Vice. And Versa Nearly 45 years after its first release, PERFORMANCE, a controversial film featuring a young Mick Jagger, is now viewed as a cult classic. Hanna Engelmeier discusses what has made it stand the test of time On February 12th 1967 police arrested Rolling Stones’ bandmates Keith Richards and Mick Jagger for possession of amphetamines and other drugs. The incident caused a real stir among the public, not least because the two rockstars and their guests chose to indulge their habits during walks in some of England’s finest Sussex countryside. The scandal led to further details of goings-on at Richards’ Redlands country house emerging into the public sphere including, according to reports, Jagger’s then girlfriend Marianne Faithfull adorning her private parts with Mars bars. While not exactly full-on obscenity, it was certainly stereotypical rockstar behaviour nonetheless. The furore caught the attention of Jagger’s friend Donald Cammell, a film director who was casting for his upcoming film Performance (Co-directed by Nicolas Roeg). Cammell wanted an actor to play an eccentric former rockstar called Turner who forces a petty criminal called Chas – on the run from his gang leader boss – to take hallucinogenic drugs. Chas then becomes embroiled in a game with Turner’s two female companions and although there isn’t a Mars bar in sight, the film does feature the intimate exploration of both body and soul. In light of his recent arrest, Jagger seemed the ideal candidate. Production company Warner Brothers gave the project its full backing and with Jagger on board, it was hoped the film could be a box office hit like The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. But it didn’t play out like that. At one of the first showings of the film, the wife of one of the Warner Brothers’ staff was reportedly sick from shock. And Jagger only makes his first on-screen appearance almost halfway through the 105 minutes of the film. In addition to appearing in nude scenes with the absurdly attractive Anita Pallenberg and Michèle Breton, Jagger’s main role is to embark on spontaneous soliloquies about drifting off into madness and find new and ingenious uses for fluorescent tubes. One thing quickly became clear: The film was never going to be a blockbuster and remained closeted away until 1970. Retold, the film sounds like a strained piece of avantgarde art and to some extent that’s true. The viewer is supposed to ‘trip-out’ with the cast – and not just as a Stones’ aficionado or a film buff. But what Performance does allow is the rare pleasure of seeing a young Mick Jagger in all his quirkily attractive glory as a man who exudes so much energy you can’t help but like him (even knowing him as the old stage master he is today). Performance also offers viewers the chance to take a more interesting journey back in time: Anyone who wants to know what 1968 was like is barking up the wrong tree with 70 j THE PERFORMANCE ISSUE
WHEN THREE IS NOT A CROWD The young Jagger in the infamous ménage à trois scene with Anita Pallenberg and Michèle Breton. The film was an initial commercial flop but has since found critical acclaim CULTURE PHOTOGRAPHY: ANDREW MACLEAR/REDFERNS/GETTY IMAGES (2), ANDREW MACLEAR/GETTY IMAGES. boring TV documentaries about flower power. In Performance the audience can experience up close how it felt to clamber out of a seemingly safe world of ‘shooby-doo’ pop, starched skirts and a general sense of intellectual entrapment to walk the path of the ‘drop-out’. And this, at a time when individuality and creativity were not regularly promoted on the criteria list for most job vacancies. More than anything, however, the audience receives a masterclass in the very concept of ‘performance’, meant here in the sense of ‘giving your all’ – particularly from a physical perspective. Norms, constraints and good old-fashioned taste go out of the window in the film, all in the name of artistic integrity. Commenting on the scene in which Jagger, Pallenberg and Breton conduct their ménage à trois in a bathtub, one critic wrote that even the bathwater was dirty. Anita Pallenberg makes her first appearance as Pherber playing Venus dressed in furs, a dangerous animal that pleases itself and locks Chas in a house full of mirrors. The mirrors help Pherber to administer vitamin B12 injections into her own bottom, and reassure her that she is still a real presence in the world, at the same time endlessly duplicating the scenes of her curious trip. From all of this, the audience is supposed to learn that the boundaries of everyday life can be overcome at any time, and that there is fun to be had in drawing the curtain on reality. Anyone can ‘do’ or ‘be’ anything: man, woman, beloved, slave, child, animal, rockstar. Ultimately, we get it: it is 1968 and identity is an evolving concept, and if anything, something to be consumed. An aura isn’t something you can learn to develop, and it is difficult to practise having a presence. The casual nature in which the actors reside in their bodies and the focused manner in which the camera follows them around isn’t just some cinematic achievement on the part of the director and cast, but rather an act of unbelievable confidence and audacity. The film comes at a time in which music films and videos were in their infancy, and in a way Performance almost helps found the genre. One scene, which has become known as “Memo from Turner”, sees Jagger constantly changing roles in a dream sequence. After appearing as a lawyer or banker with oil-slicked hair, Jagger then reverts back to Turner the rockstar. His companions, who begin the scene sitting in heavy leather chairs, end it lying naked on the floor in a claustrophobic room, where the wooden panels and heavy golden picture frames seem to overwhelm everything. Jagger cuts NORMS, CONSTRAINTS AND GOOD OLD- FASHIONED TASTE GO OUT OF THE WINDOW IN THE FILM IN THE NAME OF ARTISTIC INTEGRITY through the scene like a knife through butter, and when at the end of the scene he tips a cupboard full of ammunition onto the desk, all the while singing in his husky tones (he is Mick Jagger after all), he is ultimately saying: I can do anything because art allows it to be so. It is exactly this acute kind of self-perception that means the film does not become worn-out and dated. On the contrary, today, the film’s happiness in ‘embracing the strange’ still comes across as curious, provocative and inspiring. For the film’s crew, Performance took a great toll though. While Jagger enjoyed lasting success in his music career after the film, his other colleagues were not as lucky. It was Donald Cammell’s last real film of note and the director ultimately went on to take his own life in LA in 1996. The other lead actor in the film, James Fox, was so affected by the role that he became a devout Christian after shooting the film, hanging up his gloves as an actor for some ten years. Performance is far less well-known than more accessible films from more successful directors. But it shouldn’t be. After a visual inundation lasting 105 minutes, the film might just leave you changed too: no longer the same person you were before, more willing to ‘perform’ and much more likely to seek out real excitement. A film to watch before you die in other words. THE PERFORMANCE ISSUE j 71
Jaguar Magazine celebrates creativity in all its forms, with exclusive features that inspire sensory excitement, from beautiful design to cutting-edge technology.
In this issue, we explore the art of creativity from the Brazilian masters who devised the graceful art of Capoeira, to the Irish artists mixing new culture with old. You will also discover the creative line that links Victorian wallpaper to the iPhone. While the multi-talented actor and performer, Riz Ahmed, explains why it is the right time to reveal his true self to the world.
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