this film when it came out over thirty years ago, and have looked out for it ever since. At last, after a rare showing on BBC's arts channel, it has proved to be well worth the long wait.

It is a complex film, starting and finishing as a gripping and violent gangster movie, with the more philosophical and erotic section with Jagger and Pallenberg slotted between the gangster elements. James Fox as gangster on the run is a revelation. Why didn't he get parts like this again? He is far more convincing than his contemporary Michael Caine in this kind of role, with a scary viciousness combined with his 'Jack the Lad' charm.

Although Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg don't seem to be playing anything more than themselves, they are perfect foils for Fox. As they embroil Fox in their weird games, the writers/directors Nicholas Roeg and Donald Cammell create brilliantly the mushroom-based trip that they take him on and through. The film also evokes a fascinating and nostalgic picture of late '60s London and is a reminder that the "swinging sixties" had their grimy and violent side. Overall, a great film that deserves far wider recognition.
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ginger_sonny31 August 2004
Gangland enforcer James Fox gets involved with decadent fading rock star Mick Jagger in Nicholas Roeg's and Donald Cammell's cult film

Few films encapsulate drug-crazed Swinging 60s London like this one, though it was only seen three years after it was made and then heavily-edited because Warners were shocked at what they had financed. The film exceeded the boundaries of good taste that always epitomized British cinema.

This superbly shot, deeply disturbing, complex, often pretentious, often brilliant parable of confused identity was the first feature directed by leading cinematographer Roeg, sharing the credit with artist Cammell.

An eerily plausible Fox, cast against type, plays Chas, a sadistic gangster on the run who rents a room in the Notting Hill Gate home of Turner (Jagger), a reclusive, sexually ambiguous, washed-up rock star. Fox, his antithesis, is offered women and magic mushrooms before literally swapping personalities with the singer.

Fox abandoned the cinema for almost a decade after this film, such was its effect on him.

Verdict A dazzling, ideas-rich, extraordinarily inventive full-stop to the 60s
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One of the greatest films ever made, period.
secret717 September 2002
PERFORMANCE captured the perverse sub-culture of organized "working class" gangsters with an unromanticized authenticity not matched until THE SOPRANOS came along three decades later. But it's not just a gangster movie; it's a heady brew overflowing with subtle and insightful intuitions about the power and dangers of the ego, the male-female equation, power structures, sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. Mainstream viewers might be put off by the radical "rococo" editing, which was well ahead of its time -- as were the "rock video" sequences which feature some of Mick Jagger's finest musical moments (playing blues guitar; and singing and dancing at the peak of his prime in the scene where he regains his "demon.") The soundtrack also features stellar cuts from Randy Newman and Merry Clayton, a great score by Jack Nitszche, and what may be the very first "rap" song ever recorded on film, by the Last Poets. Wall-to-wall intercuts bounce us around among story points connected on the quantum level; they may seem arbitrary and confusing, but rather than trying to "get" the story as it unfolds, the first time viewer is advised to just go with the flow and absorb as much as possible, enjoying the beautifully choreographed violence, the awesome soundtrack, the quirky characters and intriguing storyline. If you get into the mystical and psychological subtext, you'll probably end watching this movie more than once, and you'll get more out of it each time. But even on a superficial level, this film has plenty to enjoy. All the performances are excellent; James Fox and Jagger are outstanding. Movies don't get any better than this. P.S. -- Although Nick Roeg is a fine director, much of the credit for this masterpiece goes to Donald Cammell.
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Cammell's masterpiece....not Roeg's
AtillaTanner2 May 2002
Reading the various comments posted, I'm saddened to see that Nic Roeg is receiving the credit for this amazing film. Granted, Roeg did provide his always stunning camera work to the film, but it was Donald Cammell who wrote, directed the actors, and edited (along with Frank Mazzola) PERFORMANCE.

Roeg acted as DP on the film, blocking the camera movements as Cammell worked with the actors. In fact, according to Cammell, they worked so well together that people would comment "...the two director approach is the wave of the future." Cammell also revealed that his admiration for Roeg's work was somewhat tempered by the fact that Roeg was often solely credited for PERFORMANCE, something that just isn't true.

