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VINE VOICEon March 16, 2005
Every time I hear Quentin Tarrantino claim to have invented non-linear story-telling, I want to scream. Nicolas Roeg (who photographed and co-directed) went on to make many, many non-linear films, starting with this one in 1969, as did many other directors from the 70's up to now (Steven Soderbergh, Terrence Mallick, to name just two), so please, Quentin, shut up. "Performance" was perhaps the most influential film in my own development as a director; film is a sculptural medium, and never illustrated more so than in this brilliant piece film which moves through time and space so gracefully, or jarringly, as required, while exploring identity, performance (of all sorts), spirituality, freedom from the prevailing standards of society--I could go on for pages, but will spare you. It can be found on video tape, mostly in "used" bins, and as it was shot in regular 35mm, you don't miss much of the frame, as it's close to your TV's format anyway.

Shot mostly hand-held, with Roeg using dissolves, double-exposures, color alteration, freeze-frames, and other Optical Printing techniques, as well as stunning sound design, the mind is assaulted by an abundance of images that you just have to sit back and absorb and allow them to tie themselves together later, when you have time to think about it. In order to tie characters and relationships together, one will start a sentence while another, in an entirely different place and situation, will finish it. This is used to both connective and ironic effect. "Performance" also contains the first "Rock Video" and a Rap Song (in 1969) by a group of drumming poets. The music, by a young Jack Nietshze and his wife, Buffy Sainte-Marie, features Ry Cooder, the extraordinary vocals of Merry Clayton and her choir, and is both a driving force in the film and an eerie reflection of the psychological situations we're in. And that's really true: that we're in. You get as close to being in this film as any you're likely to see. It's more experienced than viewed.

Donald Cammel was fascinated by Borges, a philosopher popular in the 60's, was a friend of Jagger's and Marriane Faithful's, as well as Anita Pallenberg, who plays Jagger's lover in the film, but who was in real life, Keith Richard's partner. In turn, the aristocratic James Fox was fascinated by the Bohemian wildness of Mick and Marianne, and in a stroke of genius, Cammel switched their real-life situations, making Jagger the artist-in-exile aristocrat, and Fox the on-the-lam gangster. Drugs really were used, the sex was real; in actual life relationships were smashed, with Fox taking a 10-year hiatus from film, life, and pretty much everything in order to explore his blown mind. This film, brilliant and important in film history, raises the perennial question all artists face: which is more important, real lives, or art? I found it interesting that the dissimilar-in every-other-way recent film, "Girl with Pearl Earring" actually brings up the same issue, though more subtly and only within the context of the film itself.

The plot is almost beside the point as "Performance" is about so many, many things having nothing to do with "plot", but quickly, it's structured in two halves. Chas (James Fox), a soldier for a small organized crime group in London, has been attacked and taken his revenge on his attacker. Now he needs to run, as all turn on him, so he hides on the Left bank of the river, using the name "Johnny," in Notting Hill (looking nothing like the recent film of its name), in the home of a reclusive ex-Pop star, Turner (Jagger) and his German lover, Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and a French waif, Lucy (Michelle Breton in her only screen role). In the second "half," the externally frenetic pace of the first part is replaced by the externally peaceful but internally chaotic challenging of all of Chas' perceptions through hallucinagetics, mind-games--the intentional dismantling of Chas' personality so that Turner can get the stimulation he needs in order to end his creatively "stuck" situation. The process was so thorough that poor James was unable to function for a decade. It was through this role, though, that Mick Jagger, a very banal, middle-class sort of guy (who never did drugs on any serious level) emerged with a persona to go on through his career with. (Check out Marrianne Faithful's memoirs for more...) The film forces its characters, and if we want it to, us, to ask, "Who am I?" on a level that most never even approach. How much of "me" is performance, and how much my true self? And, "Can I really merge my identity completely with another's?" The "who am I, truly?" is the exploration of the film, and the exploration that those of us who stand by its "unusual" structure and sensory over-load, are generally involved in. It is intense, but if you want it to affect you, just let it, and think more and more deeply as you watch it again and again. Personally, I don't know anyone who has seen it less than a dozen times.

