Writer: Donald Cammell
Performance is a bit of a shame really, I really want to like Nic Roeg, (Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth), because I like surrealism and I like the idea of most of his films, and I like how adventurous he is, and I actually really, really like The Witches, which isn’t a particularly well liked films but it creeped me the fuck out as a kid in a way I quite enjoyed. Despite all this good will I have for the idea of Nic Roeg, after a strong start to this film, it just becomes stupid beyond belief; it’s self indulgent twaddle and despite some good things to be said for it, it’s just not an enjoyable watch.
It is worth saying this film is for the most part not Roeg’s fault, although his subsequent films do bear his incomprehensible fingerprints, it was written and co-directed by Donald Cammell, who’s otherwise done, not very much, which leads me to believe the directing was really left to Roeg. It’s got a decent enough plot: a gangster is beaten up by an ex gay lover, kills one of his attacker’s in the process and has to go on the run, he winds up living with Mick Jagger… sounds like a fantastic premise right? Drugs were honestly the worst thing to happen to movies because now it gives filmmakers an excuse to just make their movies intergalactically stupid masquerading as artistic.
Now first things first, there is a fair amount to like about Performance; James Fox as the gangster himself is note perfect, he is a performer for his gang and he is incredible and believable and chews up the scenery perfectly, I really like that his gang had no qualms with his bisexuality beyond that it might interfere with business and old flames and the like, and the sequence where he’s beaten up is quite spectacular. If the whole film was of that power and quality I’d think the film was a masterpiece because that scene is. There’s also some wonderful cinematography and production design especially in the Jagger abode, the reason the film is so well liked in a culty fashion is that it really captures a this-is-now attitude and it really comes through in the bold direction of the film.
That being said, the film rides a line for the first half where it constantly threatens to loose the audience through it’s artistic choices; you’ve got to be willing to have the story told to you in an interesting way. Now occasionally it works, when it enhances the story, but also a lot of the time it doesn’t where it really feels a lot like style over substance, which is a phrase I hate to use but here I feel it’s appropriate. Thing is, for the first half it’s mildly irritating but it’s interesting enough to justify, it’s also so… sort of burning with contemporary, rebellious energy that it’s kind of absorbing, and if there’s one thing Roeg can do really well it’s a good sex scene, although this film is no Don’t Look Now. Then, about half way through, they spike him with mushrooms. After that happens, the film becomes, boring, incomprehensible, and irritating. They keep trying on different outfits for what feels like half an hour, then there’s what seems like an excuse to have a Mick Jagger music video, then there’s an ending which make no sense, and then it ends, and you just think what the actual holy living fuck happened? It left me angry. By the end we were just enjoying reading the bitchy amazon reviews more than focusing on the film. Not good Nic, not good.