Don't get me wrong, I think Nic Roeg is a wonderful director and a brilliant DP. DON'T LOOK NOW, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, and BAD TIMING are some of my favorite films, but PERFORMANCE is Cammell's vision more than Roeg's.

In fact, given the ironic and tragic life that Cammell led, perhaps it's only fitting that he would be overlooked for his work on PERFORMANCE, which displays his obsessions for Borges, gender/identity, and sexuality.

Any interest? Seek out DONALD CAMMELL: THE ULTIMATE PERFORMANCE for a fascinating look at this brilliant artist.
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When Worlds Collide
bwotte18 June 2004
A number of Nicholas Roeg's films explore the collision of two cultures: Australian aborigine vs. urban Caucasian in "Walkabout" (1971) ... English vs. Italian in "Don't Look Now" (1973) ... and alien vs. humankind in "The Man Who Fell To Earth" (1976). "Performance" (1970) explores the collision between the world of a sadistic extortion artist and the world of a retired rock star and his companions. But the plot merely serves as a vehicle to convey compelling images and music -- the film is surrealistic and imaginative rather than realistic or film noire. At one point in the film, Jagger reads from Jorge Luis Borges's short story "The South," while his consort prepares a lunch of psychedelic mushrooms. The film touchs on BDSM sex, the harder side of the gay world, extortion, art, and imagination. Reality is not always what it seems. Jagger's performance of "Memo from Turner" is a minor triumph: "Remember who you say you area / And keep your noses clean / Boys will be boys and play with toys / So be strong with your beasts."
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In Search Of Turner's Demon
seymourblack-124 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
It's fascinating to see how this movie which was made in the late 1960s, develops from a routine crime drama into an exploration of the nature of identity, sexuality and reality. By the standards of the time, it was clearly ambitious, innovative and challenging but that's only half the story because its dazzling visual style, which facilitates the process so effectively, was also an introduction to the highly individual approach which became such a familiar feature of co-director Nicolas Roeg's later films. Montages, superimposed images and editing that intentionally disrupts the chronology of the narrative, are just some of the stylistic flourishes that are used to good effect in "Performance" to blur the lines between various identities and what's real and what's imagined.

Chas (James Fox) is a sadistic young criminal who works as an enforcer for London crime boss Harry Flowers (Johnny Shannon). He's well-dressed, very good at his job and recognised by his fellow gang-members as someone who really enjoys his work. His ability to terrorise people into seeing the benefits of the "protection" that his boss' organisation provides is also well recognised but when he gets involved in a job where a man he's known since childhood is involved, things go badly because he hates the guy and kills him. This doesn't go down well with Harry Flowers and so to save his own life, Chas immediately has to go on the run. A conversation he overhears in a railway station waiting room alerts him to the fact that there could be a vacant apartment in Notting Hill Gate which he could use as a temporary hideout.

At the mansion of retired rock star Turner (Mick Jagger), Chas introduces himself as Johnny Dean and claims to be a professional juggler. His new surroundings are not what he expects because the rather eccentric Turner lives with a couple of bi-sexual women called Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michele Breton). Chas tries to change his appearance by dying his hair and only intends to stay in his basement accommodation until he can get his hands on a forged passport and leave the country for good.

Chas' initial antipathy to the lifestyle of the house's other three residents who regularly sleep and bath together slowly changes after he gets to know Pherber more closely and begins to take on some of Turner's characteristics. The faded rock star had given up his career when he'd lost his "demon" which had been the source of his inspiration and creativity and starts to see Chas (who also considers himself a performer) as possessing some quality which might enable him to recover his lost muse. The mind games and hallucinogenic mushrooms that Chas is then exposed to, change him profoundly, but will this bring back Turner's demon?

The musical number in which Turner assumes Chas' identity in an imagined situation where he interacts with other members of the Flowers gang is brilliantly conceived, highly entertaining and thoroughly consistent with the movie's main themes. It also forms part of a soundtrack that's perfect for this exceptional film.

