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Film / Performance

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"Come now, gentleman, I know there's some mistake."

One of the most infamous Mind Screws in film history, directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg in 1970. Also famous as the first acting role for Mick Jagger.

London Gangster Chas (James Fox) is the lead enforcer for Don Harry Flowers. When he seriously pisses Flowers off by killing an old enemy of his who Flowers would have preferred to come to a profitable arrangement with, he is left desperate for a place to hide before he can get a fake passport and leave the country. He inveigles himself into the crumbling townhouse that burned-out rock star Turner (Jagger) shares with his two girlfriends: witchy German Ferber (Anita Pallenberg) and sunny French Lucy (Michèle Breton). He gradually finds himself drawn into their life of heavy drugs and weird sex. And then things get really peculiar...

A legendary Cult Classic since its release, Performance stands out as even among the more weird films made in the period, subject to rumours and speculations even during production. The nudity and sex scenes earned it the ire of Warner Bros who had produced the film, resulting in early bowdlerized versions. The film has since been regarded and treasured as a defining portrait of London in The '60s, for its Genre-Busting Kudzu Plot. The film's score by Jack Nitzche is highly praised and the song "Memo from Turner" by Ry Cooder and Mick Jagger is well regarded enough that Martin Scorsese recycled it for Goodfellas. Alan Moore devoted an entire section of his The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics to making an unofficial prequel to some of the events in the film, with the Serial Numbers Filed Off of character names.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adam Westing:
    • Ferber the mysterious, bisexual drug addict girlfriend of a rock star, was played by Anita Pallenberg, a mysterious bisexual who was struggling with a heroin addiction and dating a rock star at the time.
    • Mick Jagger as a rock star surrounded by a heavy mystique, though it's been suggested that Turner's moody, reclusive nature was based more on fellow Stone Brian Jones.
  • AM/FM Characterization: Turner sings Robert Johnson's "Come on in My Kitchen" and "Me and the Devil Blues".
  • Big Fancy House: The main setting
  • Concept Video: The fantasy sequence in which Turner, adopting Chas's London Gangster persona, sings the song "Memo From Turner" to Flowers' gang. This was actually released as a pop video separately to the film. Also counts as a Sanity Slippage Song.
  • Cool Car: Chas's Jaguar Mark II, and Flowers' Roller.
  • Creepy Child: Lorraine, the weird little girl with a false moustache who drifts in and out of Turner's house. Is she his daughter? Related to one of the women? A street urchin who talked her way in like Chas? Something outright sinister?
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off!: Joey savagely beats Chas with a belt before Chas gets free and kills him.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: The conversation Chas overhears at Paddington station that alerts him to Turner's free room.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble:
    • Sanguine: Lorraine
    • Choleric: Chas
    • Melancholic: Turner and Ferber
    • Phlegmatic: Lucy
  • Foreign People Are Sexy: Ferber and Lucy
  • Gainax Ending: A well-known one. As Flowers' hoods turn up at the house, Chas shoots a passive and maybe willing Turner dead, then peacefully surrenders to them. As he is driven off in a white Rolls-Royce, presumably to his death, we see him look out of the window, and his face appears to be Turner's.
  • Gayngster: What initially is heavy homoerotic innuendo about Flowers and his gang is then made full text when we see that he and one of his inner circle share a bedroom.
  • Genre Shift: For the first half-hour or so, it's a gritty, violent (if artily directed) gangster movie. Then Chas turns up at Turner's house and everything gets weird.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: In the early part of the film, there are several bits where gangster violence gets intercut with sex scenes between Chas and his girlfriend, and between Turner and his girls.
  • Intoxication Ensues: After Chas eats the mushrooms without knowing that they're hallucinogens. Pherber is downright ecstatic when Chas suddenly asks "What's wrong with the lights?", since she knows that they're finally kicking in.
  • London Gangster: Lots and lots of them. Some of the minor gangster characters were reputedly the real thing.
  • Mental Fusion: Ends up happening between Chas and Turner. Maybe.
  • Mushroom Samba: A literal one, when Ferber feeds an unknowing Chas a salad made with hallucinogenic mushrooms.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Harry Flowers is a hybrid of the two sets of brothers who notoriously ruled and fought over London's organised crime of the era, South London's Richardsons (the involvement with fraud and the Cold-Blooded Torture), and East London's Krays (the homoeroticism and intra-gang violence).
  • One-Book Author: This is the only credited film appearance for both Michèle Breton (Lucy) and Laraine Wickens (Lorraine).
  • The Precious, Precious Car: Chas pours acid over a lawyer's Rolls-Royce. With the chauffeur handcuffed to it.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: When Chas kills Turner.
  • Psycho for Hire: Chas, initially.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Ferber is Blue, Lucy Red.
  • Reveal Shot: Chas rings the friend who's been trying to get him a passport and asks him to come to Turner's house to deliver it. The shot of the friend widens and we see Flowers' gang are in the room with him.
  • Same Language Dub: The lines delivered by the black musician whose overheard conversation alerts Chas to Turner's free room were overdubbed by Ian McShane
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Turner, although he's mostly given up the "rock and roll" part in favor of Sex and Drugs. After meeting Chas, he slowly finds himself returning to music, culminating in "Memo from Turner".
  • Shame If Something Happened: At the start of the film, Chas delivers a speech like this to the owner of a minicab firm while actually trashing the place.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Chas, until Turner persuades him to go from Mod to Hippie. Meanwhile, Turner abruptly shifts from Hippie to Mod in "Memo from Turner" where he dresses super-sharp and slick.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Turner's Title Drop is a quotation from Antonin Artaud.
    • Turner reads aloud from the works of Jorge Luis Borges, and a portrait of him is seen being pierced by the bullet when Chas shoots Turner.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Delta Blues acoustic guitar licks in a film about London in The '60s? When you've got Ry Cooder as part of your soundtrack ensemble, might as well go for it.
  • Three-Way Sex: Turner cavorting with his two hot girlfriends.
  • Title Drop:
    Turner: The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Chas and some of the other gangsters forcibly shave the head of the chauffeur of a lawyer they want to intimidate (and pour acid over his car).
  • Two-Person Pool Party: More than two people actually: there's lots of fun in Turner's big bathtub.
  • Visual Pun: Turner starts babbling about "Cheops and his bloody pyramid", and we cut to a close-up of...a female nipple pointing up.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Turner
  • Writer's Block: Implied to be at the root of Turner's problems.
    Turner: "I have lost my daimon."