Friday, January 28, 2011

Performance (UK; Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell, 1970)

  Yet another unclassifiable film; unless 'trippy' might be considered a valid category, which considering Roeg's other early pictures is a definite possibility. Produced in 1968 and shelved for two years, this part gangster-picture, part hippy-sexfest is nothing if not original. When Chas (James Fox), the main enforcer for some London criminal kingpin, commits an unsanctioned homicide in self-defense, he must lay low from his boss while he arranges to get out of the country. Painting (literally) his hair red, he heads off to Notting Hill and rents a room in a house owned by Turner (Mick Jagger), a retired rock star living with his two 'girlfriends', Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michele Breton). Initially appaled by his new entourage's radical lifestyle, Chas slowly grows fond of their excentricities and experiences a change of perception (helped in part by one hell of a mushroom trip). At times hard to follow, this cinematic identity crisis is unflinching in its portrayal of sex and mental anguish, questioning the various performances one must put on daily in order to survive. Furthermore, this film is a perfect example of form adapting to content, testament to Roeg and Cammell's skills as directors (although credit must be given to the film's editor, Frank Mazzola, whose touch is largely responsible for the film's overall tone). Reflective of Chas' own chaotic state of mind, as well as his line of work, the film starts off with a rapid-fire editing pace, cross-cutting from the main action to non-diegetic material, sometimes transgressing time and space by cutting to parts of subsequent scenes. The editing rythm slows down as Chas gest used to living at Turner's, the quick cuts turning into dissolves and distorting uses of mise-en-scene. While it may be somewhat unclear what this film is trying to say, Chas' journey from criminal conservatism into psychedelic liberalism is a surprisingly creative treat for both the eyes and ears (and it has an original Rolling Stones song too).

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