The use of androgynous characters (Lucy and Turner), gay gangsters and visual references to the works of Francis Bacon and Jorge Luis Borges also provide indications of some of the plot's preoccupations but it's the recurring use of mirrors that ultimately provides the movie with its most memorable motif. With excellent performances, especially from Jagger and Fox and its ground-breaking visual techniques, "Performance" is definitely a movie that's not to be missed.
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Madness and sanity
carangi19 March 2002
This is probably one of the best cult movies ever made. I have seen it about 20 times now and even the last time, it was still not boring and I stayed up late again to watch it at 3 in the morning (even though I have it on video). "Performance" shows James Fox in a part you would never expect from him. The mobster with the secret past and deep dark secrets. Violent and with a "no mercy" attitude. Very impressive. Mick Jagger debuts as an actor in this picture and you can see he wants to do well in the beginning. I know the movie was shot chronologically and Jagger seems to be growing as an actor in each scene. The most impressive performance is the performance German/Italian actress Anita Pallenberg is giving here. As the Jagger's character says in the movie: "The only performance that makes it, that really makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness!" And Anita does just that. She is beautiful, decadent, dangerous, high and grounded and very much herself as Pherber. If you watch this movie, you should really try and focus on her, because she is full of surprises. French teen actress Michèle Breton only starred in this movie and the attention is drawn away from her completely by Pallenberg. That is a shame, because Breton does have some very strong scenes, like the one with Pallenberg when they are talking about the gangster. You can see that both Breton and her character are not sure what they are yet: are they children or young women? This movie clearly deserves 10 out of 10!
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Everything is Permitted...
selinafire10 October 2005
I saw Performance for the first time when I was 13 years old. I sat through it twice and a little theatre in the East Village. Then I watched it again about six months later. My friend and I sat through an entire day of showings. It was 1973. It's the film that messed me up for life: it turned me into a bisexual hedonist. Thank you, Donald Cammell, whatever realm you now inhabit. I wonder how many other people had their lives shaped or shaken up by this film. Even today, when I can watch it on VHS any time I want, I see something new in the film whenever I see it. The hardest part about showing friends this film is explaining to them that they have to sit through it at least twice to begin to "get it." It has the most beautiful sex sequences ever put on film. Roeg's cinematography is rich and sensuous. A beautiful mindf**k.
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A brilliant mixture of interesting things
Red-Barracuda6 November 2014
Performance is one of the all-time great psychedelic films. But while it has its share of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, its scope goes a fair bit further. It's essentially an avant-garde film in many ways and, therefore, is one that will turn-off a lot of viewers. But if you can take its experimentation you will be rewarded, as this is a real one-off and a definite high-point of counterculture movies as a whole. It was helmed by two unique artists, Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell; both of whom would go on to make other very interesting films. For my money Performance is arguably the best thing either one of them ever did.

The narrative is effectively two stories colliding with one and other. It starts out as a crime film and then becomes an oddball drama, all the while gradually mutating into something increasingly stranger as it progresses. In summary it is about a gangster called Chas who is on the run who hides in the house of Turner, a reclusive rock star, while there odd inner psychological transformations occur that ultimately affect both characters in extreme ways. Identity is at the heart of this particular story. After being given hallucinogenic mushrooms, Chas has a vivid trip where he experiences revelations including an unexpected identification with Turner (even his name suggests he has the ability to turn you), a man who seems to be his polar opposite on the surface. Both characters in fact find that there are aspects in the other that they connect with, leading to Chas dressed like a counter-culture drop-out and Turner displaying an increasing fascination with the criminal persona. This is manifested in 'Memo From Turner' where Chas imagines Turner as his crime boss, it's a scene all the more impressive seeing as its one of the very earliest examples of what would go on to be known as the pop video.

If nothing else though, Performance is visually a tour de force. It exhibits the highly experimental, bold editing that would go on to typify later films that Roeg would go on to direct. For this reason it certainly feels from a visual perspective that Roeg was the main influence; while story-content seems to have come primarily from Cammell. Whatever the case, this is a consistently interesting looking film, with disorientating edits and inventive camera-work. The grungy, crumbling den in which the majority of the action takes place is ripe for this kind of treatment. Its cluttered, decadent interiors create an atmosphere all of their own and add a considerable amount to the overall effect of the film.

