"The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness."
Gosh, the 1970's must have been awesome. I am jealous of anyone who got to live the life in that turbulent time period in pop culture history. The 1077 Films to See Before You Die is a list that contains films from every decade since the 1910's, so I usually try to save 70's films for when I really need a pick me up from the depressing foreign stuff. Performance was not only a pick me up, but it was also a punch in the gut, kick in the head and knee to the testicles. It has been said that, unless you lived it, nobody will ever truly be able to understand the early 70's. Performance unashamedly proves this statement - making it one of the coolest films I have ever seen.
Chas, played by James Fox, is a violent gangster living in a rough part of East London. Though he takes great pleasure from his work, he is often not given the respect that he deserves from his boss. After carrying out a hit that was not supposed to happen, Chas leaves town to lay low for a while. This is where he meets the eccentric retired rock star, Turner.
Before I get any deeper into that, I want to give James Fox some credit. Much like Peter Weller in Naked Lunch, Fox is a stone faced, suit wearing tough guy in the middle of a culture shock. His monotone reactions to everything make the film hilarious. In fact, without Fox's believable performance in Performance, the film would have have been far too outrageous to even sit through.
But the glaring high point of the film is the character named Turner. Played by Mick Jagger, Turner is a drug and sex addicted former rock star who has disappeared into retirement in order to write a memoir. Jagger is nothing short of brilliant in this role. He oozes with dirty and bi-gender sexuality that is actually a little confusing. The directors of Performance actually liked the gender neutral look of Jagger and tried to emphasize it throughout the whole thing. This just added to the confusion that was the sharply edited storyline.
In the early 70's, British filmmakers were all about trying to combine the infamous London underworlds to create a lasting picture. This is what Performance tries to do with combining the mobsters with the psychedelic pop stars. This is a frantic mixture that is only made even more wild with Cammell and Roeg's trigger happy editing techniques. The first hour of the film seems like one long and continuous edit. There are very few lasting camera shots, but this directly reflects the filmmakers' desires. A viewer is not supposed to be calm or comfortable during Performance, and we never do get there.
Easily the most memorable scene in the film features Mick Jagger doing what he does best, singing. The scene does not really have much secular purpose, but it is the most fun you will have during the film. In what seems like a precursor to the music video, Jagger sings and dances his way through a song that WILL get stuck in your head. And the song is actually pretty good. It is a moment in film that you will never forget.
Though it is impossible to say that Performance is a well made picture, it is still a very cool experience. This film featured ideas that noticeably influenced several British filmmakers, especially Guy Ritchie. Think- Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) meets a watered down Rocky Horror. It is a combination that works. I will remember this as one of the most out of this world cinematic experiences I have ever had. This is one of my new favorite films.
My Next Film....Judge Priest (Ford. 1934)