James Fox-Performance 1970

Imagine the Warner Bros.executives reaction upon first seeing Performance. Originally commissioned as a light-hearted romp through Swinging Sixties London, a Stones version of The Beatles A Hard Day’s Night, they instead find themselves watching a much darker movie with the palpably greasy aura of a drug orgy overlaid with a pervasive stench of sulphur. Some of the sex scenes between Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg (who was involved with Jagger’s Rolling Stones bandmate Keith Richards at the time) won awards at an adult film festival at Amsterdam.With its explicit depiction of its themes of violence, sadism, drug use and bisexuality it’s no wonder one of the exec’s wife vomited during the original screening. It also is one of the great movies of merging identities; a male, psychedelic counterpart to Bergman’s Persona  (see Dreams of Desire 7)

The look of the movie is mainly down to co-director Nicholas Roeg who would later go on to film Walkabout and Don’t Look Now. The screenplay and therefore  much of the thematic content was down to Donald Cammell, Aleister Crowley’s godson (in actuality, I’m not been figurative). The Great Beast’s credo of Do What Thou Wilt certainly figures in Performance, as does Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty. In fact the actual set of Performance seems to have presented as an actual Theatre of Cruelty with Cammell intent in playing games of mind-fuckery upon the cast. Keith Richards stalked the set, sitting in his car for hours on end trying to find out what was going on inside between his girlfriend and Jagger. The process of  filming Performance and playing the lead character Chas Devlin, a vicious and sadistic ‘performer’ in a East End gang, clearly modelled upon the Kray twins organization, so traumatised James Fox that he gave up acting for over a decade to go knock on doors handing out pamphlets for a Christian organization.Both the female stars Anita Pallenberg and the androgynous Michele Breton would become heroin addicts, in Breton’s case fatally so. Cammell himself would disappear from sight, lurking on the fringes of Hollywood until his suicide in 1996 which he staged in front of his much younger wife with Performance in mind, even saying as he was waiting to die that he hadn’t seen Borges yet, referring to the Argentine fabulist Jorge Luis Borges whose work is a constant presence in the movie and whose image appears upon a speeding bullet.

23 thoughts on “Performance

    1. Thank you for your kind comments. I love this movie as well, though the more you look into it the darker the aura that surrounds it becomes. It really is filled with occult references, the profession that Chas tells Turner is that he is a juggler, I believe (though I could be wrong) that this is referring to the Tarot, the juggler (or magician) points upwards and downwards, Chas is from the underworld and Turner is a star. I could go on but I might try your patience. Thanks again

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      1. Talking of the Tarot would not try my patience, trust me!! I want to see this movie again now! Yes, I am sure there are many occult references in it. At that time R Stones were reportedly dabbling in a few things — like Satanic Majesties for example. Anyway, I love your site and the chance to read about some off the beaten path movies! 🙂

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      2. Thank you, Jagger was doing his best Baudelairean dandy impression at the time and the occult was certainly chic at the time. The director Donald Cammell starred in some of Kenneth Anger’s movies as well.

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      3. And Crowley was an interesting guy too.

        A strange coincidence I cannot resist mentioning — you know how we are discussing Mick Jagger, John Dee and Edward Kelley — but Mick Jagger was also in a movie called ‘Ned Kelley’ haha! It had nothing to do with this Edward Kelley — although that would have been a fascinating film too 🙂

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  1. Fascinating! I’ll need to watch this someday. I’m impressed by your knack for odd tidbits of knowledge and imagine you would be the one to be on a trivia team with. 🙂 Now, I also see where your header photo comes from!

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    1. It is a very sixties movie and it wears it references heavily, an ABC of the avant-garde. Artaud, Bacon, Borges, Burroughs and Crowley (not that he was avant-garde but he was counter-culture). Definitely worth a watch. And yes I am a mine of useless information

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