Performance (film)

Infobox Film | name = Performance
caption = Performance VHS cover
director = Donald Cammell
Nicolas Roeg
producer = Sanford Lieberson
writer = Donald Cammell
starring = James Fox
Mick Jagger
music = Jack Nitzsche
cinematography = Nicolas Roeg
editing =
distributor = Warner Bros.
released = August 3 1970 (U.S. release)
runtime = 105 min
language = English
budget = £750,000 (estimated)
imdb_id = 0066214

"Performance" is a British film made in 1968 but not released until 1970. It is directed by Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg.


Chas (James Fox) is a "performer," a violent enforcer for an East London gang led by Harry Flowers (Johnny Shannon). Chas' insubordination leads Flowers to send some hitmen to punish Chas for his impudence. After they torture Chas, he murders one of them. As a result, Chas goes on the run, both from the police and from his former colleagues. Chas dyes his hair red and finds himself "a perfect little hidey hole" in the basement apartment of a house owned by Turner (Mick Jagger), a reclusive, eccentric, former rock star who has "lost his demon" and who lives there with his female friends Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michele Breton). At first, Chas is contemptuous of Turner, but they start influencing each other.


Performance was initially conceived by Donald Cammell as "The Performers" and was to be a lighthearted swinging 60's romp. At one stage, Cammell's friend Marlon Brando (with whom he later collaborated on the posthumously published novel "Fan Tan") was to play the gangster role which became "Chas". At that stage the story involved an American gangster hiding out in London. As the project evolved the story became significantly darker. Cammell was heavily influenced by the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (a portrait of Borges can be seen at a crucial moment in the film) as he redrafted the script to create an intense, intellectual film dealing with issues of identity crisis. Cammell and co director Nicolas Roeg also benefited from a lack of interference from Warner Bros. studio executives, who believed they were getting a Rolling Stones equivalent of the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" (1964). Instead, Cammell and Roeg delivered a dark, experimental film which included graphic depictions of violence, sex and drug use.

The film has gained notoriety due to the difficulties it faced in getting on screen. The film's content was a complete surprise to the studio. It has been reported that during a test screening, one Warner executive's wife vomited in shock. The response from the studio was to deny the film a cinematic release. It has been claimed that at one stage Warner Bros. wanted the negative to be destroyed.

"Performance" was finally released in 1970 after several recuts, dubbing of Cockney accents and changes in Warner's administration. Different edits were shown around the world, however home video versions of the 1990s invariably used the US edit.

A commemorative event was held at London's ICA on October 18 1997, incorporating a talk by film theorists (including Colin MacCabe, who went on to write a guide to the film), a screening of the uncut UK edition, and finally a question and answer session. Those in attendance included Fox (and family), Pallenberg, set designer Christopher Gibbs, and Cammell's brother who introduced part of a video interview with David Cammell shot just before his death. Mick Jagger was originally to appear, but was committed to the Rolling Stones' Bridges to Babylon Tour.

The Region 1 DVD was released on February 132007, and worldwide soon after. Although the film has undergone significant restoration, one famous line of dialogue - Jagger's "Here's to old England!" heard during the Memo From Turner sequence - has been deleted from the mix.

Critical reputation

On its release the film received mixed reviews. Most reviewers focused on the graphic sexual elements. One reviewer (Richard Schickel) described it as "the most completely worthless film I have seen since I began reviewing."

Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, "Performance" gradually acquired a cult following on the late night and repertory cinema circuits. By the 1990s the film had undergone a complete critical reappraisal. In 1995 "Performance" appeared at number 28 in an "all-time greats" poll of critics and directors. After Cammell's death in 1996 the film's reputation grew still further. It is now frequently cited as a classic of British cinema.

According to the website They Shoot Pictures, Don't They, which collects ranking from various critics and best-of lists, "Performance", as of January 2008 is ranked 195th in the 1,000 Greatest Films of All Time. []


When "Performance" was released, several aspects of the film were extremely innovative, and historically it can be seen as a precursor to MTV type music videos and many popular movies of the 1990s and 2000s. This movie has a soundtrack with Mick Jagger, Ry Cooder, Randy Newman, The Last Poets, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Merry Clayton.

*"Performance" was the first feature film to employ the cut-up technique (although the technique was employed in experimental shorts in the 1960s and 1970s, most notably by Antony Balch). Directors Cammell and Roeg also went on to use this technique in their following movies, before it became commonplace in popular cinema.
*The gangster aspect of "Performance" has been imitated by many popular directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, Jonathan Glazer and more.
*"Performance" pushed boundaries by featuring extremely explicit sex scenes and use of drugs, both which have been rumoured to be real instead of simulated. Although Andy Warhol's (and other underground filmmakers') films had featured such behaviour before "Performance", it was unheard that such things appeared in a major studio production.
*Big Audio Dynamite's song "E=MC²" includes extensive dialogue samples from "Performance." The song "Further Back and Faster" by Coil (on "Love's Secret Domain") also samples dialogue from the film.
*Happy Monday's second album, "Bummed", features several songs inspired by the film, including "Moving In With', "Performance", and "Mad Cyril". "Mad Cyril" is explicitly inspired by the film and included the following dialogue samples:
**"I like that, turn it up"
**"It was Mad Cyril!"
**"We have been courteous"
**"I need a bohemian atmosphere"
* Also inspired by the movie were the '79 Mod Revival act, Secret Affair whose East End following known as 'The Glory Boys' were based on the South London gangsters portrayed in the film. "Glory Boys" was also the title of their first album.

* In keeping with the intellectual bent of Jagger's character, legendary Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges is quoted numerous times during the film.

*"Beat the Devil", the BMW promo movie directed by Tony Scott and starring James Brown, Gary Oldman and Clive Owen, contains at least two references to "Performance". At one point Owen's character says "I know a thing or two about performing" - a quote from Chas. The Devil, played by Oldman, dances with a fluorescent tube, just as Turner does in Performance.


:"See Performance (soundtrack)"

External links

* [ "Performance"] by Colin MacCabe (book)

Further reading

*Ali Catterall and Simon Wells, "Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since The Sixties" (Fourth Estate, 2001) ISBN 0-00-714554-3

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