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1 rating: 3.0
A movie directed by Nicolas Roeg

Chas (James Fox), a low-level gangster, fouls up a job and finds himself on the bad side of the Organization. Suddenly on the run, he dyes his hair with red paint, calls his Mum, and starts looking for a place to hide. When Chas overhears a bohemian … see full wiki

Tags: Movies, Dramas
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Release Date: 1970
MPAA Rating: R
1 review about Performance

Sex, Drugs, Mick Jagger, Mirrors, and a Whole Lotta Androgyny

  • Jan 31, 2003
Pros: trippy, drugged-out, crazy, funny, Mick! Anita Pallenberg! Swingin' London

Cons: really violent, beginning is boring, not much plot

The Bottom Line: It’s more of an experience than a movie...

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.

I had been interested in seeing Performance for a quite some time, but was unable to find it in video stores, since it is rather obscure and rated X. So, I was thrilled when it showed up in my university’s film series.

The plot itself is largely insignificant, since it is the visual aspects of this film that make it worth watching. Chas (James Fox) is a ruthless East London gangster. In an early scene, Chas and his buddies pour acid all over a car in a garage as they tie and gag the guard and shave his head. However, Chas’s sadistic ways come back to haunt him as he is attacked in his own flat. His life in danger, Chas must go into hiding, so he chooses the most unlikely of locations, a hippy love-nest in Notting Hill. In 1970, the Notting Hill area was a lot less posh than it is today with its Hugh Grant image. So, Chas moves in with Turner (Mick Jagger) and his two lovers, Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michèle Breton). From here, the plot is pushed to the back burner as the film explores identity, drugs, and sexuality.

Overall, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and is possibly “more f*cked up than Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” my friend Ethan and I concluded.

I found the beginning to be rather boring and disjointed and was glad when they abandoned the plot in favor of an orgy of drugs, parading around in costumes, and taking lots of baths. Mick Jagger doesn’t appear until about a half an hour in, which is much too late in my opinion. I was much more interested in the Bohemian underworld than the gangster one. Mick and his outrageously large lips steal ridiculous scene after ridiculous scene. In one of his first appearances on screen, Mick sits on a bed as Pherber applies lip-liner around his world famous out. One of my favorite scenes is when Mick is in the bath with his two girlfriends. He stands up to dry off and the women stick paper money onto his wet flesh. The only entertaining scene that doesn’t involve Turner are those with a random little girl and Chas. She appears at the oddest times to offer him a cup of tea and watches him bathe.

The film opens with some cross-cutting between a car driving down a country road and two bodies rolling around in bed. The two people turn out to be Chas and some woman, so, at least outwardly, Chas is a practicing heterosexual. However, his sexuality is called into question early on during his beating when the thugs write “Poof” on his wall in red paint and we see photos of shirtless men strewn around his flat. The hit men whip Chas with a rope, and it’s all rather sexual. Also, Chas ends up in bed with Lucy, who looks suspiciously like Mick Jagger. Chas even comments, “You’re rather underdeveloped. Like a young boy…”

Performance is also very innovative in its editing techniques that clearly influenced the modern music video. It features extremely quick cutting and unrelated insert shots. For instance, at one point, a random nipple fills the screen! During a particularly trippy segment, Chas pictures himself as Turner (or is it the other way around?) as the song “Memo From Turner” plays. In this drugged-out dream sequence, Mick Jagger’s hair is slicked back as he dresses like a gangster and lip-synchs. The gangsters from earlier in the film take off their clothes and dance. It’s unclear whether this fantasy is Chas’s or Turner’s, but it is one of the first true music videos. “Memo from Turner” features the shocking line:

“You’re a f*ggy little leather boy with a smaller piece of stick.”

Ah, Mick Jagger, you are so politically correct...

The film also has its share of drugs. Pherber injects herself in the bum, smokes joints, and grows magic mushrooms in the garden. She feeds some of her psychedelic shrooms to Chas without his knowledge. Miraculously, Chas doesn’t freak out, and the subsequent scene of him examining candles and a table is very entertaining. The cinematography, lighting, and editing somehow make the viewer feel stoned, as well. As they dress him up and put make-up on him, Chas begins to look more and more like Turner. Is Turner turning (get it?) Chas into a new man?

Performance is full of mirror shots since its major theme is identity. These shots are very striking and interesting. The best is the one in which Pherber holds up a mirror to Chas’s face so that half of his face is a reflection of hers, and she tries to convince Chas that he has a feminine side.

“Yeah we all need someone we can bleed on..”

Another interesting thing about Performance is that it is very self-referential. Pherber walks around using a video camera, and a couple of scenes take place around the idea of changing one’s image. Turner and Pherber dress Chas up in several outfits to take his passport photo, and at one point, he hides behind a costume rack. Also, in an early scene where thugs are beating up Chas, his pummeling is interspersed with shots of someone throwing red paint onto a wall, as the filmmakers acknowledge that the blood is fake. There's also a funny shot of a box of brown sugar sitting on the table.

American critics lambasted Performance when it was first released, but it would probably be acclaimed if it had been made thirty years later. The film was way ahead of its time.

I’m sure the writers thought nothing of it back in 1970, but the funniest part of this film is when Chas first meets Turner. He looks at Mick Jagger and says something like, “You’re a strange geezer. You’ll look funny when you’re fifty.” (!) Sir Mick is well beyond the half-century mark now, and he could still bed two women at once. And maybe a few men, as well.


Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age

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