It is also helped considerably by an unusual cast who work extremely well together. Mick Jagger plays the androgynous Turner with ease. It's a role you could argue he was born to play for obvious reasons but Turner is more than a Jagger clone and is ultimately a somewhat strange character that would not have been nearly so compelling if it had not been for the fact that Jagger illustrates him so well. James Fox, as Chas, is probably even better still. He convinces as both the hard man criminal and the confused hybrid character he is by the end. He brings to the screen a definite charisma that works very well. Anita Pallenberg also makes an indelible impression as Pherber, one of Turner's groupies. I had only previously seen her in Barbarella as the Black Queen. She was a lot of fun in that one but as Pherber she is much better and incredibly sexy into the bargain as well.

It's certainly not a film for everyone but there is a lot to like here if you have a taste for the odder side of cinema, especially if you like it with a dash of counter-cultural psychedelia.
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Intriguing, Weirdly-Made, Gangster Meets Burned-Out Rockstar Oddity
ShootingShark8 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Chas is a London gangster who goes on the lam after he ignores advice from his boss and a personal vendetta gets out of control. He hides out in the Notting Hill Gate house of Turner, a strange, reclusive, bohemian musician with two girlfriends, and soon their hedonistic hippy quasi-philosophy starts to affect his wideboy personality.

This is an odd movie, which is either extremely clever or a load of drug-induced cobblers, and I can never make up my mind which. It doesn't really have much of a coherent plot, and the style is so freaky (jarring jump-cuts, lurid hand-held closeups, inaudible dialogue, near-subliminal images, static on the soundtrack, a sudden burst of animation, lots of complicated montage) that you could be forgiven for assuming both the editor and the sound-mixer were stoned (which they probably were). Equally unsettling is that it's really two pictures stuck together; Chas' kitchen-sink gangster drama that takes up the first half-hour, and then Turner's new-wave art film. It feels like a character from one film has accidentally wandered into another and can't get back. There are two aspects which make it highly watchable for me. One is Fox's performance, which is intermittently stunning - with his spiky red hair, tight clothes and thug stylings, he's a punk-rocker six years before punk-rock was invented. The second is just the sheer variety of experimental techniques (both cinematic and artistic) on view, which is pretty amazing in a major studio movie - in what other film can you see a bullet fired into someone's head from the bullet's point of view or have a scene where the leading lady injects peyote into her butt ? Both directors - writer Cammell and cameraman Roeg - are great visual stylists (Cammell was a great elusive director- he made a couple of good horror films after this, but then tragically committed suicide, much like Michael Reeves), there is an interesting eclectic soundtrack supervised by Randy Newman and there are good supporting performances from Shannon and Colley. However, whilst there is a lot to like in this film, I'm afraid I can't rate it that highly - it's good, but it's self-indulgent, lacks any kind of dramatic structure, and is frequently unnecessarily confusing. Compare it to A Clockwork Orange for example, made around the same time and with several similarities in theme. The Kubrick film is equally stylish and audacious, but is also timeless, elegant, highly influential, exquisitely put together, and a very moving story. Performance is a unique movie, but for me its excesses are no substitute for the basics of movie-making; drama, suspense, excitement and entertainment.
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A druggie, schizophrenic, S&M 'A Hard Day's Night'…and then some
RomanJamesHoffman9 October 2012
Often cited as one of the greatest films in British Cinema, 'Performance' is a hallucinogenic trip (pun intended) through London's criminal underworld, the tentative edifice of identity, and the whole glorious mess of psychotropic drug-soaked late 1960s pop-culture when flower-power was beginning to wilt and swinging London was beginning to sway. Rolling Stone singer Mick Jagger plays Turner, a has-been rock star ensconced in his Notting Hill mansion living a life of orgiastic decadence with the spellbinding Pherber (Pallenberg) and exquisitely androgynous Lucy (Breton) in an atmosphere where money floats idly on bath water and psilocybin mushrooms are served for breakfast…until one day Chas (Fox), an on-the-run South London gangland hood, knocks on his door seeking solace under the guise of being a juggler. It doesn't take long for Turner and Co. to cotton onto the ruse and, voyeuristically fascinated by the implications of the violent underworld Chas inhabits, indulge in a bizarre rite where definitions of violence and sexuality are explored, and identity is deconstructed.