Cammel didn't work much after this, as Roeg did. He (Roeg) went on to make some of the most important films of our time: "Walkabout," "Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession," "Insignificance," "The Man who Fell to Earth," "Castaway" (not "THE Castaway" with Tom Hanks, but "Castaway," based on Lucy Irvine's book about her glorious but nearly fatal year on a desert island with a man who'd advertised for a companion in the experiment). Nicolas also proved that one can "fail" ("Eureka," "Track 29") without being less than brilliant at the same time. His "failures" are more interesting than most directors' "successes," and new filmmakers can learn more from them than from a thousand Speilbergs.

I do wish they'd release this film on DVD, as my tape is so worn from years of re-viewing and showing everyone. It sometimes shows up at Rep Houses, should you be fortunate enough to have one in your city (ours is gone), where you can see it on the big screen, as intended.

And a final note: the last shot is NOT your imagination, and it sums up the entire film. Don't over-think it, just accept it, and enjoy one of the greatest cinematic rides of all time.
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on May 14, 2004
Donald Cammell
"If Performance does not upset audiences," he explained, "then it is nothing."
My friend Neil and I have been waiting for some time to see this film at the cinema. It hasn't been widely available on video for some time and has not yet been released on DVD.
So we were overjoyed to see it was being shown at the Electric Cinema a wonderful recently revamped cinema in Notting Hill Gate, not a hundred yards from Powis Square, one of the main locations in the film.
Performance was financed by Warner Brothers in the late 60's, though it was not released for two years after its completion due to WB demanding recuts and probably hoping the whole sordid little film would be forgotten about.
Thankfully it wasn't, and has over the years become something important and special to many people.
Performance starts as a seemingly straightforward East end gangster film, typical of the period. However when Chas, played to perfection by James Fox, takes refuge in the bohemian lair that is Turners (Jagger) Powis Square townhouse, the pace and the feel of the film change dramatically.
Turner is a retired rock icon who is wallowing in in a filthy corner of his psyche while he decides whether to try and recapture his mojo or continue his hermit like existence. However the hermit tag only applies to Turners lack of contact with fresh air, not many hermits have two pretty free spirits in the form of Pherber (Anita Pallenberg ) and Lucy (Michele Breton) roaming naked around their self imposed prisons.
Pallenberg is the wild blonde who was probably didn't find it too hard to get into character, at the time of filming she was actually Keith Richards's girlfriend, and tales of a jealous Richards watching over the set are abound.
For me the most interesting character and also seemingly someone who probably wasn't acting is Breton. A very pretty boyish French Girl who was said to be a runaway. I have read that she died shortly after the film which seems like a sad but not surprising end for such a free spirited child of the sixties. I would love to have been able to tell you more about Breton, but a search on the internet will turn up very little. She would seem to me like a leaf that breezed into swinging London and was swept away like so many others.
Jagger is convincing as Turner and this is undoubtedly his best, if not his only good, film.
As Turner takes over control of the film from Chas we are treated to a feast of decadence and weirdness that never strays too far from reality for its own good. The film is tied down to a solid base by the continuing gangster film thread humming silently in the background.
Since 1970 many an apocryphal tale has surfaced surrounding the making of Performance, ranging from nervous breakdowns to suicide and drug overdoses. I am always skeptical about such tales, but, unfortunately most of these tales would actually seem to be true. Certainly writer and co director Donald Cammel shot himself and James Fox was disturbed enough not to make another film for many years afterwards.
As I waited for my friends to come out of the Electric Cinema, I overheard many a reaction to the film from other patrons. On the whole it would seem that people seemed disappointed or confused or even annoyed. Thanks god for that. Thank god it has not been tamed by age and become a safe little piece of 60's nostalgia.
