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Influential, important breakthrough in filmmaking,
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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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Showing 1-10 of 15 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 2, 2007 8:43:50 AM PDT
Cooper Willis says:
I highly doubt Tarrantino has ever taken credit for non-linear story arc. It exsisted long before him as well as before Nicolas Roeg. Besides, all of his films are paying homage to the films he grew up on. Most likely Performance slipped it's way in there too. I think maybe naive America pinned him as being "the first" because of Pulp Fictions blockbuster success into miansteam cinema. But I've never heard himself make such a claim.
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 9, 2007 10:30:05 AM PDT
Tarrantino did so to Charlie Rose, when discussing the structure of "Pulp Fiction." He answered Rose's question about mixing up time by saying it was his "unique and crazy way of story-telling" that made him cut the film as he did. And he didn't cop to the re-telling of Hong Kong films ("Resevoir Dogs" being almost a shot for shot remake of an obscure HK movie) until he was outed by others. As far as I know, Tarrantino has never mentioned Nic Roeg, but then few Americans really know who he is as his films have never received good distribution here--ot even filmmakers, unless they went to art school rather than UCLA (for example) tend to really know his work. And most saw "Performance" and "The Man Who Fell to Earth" because of their rock star leading men. We didn't even get the full cut of TMWFtE here until years later, on the revival-house circuit.
Non-linear story-telling was part of the English New Wave of the 60's, beginning most importantly with Roeg. If you can name a pre-Roeg non-linear filmmaker, please do, as I'd love to see his/her work. Unless you're thinking of 40's American art filmmaker Maya Deren, who wasn't working in the narrative form at all...?
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 14, 2008 11:11:19 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 14, 2008 11:11:53 AM PDT
Grigory's Girl says:
I like your comments on Tarantino. Honestly, I've never heard Quentin himself take credit for non-linear storytelling, but it wouldn't surprise me if he did, because many who have written about him have said that he did. It is preposterous for anyone to think Quentin invented anything.
Quentin is a big Sergio Leone fan, and he must have seen Leone's masterful Once Upon a Time in America, which is the greatest non-linear film ever made (IMO). Kubrick's The Killing is another great example of non-linear storytelling, as is Performance.
As for Reservoir Dogs being a shot for shot remake of an obscure HK film, that's partly true. The film is Ringo Lam's City on Fire, and it has a very similar plotline to Dogs (undercover cop penetrates gang). Lam's film is grittier and more realistic, but the only scene which is a blatant rip off is the "Mexican standoff scene", where everyone has their guns aimed at each other. It's almost a carbon copy. QT has lifted from obscure exploitation films before (Darryl Hannah's character in Kill Bill originally appeared in a film called Thriller: A Cruel Picture, released in the US as They Call Her One Eye), so it's not without merit that many call him a ripoff.
Posted on Apr 21, 2008 8:49:48 AM PDT
Dymon Enlow says:
The oldest example that I can think of for non-linear storytelling would be Kubrick's THE KILLING (1956) or even Bunuel's UN CHIEN ANDALOU(1929).
Tarantino is a tool.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 21, 2010 1:05:47 AM PST
Zimi Ahzrix says:
It's been argued that Cammell made the non linear final cut after previews shocked Warners execs.
As usual, this is vastly overlooked.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 11, 2010 7:02:11 AM PST
Cammell's influence is, indeed, overlooked, even by my review, which I regret. I know it was he who created the story, did the casting, and set the tone, but because of the way Roeg shot the film, it succeeds in a way that I don't believe it could have had anyone else photographed it. Roeg went on to use the techniques pioneered in Performance, which is why I focused on him more than Cammell.
I find it hard to believe that the film was cut in the way it was just for the execs, though I know they did want it cut to be less violent and sexual. The cuts from one sentence starting with Character A and ending with Character B, underlining the essential gangsterism of the business world during the courtroom scenes (just one of many examples), had to have been planned or they wouldn't have worked. However it got that way, though, it is bloody brilliant.
Posted on Feb 1, 2012 12:54:58 PM PST
el dangeroso says:
Tarantino hardly took credit for inventing non-linear storytelling. Saying the structure of Pulp Fiction is a "unique and crazy way of story-telling" is true, and it's hardly the same as saying it's never been done before. And something tells me you never saw "City on Fire", because Reservoir Dogs is not even close to being a shot for shot remake. It features a similar plot, but feels completely different. Also, Nic Roeg is very well known in America for "Don't Look Now", so many people would be familiar with him. And as someone else mentioned, "The Killing" is a pre-Roeg example of non-linear storytelling.
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 8, 2012 1:49:13 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 8, 2012 1:51:54 AM PDT
Thomas Plotkin says:
weighing in late, but alain resnais - who Roeg has cited as an influence - was a pioneer of non-linearity. (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad, Muriel and Je t'aime je t'aime and la guerre est finie all predate Performance, are all chronologically fractured, and all had quite an impact on various "New Waves." And of course lets not forget dear old Citizen Kane.
Posted on Jul 18, 2012 10:52:28 AM PDT
alex bushman says:
While I agree that Roeg is an under-appreciated filmmaker, the pompous context from which you frame your position is unfortunate. Tarantino may be pompous, but he's upfront about his inspirations and loves. While he may include elements of films he loves in his work he hasn't robbed a film of a gimmick wholesale. He certainly hasn't claimed to invent non-linear storytelling, something that, in the same interview, claims was lifted from narrative literature. If someone didn't know better, they'd think you had a well-informed opinion instead of a formidable bias against Tarantino. Fortunately, this thread of comments is full of informed people. This is a great film, but you have to give credit to him (T) for making memorable movies and knowing just how much inspiration to put in them. You brought him into a discussion he doesn't belong in. I wouldn't call his films great, but they are entertaining. I don't take much stock in the rip-off issues, since most of the films he references wouldn't be widely seen anyway. In a way, he's spreading the wealth and giving attention to movies that would've been largely forgotten.
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 18, 2012 1:56:56 PM PDT
Aren't all reviews opinions? I gave mine, and am happy to see others give theirs in this comments thread. I thank you for your contribution here.