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Warner Home Video presents
Performance (1970)

Pherber: We just dismantled you a little bit, that's all.
Turner: Just to see how you function.
Pherber: We sat through your act; now you're going to sit through ours.

- Anita Pallenberg, Mick Jagger

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: February 13, 2007

Stars: James Fox, Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, Michele Breton
Other Stars: Ann Sidney, John Bindon, Stanley Meadows, Allan Cuthbertson, Anthony Morton, Johnny Shannon, Anthony Valentine
Director: Donald Cammell, Nicolas Roeg

MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, nudity, drug material and some violence
Run Time: 01h:45m:31s
Release Date: February 13, 2007
UPC: 085391116875
Genre: cult


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AAB B-

DVD Review

During the 1960s and early '70s there was a good deal of searching for identity, a quest that inexorably crept into art of the time. One of the more notable exercises in the blurring of identity and the opening of the doors of consciousness is this movie from Donald Cammell, co-directed with cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, which bears the striking visual stamp of the latter. Tying the drugs, sex, and rock and roll culture to the British gangster world of the Kray Brothers, the movie is frequently baffling but never fails to make an impression.

Chas Devlin (James Fox) is an enforcer for the gang of Harry Flowers (Johnny Shannon), willing to do anything in the cause of extortion, protection rackets, and intimidation. He considers himself a "performer" in what he does, both in the sense of putting on a performance and in getting results. But when matters get personal with bookie Joey Maddocks (Anthony Valentine) and Chas kills him, he finds himself on the outside with the Flowers mob. On the run, he pretends to be a stage performer, Johnny Dean, and subleases a basement apartment from decadent retired pop star Turner (Mick Jagger in his film debut). While Chas tries to find himself a passport and a way out of Britain, Turner and his entourage Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michele Breton) take an interest in their new tenant and decide to deconstruct his personality through the use of psychedelic mushrooms.

The picture has two very distinct halves, with the first feeling like an authentic examination of the Flowers gang, treating the racket as a business and its activities as "mergers and acquisitions," while also using extreme violence to make an impression on its targets (possibly using the Krays as models). The second half is almost like a trip to Wonderland, as Chas enters it confidently but quickly loses his grip, shifting identity and sexuality almost at random. There's a symbiosis between Chas and Turner, to the point that lines of dialogue spoken by Fox come out with Jagger's voice. The repressed sexuality of Chas emerges in an attraction for Turner, as a bedroom dalliance with boyish Lucy evolves into a tryst with Turner himself. Using the desire for a disguise as entrée into the world of the pop poseur, Chas is soon wearing wigs and outlandish clothing as if he were a glitter rock musician. There's also a fair amount of gender bending, courtesy of mirrors as Pallenberg replaces parts of Chas' body with her own. But the walls really come tumbling down through the use of drugs, especially when combined with sex. Chas soon finds himself no match for Turner, and reacts in the only way he knows how.

The bold statements are more than underlined by the innovative photography and editing. Extremely jarring cuts that alter time and space emphasize the fragility of perception and personality. Movement is interrupted and rejoined in a different phase, while sounds and dialogue dissociate from the visuals. At other times, juxtaposition of images provides social comment, such as the shots of jurors in a criminal trial being likened to voyeurs watching an S&M stag reel. Other visuals are somewhat incoherent (for instance, why are the film's first two shots of a jet?), but there's plenty of layering that Cammell includes to create associations. There is a vast jumble of esoterica that just slides past without comment: quotes from Borges, Jagger playing a seamless medley of Robert Johnson blues songs, and references to William S. Burroughs' Soft Machine, among others. It's a Joycean world in which everything connects, if one is only perceptive enough to see the connections.

Fox is fascinating in the lead, moving with confidence as the mob enforcer willing to do anything with a quietly professional sadism, eventually coming to a totally different reality. Jagger seems to mostly be playing himself, though the Memo from Turner sequence, which allows him to move into the mob persona, allows him to stretch a bit. He's not at all convincing in that role (perhaps a problem with casting such a strong personality in the first place, or perhaps a comment on his more limited ability to adopt Chas' persona). Pallenberg, who admits in the bonus features she was addicted to heroin at the time, has a suitably detached air that carries a quiet sadism of its own, which is just as formidable in its own way as Chas' more brutal methods.

Unsurprisingly, music plays an essential part in the proceedings; much as would be done to an even greater extent in Ganja and Hess a couple years later, the lyrics of the music remark upon the action and even move the plot along at times. Amusingly, the Memo from Turner sequence is preceded by Jagger asking for the Muzak to be turned up; if he would have known that his own music would wind up played on Muzak now, what would a 1970 Mick have said?

[Note: There has been some buzz about a line of dialogue missing in the Memo from Turner sequence (which serves as a prototypical music video within the context of the movie). At one point Jagger says "Here's to good old England," echoing an earlier toast by Flowers, but no sound is audible. The closed captioning states "(Mouthing) Here's to good old England," so there does seem to be an awareness of the absence of sound in that spot. It's not as distracting as it might be, however, since it ties in to earlier sequences among the gangsters, where there are many such lines of visibly spoken dialogue that are instead associated with the audio from another sequence, part of Cammell's early dissociation technique.]

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is very attractive and highly detailed; Roeg's photography comes across with vivid presence. The textures of the automobiles in the early sequences look nearly high definition. There are some sequences of intentional degradation of image, mimicking the amateur photography of Phelber or emphasizing Chas' mental deterioration. Only the slightest of aliasing is visible.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The mono audio is quite clean, with very good range for its age. Jack Nitsche contributes an equally experimental score full of electronic noises, sitar, and one of the very first Moog synthesizers built. Memo from Turner sounds excellent given the limitations of mono.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:58m:15s

Extras Review: Although the absence of a complete commentary for such a dense picture is sorely missed, Warner does at least include a substantial retrospective documentary, Influence and Controversy (24m:45s). Numerous crew members are interviewed, but only Pallenberg appears from the cast. Memo from Turner (4m:49s) is an interesting period featurette that emphasizes Jagger's involvement and includes some rare behind-the-scenes footage. Finally, there's an anamorphic widescreen trailer that's in unusually good condition.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

A classic of personality deterioriation and experimental lifestyles, Performance still packs plenty of kick today. Warner provides a lovely transfer with some substantial extras.

 


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