Movie Review of Performance

Directed by Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell, with James Fox, Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg, 1970

I can watch most movies about halfway through before I start to fidget. Even if the movie is a thriller and it’s being thrilling. Because about halfway through is when the story stops unfolding and the chaos begins—the dizzying, digitally-enhanced action that once begun, doesn’t stop—and I’m never ready. Car chases, fights, gun battles, daring rescues—all tiresome after a while. Suspense and action are not the same thing. More suspense, less action.

But I was not bored by Performance, made in 1968, released in 1970. I couldn’t tear myself away—it engaged every shred of me. I don’t know how I missed this one, tonight was my first viewing and I was pleased that captions were added to this 2004 re-release. I always use captions if available, they enhance my movie experience because all actors have moments of mumbling and I hate missing a line. Some actors are worse than others. And there were various accents in this film so captions were welcome.

Performance is about a London gangster who must go into hiding. He manipulates his way into the mansion of a retired rock performer (who “lost his demon”) and his two female lovers, where he quickly becomes drawn into their decadent world. The movie was considered experimental, a euphemism that sometimes means primitive or stupid, but this was neither. Some slow minutes in the film are probably due to the self-indulgence of the directors and cast. But every single character was fascinating and I wanted to know more about them.

There were some icky, uncomfortable, violent scenes that made me wince and avert my eyes but plenty of sex and drugs to make up for it. The two women are beautiful and natural and real—unlike today’s plasticized perfection. Mick Jagger was also at the height of his beauty, plus the movie had a great soundtrack, and oh how I loved the clothes.

Warner Brothers, the studio that backed the film, thought they were getting a variation of the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. They left the crew alone, and at an early screening the executives and guests were shocked and disgusted by the film. Even with adjustments the film was not well received in 1970.

Performance is not a feelgood movie and doesn’t have a happy ending. But it didn’t make me cry and there was no animal abuse. It’s not as disturbing or graphic as the reviews say, but I guess it was in 1970. You have to pay attention in this movie, and even when you do the ending is murky. I think viewers are supposed to draw their own conclusions, but I always think this is a sellout because in my personal world of escapism, I like loose ends tied up.

Mick Jagger today---hard living catches up.

Anita Pallenberg today

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