Saturday, January 2, 2010


Performance is a British film made in 1968 but not released until 1970. It was directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, and stars James Fox and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones in his film acting debut.

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. At that stage the story involved an American gangster hiding out in London. James Fox, previously cast in rather upper crust roles, eventually took the place of Brando, and spent several months in South London among the criminal underworld researching his role.

As the project evolved the story became significantly darker. Cammell and co-director Nicolas Roeg (mainly responsible for the 'look' of the film) 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.

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 (particularly the 'Memo from Turner' sequence in which Jagger sings), 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.

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 a Time Out magazine "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.

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