Saturday, 25 April 2020

Performance (1970)

Okay, that was a bit… weird.

I watched “Performance two days ago and the extra material last night and have been thinking quite a bit about the movie since then and I still do not know what to think of it. It is fair to say it is unique. I certainly never saw anything quite like it, but what to make of it… I just do not know.

A plot summary seems almost futile since, although it at first appear to be plot driven, the thread is lost halfway through the movie. In fact, you could divide “Performance” into a part 1 and part 2 and be forgiven to think they were two entirely different movies.

Part 1 appears to be a crime story. Chas (James Fox) runs an intimidation team for gangster boss Harry Flowers (Johnny Shannon). He is doing great, lives in a flashy apartment, enjoying kinky sex with his girlfriend and gets plenty of kick out of bullying the enemies of Mr. Flowers. This all falls apart in a chain of events I did not entirely follow. Something about that he went hard on the wrong guy and so the team is sent to give Chas a beating, only Chas shoots one of the guys and now he is hunted by the gangsters.

In any case this story is told with so extremely short cross clippings as to make a music video director envious. It has the effect of keeping you on your toes, but it also leaves nothing explained so you have to make your own connections. It is obvious that Chas is a bad guy and it is with some satisfaction that the tables gets turned on him. Going into part 2 I was wondering if we would now see Chas coming to terms with himself, repent or something like this.

When Chas rents a basement room from Turner (Mick Jagger) we enter part 2. Turner is a seclude who used to be a famous rock star. His townhouse is his world now where he presides over his two girlfriends, Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michèle Breton). This world is totally distinct from the outside world. Lots of sex, drugs and cool music. Gender diffusion, existentialism and value-relativism. Technically the change is symbolized by the absence of the ultra-fast cross clipping. Everything is slower and weirder. Frankly, I am not certain what is going on in these scenes. The dialogue is disconnected and a significant part of it is severely influenced by drugs. Chas is exposed to everything he used to be opposed to and he ends up in a weird outfit, wearing a wig of long hair.

In this second part Mick Jagger’s role is… unclear. Maybe catalyst for a change. He does get to sing some songs and do some of his distinctive dance moves, but otherwise I am constantly wondering what it is he is talking about. As if he is the key to some greater truth that never really becomes tangible.

In the end the two parts does meet but without spoiling anything let me just say that the ending is ambiguous and inconclusive.

“Performance” contains a lot of the zeitgeist of the end of the sixties and is just about as confusing as a weekend eating funny mushrooms. It is also a movie that seems to have a large following which I attribute to its artistic value. As in any proper piece of art you can enter whatever meaning into it as you please. Frustrating and exciting.

I do not “get” the movie, but that does not mean it is bad. I just do not know what it is.

Probably best enjoyed with weed.



  1. I liked this one for a lot of reason, including what feels like the first music video.

    For the record, I watched without weed.

    1. I read your review and I (mostly) see what you mean. I understand that Chas and Turner are supposed to merge. What I do not understand is why and what role the ending has in that respect. Turner/Chas being taken away by the gangsters does not really seem to serve any purpose. I would love to understand it though. It should be the key to the movie.

    2. The band Big Audio Dynamite have a song called E=MC2 that is overtly about the films of Nicolas Roeg. The second verse is about Performance:
      Took a trip in Powis Square
      Pop star dyed his hair
      No fans to scream and shout
      When mobsters came to flush him out
      Gangland slaying underground
      New identity must be found
      On the left bank for a while
      Insanity Bohemian style

    3. Not entirely certain this provides that much explanation, but thanks anyway. It is clear Performance made a big impact.