Performance does upset audiences. It IS something.
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on August 23, 1999
One of the most astonishing movies of all time. In a nutshell, 'Performance' tells the story of London gangster Chas Delvin (James Fox), on the run from his old associates for an unauthorised murder. He hides out in the house of reclusive rock star Turner (Mick Jagger), who introduces Delvin to his bizarre world of sex, drugs, black magic and rock n' roll. The movie is packed with amazing performances all round, particularly from James Fox. The script by Donald Cammell is great and the direction by Cammell & Nicolas Roeg is superb. While obviously a product of the sixties the film has aged fairly well. It raises interesting and timeless questions about identity and duality. This film is very strange and very graphic. It does not make much sense at first, in fact it is a movie which demands to be seen more than once. Certainly once you see this movie it will stay with you.
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on October 25, 2002
This is one film where the legend does not obscure the brilliance of the plot, the direction of the scenes, and the players....the players with the famous goings on inside and outside the shoot. The cast was not only acting but actually doing the drugs and sex portrayed on the screen. The film pretty much destroyed everyone who worked on it except Mick and Keith and the Stones. Anita Palenberg was incoherent for years afterwards, James Fox underwent a religious experience and ceased acting for a decade, one actor became a heroin dealer, another committed suicide, another committed murder and became a junkie before he died young. Stephen Davis (in his book "Old Gods Almost Dead") says that when the original Cammell and Roeg print was shown to the Warner executives, one's wife vomited and the whole audience left the screening room before the film ended. The true legend of the rock hard, satanic Rolling Stones was born when the band survived both Performance and the only live murder ever included in a movie during the Altamont Festival (shown in the film "Gimme Shelter").
While you watch the film, remember that Keith Richards is waiting outside in his Bentley (writing You Got The Silver) while Anita (his girlfriend) seduces Mick (his best friend) for real on the closed set. The way I heard the story, when Cammell called the scene, to the amazement of the crew, they kept going through orgasm. Keith refused to give Cammell the newly recorded Let It Bleed songs for the soundtrack because of all this.....he told friends he knew that if he was on the set and saw Mick, the Stones would have been history....but the band was his life so he just waited it all out.
The studio shut down production and then refused to release the censored film for several years. Stephen Davis says Cammell edited the footage of Mick and Anita into a 30 min blue movie that later won awards at an Amsterdam porno film festival. The other story that tops this is that even Cammell told Mick the original lyrics to Memo From Turner would have to be rewritten (there was a reference to performing oral sex on policemen) but with Keith refusing to help, there was no way to record new instrumental tracks for the revised lyrics. They ended up just cutting out the offending parts.
The film mirrors this life....schizophrenia on parade as gangster Chas Devlin meets and merges with rock star Turner in a real-life performance that includes nearly every legally-filmable decadence invented. Oh and for Stones fans - don't miss the musical moment when Mick runs through a Robert Johnson tune for you. Just make sure you have a strong stomach and realize what you are doing when you press the start button!
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on April 10, 2007
This is a classic; the movie goes beyond the "stars" in more ways than I can list. It has a late 60's art film style driven by Nicholas Roeg ; it could be a legtimate work of art but to me it's more important as a major cultural statement. Mick Jagger playing what -let's be honest- most of of thought he might become. This was before the Rolling Stones became "the world's greatest rock 'n roll band" . Anita Pallenberg was Brian Jones' girlfriend or had she just become Keith's ?