Many rumours surround the film which no doubt got the green light from execs who, in seeing the name of a Rolling Stone attached, no doubt envisioned a film-pop hybrid like 'A Hard Day's Night'. However, 'Performance' is as far away from a mainstream-baiting, tongue-in-cheek romp as you can get. Instead it is a raw and (in more than one sense) adult film which is transgressive and deviant in every respect. One such rumour has it that at a screening for the studio executives one exec wife vomited, while another was apparently heard to say "…even the bath water was dirty". What is sure is that, after various cuts and re-edits, the film was shelved for 2 years after it was finished, not seeing the light of day until 1970. Saying this, by modern standards this seems a quaint over-reaction: modern pop videos are arguably more erotic than the nudity and the sex scenes between Jagger and Pallenberg come across as positively tasteful, although another rumour has it that the sex wasn't simulated and was indeed real (which no doubt *cough* annoyed Stones guitarist Keith Richards, who Pallenberg was officially with at the time) and that out-takes from the scene were shown at adult movie festivals. Modern audiences may also smirk a little at the depiction of drug-taking in the film which lacks both the glamour of Scorcese-style fistfuls-of-coke-flung-into-the-air as well as the searing gritty realism of films like 'Christiane F' or 'Trainspotting'.

Okay, sure…the film is dated somewhat (even down to the casting of Jagger who, after emerging from his late 60s, dissolute, "Baudelaire phase", ended up symbolising the mainstream and entering the establishment!) but we need to respect the fact that it was films like 'Performance' which broke new ground wherein these other films would follow. Secondly, I would argue the violence in the first half of the film still actually packs a punch today in terms of grittiness, the conflation made between violence and sex, as well as the implications of homosexuality within the gangland world which, it should be remembered, was still a tangible presence in late-60s London owing to the Kray brothers and their "Firm". Thirdly, it should be noted that for all its explictness, the drug-taking, sex, and violence in the film are merely vehicles for the grander ruminations on identity that are the heart of the film.

Out of the directorial duo of Nic Roeg and Donald Cammell it is Roeg who, with the acclaimed 'The Man who Fell to Earth' and the bewilderingly beautiful 'Don't Look Now', went onto to establish himself as a director of some standing while Cammell struggled to get his various projects off the ground…but 'Performance' should really be recognised as Cammell's baby as its content is a clear articulation of his musings and fetishes, from organised crime to drugs to threesomes and to the work of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. Borges, in collections like 'Fictions' and 'Labyrinths' wrote short stories in a magic realist style which collapsed the distinctions between imagination and reality and created worlds of confusion which elicit awe in the possibilities that open up. As Turner himself says in the film, "nothing is true…everything is permitted". What's more, a copy of a book by Borges is seen lying in the apartment, Turner's speech references Borges' stories several times, and in the climatic confrontation at the end of the film the image looming towards us as we are fired into Turner's brain is none other than Borges himself. A curious and morbid post-script to this is that after being all but completely rejected by Hollywood for years after 'Performance' Cammell killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head…however, death wasn't immediate and after shooting himself he walked around for sometime, even claiming to his partner that he "couldn't see Borges".

Such stories of madness run all though the circumstances of the genesis of 'Performance' as well as through the film itself. Certainly, much more could be said about the film as in coming from the abyss the film permits an interpretation as deep as you care to take it. What is sure is that it's a unique film born of a unique vision operating in unique times and, although dated in parts, serves as both a document of the time, a manifesto of madness, and simply just has to be seen.
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I'm normal...
amej_8610 November 2005
Performance is a 60's masterpiece. With it's quick, sharp editing techniques, to it's distortion of light. This film was shot in 1968 but wasn't released until 1970 and it was only released then thanks to the censorship that was in decline in Britain in the late 60's.

