UK 1970 : Donald CAMMELL and Nicolas ROEG : 105-6 mins

Trigger-happy Cockney gangster Chas (James Fox) needs to lie low after bumping off one rival too many. With his bosses scouring London, he finds what seems to be the perfect hidey-hole: a vast Ladbroke Grove townhouse occupied by burned-out ex-pop-star Turner (Mick Jagger) and his lovers Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michele Breton). As Chas is drawn into their decadent lifestyle, his inhibitions smelt away and the house’s inhabitants take on aspects of each other’s personalities.

Though so absolutely of its period (interior design, costume, ‘gangsters-meet-bohemians’ class-conflict theme and ‘Borgesian’ mindf*ck climax) as to be almost a time-capsule, Performance hasn’t actually dated too badly. As a drama, however, the film is frustratingly uneven – the energy level dips almost to zero once Chas has escaped from the excitements of gangland to the decadent confines of Turner’s mansion. But cinematographer Roeg and scriptwriter Cammell, working together as joint directors, compensate by paying close attention to the details of dialogue, atmosphere and decoration that make up the film’s socially disparate milieux.

They also elicit a pair of effective, intriguing performances by Fox and Jagger as the yin-yang Chas (no last name) and Turner (no first name). Aristocratic off-camera, Fox makes for a convincingly violent, narcissistic thug whose macho surface hides an ambiguous sexuality (the character is a direct ancestor of Paul Bettany’s nameless anti-hero in Gangster No.1 three decades on) Movie-debutant Jagger has rather less of a stretch on his hands as the effete Turner, but provides much welcome humour with his string of languidly arch observations. And he socks over his one song, ‘Memo From T’, aided by typically flashy, anything-goes visuals from Roeg and Cammell.

15th March, 2003
(seen 14th February, Theatre by the Lake, Keswick. Keswick Film Festival. DVD projection)

by Neil Young