Anyway there is some homage to the Krays: England's psychopathic, gangsters .. maybe some real insight in to their peculiar world. A touch of the old ultra-violence, and most of all sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll.

Who knows what it did to James Fox's career. Mick wouldn't get out of the makeup for more than a decade after this film.

Memo from Turner- is the best Rolling Stone's song Mick never did with the stones, The Last Poets perform the world's first rap song. Ry Cooder's guitar work was never hotter. Randy Newman, Buffy St Marie, Jack Nietchze - who was the engineer on on early Stones records that were done in the States puts together a maybe the greatest Rock movie sound track including Tommy

Didn't I see you down in San Antone in 1965? well didn't I ? A little William Burroughs stirs up the pot.
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on June 20, 1999
Performance, Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg's disturbing study of what happens when two distinct personalities clash, remains one of cinema's great cult oddities. The plot, brilliantly straight forward, follows Chas, a London gangster (played with extraordinary verve by James Fox) who is forced to take refuge in the house of a reclusive, burned out pop star and his two girlfriends, after a botched gangland killing. Chas, unable to escape Turner, the decadent pop star, played by Mick Jagger (sensational in his first screen appearance) undergoes a terrifying transformation from a vicious thug to a sedated trance like state, a child lost in the wilderness of mind expanding drugs, orchestrated by the manipulative Turner who has dangerous games on his mind... As straight forward as that, but not quite as Performance is loaded with dark complex themes of identity and control, allusions to sado-masochistic sex and bisexuality, and an intricate web of symbolism. The making of the film is equally legendary, the disastrous production was swamped in dangerous drugs, some real life gangsters and sinister black magic courtesy of maverick underground film maker Kenneth Anger, who was behind the scenes during the troubled shoot. Visually, the film is stunning, lensed by cinematographer Nicolas Roeg and contains a veritable kaleidoscope of unforgettable images like a zoom that follows a bullet through someone's brain. And Jagger's song "Memo from Turner" is hugely exciting.
Incidentally, one scene in the film has James Fox's character antagonises Jagger with the line "you'll look funny when you're fifty".31 years later, this seems strangely prophetic. In a word - essential.
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on May 12, 2007
I am thrilled to have a DVD version of this creative piece of genius with the commentaries included, particularly those by the late Donald Cammell and his brother. It's shocking to see Anita Pallenberg remembering that Keith Richards sat outside of the Powis Square house nervously waiting for Mick and Anita's love scenes to be finished. In 1970 I was part of the Billie B Shears Film Group which brought PERFORMANCE to Milwaukee to be shown at a church hall resulting in my viewing it 35 or so times. Through some cosmic joke this then high school teacher from the midwest began to personally connect with individuals involved in the film: Sandy Lieberson walking into my locked hotel room in Toronto in 1972; on a whim calling the Monte Martre and speaking with Donald Cammell who then sent me a copy of an early version of the screen play--very different ending; reading all of Jorge Luis Borges' works and then hanging with him on 2 of his visits to the US--one in which he regained his eyesight and commented that it was so he could see my face.... I use to say "Everything relates to PERFORMANCE" and everything still does...The DVD is more than worth waiting for.
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on June 3, 2014
I've just compared the early office scene where Harry Flowers (played by Johnny Shannon) plans to have the betting shop owned by Joey Maddocks (Anthony Valentine) vandalised so as to get Joey to pay the mob protection. Harry Flowers has been dubbed by a less cockney voice! Why?! The original audio is easy to understand! Aside from this very annoying dubbing it's a beautiful transfer and has the "Here's to Old England" line reinstated (which was mute on the DVD). Trust Warner! They messed up "Get Carter" on blu recently too with such dubbing although the London UK office are currently working on re-releasing that corrected in about 2 weeks from now. Beware anyway!
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on May 7, 2007
This movie brings together very unlike lifestyles, concepts, graphic styles and - well, everything to one degree or another. Don Cammel was a brilliant, bizarre genius who burned out early, probably because his lifestyle was as jolting as PERFORMANCE.(Look for his bio/documentary and be amazed that his life hasn't been made into a movie.)

I've seen it so many times in so many states; it stays remarkable and provoking and superb every time. Actually, in some ways it gets better with multiple viewings.

And then there's Jagger. For me, this movie matches his incredible stage presence. I've seen him perform live and listened to his music often, and

seen his other movies. Always edgy, always intellectual as well as primal, Jagger in this movie does it all in so many dimensions and degrees.

Way ahead of its time, and in some ways ahead of ours, it's a movie that will make you yearn to have been there. In that mansion and in the 60's.
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on February 9, 1999
In one pivotal, surreal, and disturbing scene in this film Mick Jagger regales some inhabitants of his household with some creepy, old Robert Johnson blues just accompaning himself on an acoustic. I watched this scene at first, knowing full well of The Stones' and Jagger's blues worship, and even I thought 'this is ridiculous--is this white boy kidding?'. BUt as Jagger sings "I said 'hello satan----I believe it's time to go", this white boy thrilled some hoodoo through me. By many accounts that I've read, this is what meeting Jagger might be like, and may be the essence of the man.
Having said all that, I find this to be a compelling film. It graphically depicts hard sex, violence, drug use (several years before 'Clockwork Orange' was brought to life), as well as strange obsession with androgeny (several years before the boom of Bowie & Bolan). Mick Jagger's reclusive, devil-worshipping Turner was no stretch of the imagination, especially at this time (1968), but one must hand it to Jagger--despite a few awkward scenes, he smolders, & few real rockers of the time could fill such cinematic hooves. He was even diplomatically second-billed to British actor James Fox, who is the main focus of the film, playing a gangster on the lam. His dillemna gives the film a true sense of tension and depth.
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