This film developed a cult representation. It parallels between gangsters and pop stars. It was criticised for being two totally different films, at the start following the life of a gangster to then following the life of a burnt out rock star. However if your a person who reads deep into films then you will find the subtext that is snuggled deep inside this film.

Lets all give praise to the man called Donald Cammell who wrote this script and who then got Mick Jagger involved which resulted in Warner Brothers taking on the script. Lets also give praise to Cammell who brought in Frank Mazzolla who helped with the creation of the rapid cutting technique! Without the sharp editing the psychedelic feel would of had less of an impact.

Overall this film introduces us to the different worlds in the 60's. It shows us that even if our lives are completely different it doesn't mean that we ourselves are different as James Fox's and Mick Jagger's characters show when they become one.
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This is James Fox showing his full future potential.
steven-greatwood20 June 2004
If you forget Mick Jagger's contribution as her probably had freelance liberty to give his version especially as Anita Pallenberg was too close to him. We have James Fox in a role that he has never repeated which was totally convincing.

Also forget "Notting Hill" ala Ricard Curtis & Hugh Grant, this is how it was in 1970 with the low-life and warts & all background. He gives a convincing version of a hard-man turned into a psychopath who enjoyed his work to the point of independence.

Where James got the experience from to base his character from only he could say, but his accent and delivery of phrasing is spot-on. When you see his later more successful work you wonder why he never did anything like this as Micheal Caine has.

This is a "drug, sex, rock & violence" film that that gives two different lifestyles that are at odds with normality.
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The one that achieves madness, am I right?
cj_freckles11 November 2002
Beautiful little freaky stripy beast, darling... This film is Europe's cumulaive rite of passage - if more people had watched this, we wouldn't be stuck in this awfulness now. Basically carries on Antonin Artaud's legacy, and therefore unfortunately has about the same impact on society. This work is usually dismissed in the same way he was. Sometimes I wonder how he'd be thought of now had he really thrown explosives into the audience (I wonder if those Chechens had ever heard of him - either way the important questions concerning self-determination whether in art or religion will remain - until someone with a society's backing accepts they're a real part of our humanity.). Anyway, the film is much more, much more, nothing is true... deathbed or not.
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Bizarre Enough To Remain Watchable
Theo Robertson3 January 2006
Oh what a strange film PERFORMANCE is . It often gets praised to the high heavens but much of this praise is unworthy . It certainly deserves its reputation as a strange avant gard movie but believe me it's no masterpiece .

James Fox plays London gangster Chas and it's a hoot seeing Fox trying to play some tough working class cockney bloke . No doubt Michael Caine was written with the role in mind but decided he didn't fancy the location filming in rainy old London town . Certainly Fox fails to convince as a tough guy but this adds some much needed watchability to the proceedings

The best thing about PERFORMANCE is the portrayal of old school London gangsters . The movie was actually shot in 1968 but wasn't released until 1970 and one can't help thinking the trial and subsequent jailing of the Kray firm might have had something to do with the delay . I mean it's obvious the gangsters seen here are a bunch of violent homosexuals who stay stay in bed all day lusting over pictures of gay porn and it's obvious they're based on Ronnie and Reggie Kray . One can't help believing that if the Krays were found not guilty of the murders of McVitie and Cornell in 1969 this movie's release would have been delayed even longer

After a torture scene so camp you'd think it was filmed at a trailer park ( " Oh you like this you twerp " ) Chas finds himself taking on the identity of a juggler and staying at a safe house owned by a rock star played by Mick Jagger and it's at this point the film loses much of its entertainment value because Mick Jagger can't even play Mick Jagger convincingly and the vague story becomes static

A lot of people consider PERFORMANCE to be some sort of masterpiece but to be honest it's a slightly irritating art house movie with some crazy editing technique . Much of its reputation is built upon its homo-erotic air which no doubt shocked audiences at the time but seems pretentious and a little tame nowadays . Perhaps the only thing a mainstream British audience will notice about it now is that actor Billy Murray looks far older as a 27 year old than he does as a 60 something in 2006
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Just wasn't ma cup o' tea guvnor.
DamonLewis9215 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I went in doing all my research on this movie. I read where it didn't good reviews when it first came out, it was violent and some lady vomited at the premiere. I don't know why that sticks out to me. But I knew it was gonna be either a love or hate movie, no in the middle. It started off good sure, a petty thief crosses his boss and goes on the run from the boss and ends up at Mick Jaggers house where it all falls apart. I hated the movie yes but I am still giving it a 5 star review out of 10. I like these late 60's early 70's British underworld crime movies. The Italian Job and Get Carter both come to mind. The cockney accents and just London at that time was the place to be. It was like looking in a time voretx of London in the 60's. Thats all the movies had going for it. But Mick Jagger and the other fellow dressing up like women and having gay sex. Nah just wasn't for me.
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You all work for me
killerquean9 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this film about a dozen times at a tiny art-house theater off the Sunset Strip. It's not what you think it might be with the casting of Ms. Pallenberg and Mick. It's an onion of a movie with layers and nuances and subtexts that require repeated viewings. It explores sexuality and power in a way that was very frightening and nihilistic to audiences--so much so that preview audiences were refunded their money.

The actual violence in the beginning of the movie is a misdirect, ala the initial story line in Psycho. Mr. Fox's character screws the pooch by enjoying his work to his own detriment and has to lay low while he figures out how to leave the country and evade his former employers. He stumbles into the counterculture. Turner and his entourage take him in, in every sense of the word. Turner is pan-sexual, a Ziggy Stardust who has lost his daemon and retreated deeper into a drug-induced fugue state where the only rule is misrule.

Turner's guest is an accidental tourist in a land where he doesn't speak the language or respect the culture. They slip him a mushroom omelet to loosen him up, but he sees their world in his own context, which is primal and violent.

In one teaser scene, M. Jagger sits in a bathtub with a pound note as a fig leaf. Sex sells?

Trying to explain this movie to someone who's never seen it is like trying to describe an acid trip to someone who's never been on one. Watch it a couple of times before you make up your mind. You may be repulsed and fascinated simultaneously. You'll love it or hate it. The soundtrack is worth the price of admission.

It pushes the boundaries that were being crossed by movies like If and Clockwork Orange. It's a way- back machine to a time before Rocky Horror, The Last Tango in Paris, Inserts and other Seventies movies that challenged the sexual status quo. Gender-bender, mind-bender--you've been cautioned.
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Excellent, ground breaking, shocking, entertaining
steve-704-90557024 January 2013
Have been a huge fan of this movie since I first saw it about 30 years ago. It captures the mayhem of the time and brings together a Brit gangster movie with the psychedelic world of reclusive, faded rock star chic. I simply love everything about this film; James Fox is magnificent as a sadistic on the run gangster and Jagger does what he does best to a sizzling soundtrack of period music. So many firsts here... from the Moog synthesiser, the mixture of genres, its use of imagery, is that the first rap song? .. and more. The ending is a little confused but the whole thing is a feast for the senses, you can't guess what will happen next.

They dared to try out lots of new ideas and combine many different styles.. it really works and defies categorisation to this day.. a masterpiece!
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The Missing Link?
steven-22216 December 2009
In my college days, this movie was ubiquitous on the "midnight movie" circuit, but somehow I missed it until now (a broadcast on TCM). In retrospect, I can see that its impact on other filmmakers, especially in Britain, was powerful and immediate. Arriving in 1970, this movie was a keynote for the decade to come. Here we see a precursor to the hip ultra-violence of A Clockwork Orange (out the next year), to the gender-bending induction/seduction of the outsiders in Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), and of course to Roeg's own later The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), starring Mick Jagger's rock star doppelganger David Bowie.

The blatant homoeroticism of the gangster milieu in Performance was obviously inspired by the gay gangster Ronnie Kray, who with his twin brother Reggie (another double!) was the stuff of legend in England at the time.

The film reminds us of the long and extraordinary career of James Fox (yet another double, with his actor-brother Edward), and also features an early appearance by Anthony Valentine, later to play Raffles on TV. We were all young and beautiful once...yes, even Mick!
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