❉ Jay Glennie’s 50 year celebration is the last word on this counterculture classic, dissecting the background and development of the film in great detail.
“Comical little geezer. You’ll look funny when you’re fifty.” – Chas (James Fox)
Performance is a great film. By that, I mean it’s challenging, uncomfortable and disturbing to watch, which also makes it a great 1960s film. Narrowing its appeal down even further, Performance is a great 1968 film, full of frenzied violence and music, together with sexual and artistic boundaries being broken and redefined. This year, it’s now 50 years since directors Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg started the cameras rolling in a rundown house in Notting Hill.
It you’re a fan – and there are many – Jay Glennie’s lavish, limited edition book of 3,000 individually numbered copies, gorgeously designed by Steve Kirkham and simply titled Performance, is the last word on this counter culture classic.
The book’s text is generously interspersed with some handsomely restored photographs from the Cecil Beaton archive (among other sources). The great photographer himself was present during the filming and the stills really are the snapshot of an era: on one side, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, playing the reclusive, dangerous rock star Turner, with Stones guitarist Keith Richards’ druggy, ethereally beautiful girlfriend Anita Pallenberg taking the role of Pherber, one of Turner’s groupies. On the other of the 1968 cultural divide, there was self-confessed “posh” actor James Fox, graduate of Joseph Losey’s domestic psychodrama The Servant (1963), tackling the part of the gangster Chas who hides out with Turner, and John Bindon, a London criminal playing a London criminal, at a time when the public’s fascination with the East End underworld presided over by the Kray twins was at its height.
It’s fascinating stuff; most of the main cast were playing avatars of themselves, while Fox was acting out his polar opposite, so it’s no wonder that reality bled into fantasy and vice versa. Such duality compounded the seismic cultural fault lines already running through Perfrormance, making it all the more fascinating. Cammell recognised this himself, describing the film as “an ecstatic exploration of a character’s fatal encounter with his double or alter ego.”
The quote is one of many illuminating pieces of commentary in the book from the core creative team – Cammell, Roeg, producer Sandy Lieberson and stars Jagger and Fox, all of whom (bar Cammell, who took his own life in 1996) Glennie interviewed afresh. Rather than the prose just being decorative framing for the pictures, the author uses it to dissect the background and development of the film in great detail.
Written by Cammell, the film began life as a script called The Liars, with Marlon Brando initially interested in playing Haskin, an American criminal on the run in England. When Brando lost interest, it was suggested that the Jagger-starring project should become an adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, with the other Stones as the violent droogs. In the light of this fascinating information, you can only wildly dream about what might have been.
Glennie is particularly good on Performance’s cultural legacy – as befits a 50 year celebration – with the luminaries such as Jarvis Cocker, Big Audio Dynamite’s Dan Donovan and Don Letts, Irvine Welsh and William Orbit offering a contemporary perspective on the film’s lasting influence and value. This makes for some of the most interesting reading in the book.
In short, this is the only Performance. you’ll ever need and it’s well worth the price of admission. Happy birthday, you comical little geezer.
❉ ‘Performance – 50th Anniversary Book’ by Jay Glennie is a numbered, limited edition release of just 3,000 copies worldwide and includes more than 400 images, published by Coattail Publications. To order a copy or for more information, visit https://performance-book.com
❉ Robert Fairclough is a film and TV journalist and blogger and a regular contributor to We Are Cult, ‘Doctor Who Magazine’, ‘Infinity’ and ‘SFX’. He is the author of The Prisoner: The Official Companion to the Classic TV Series, and co-author (with Mike Kenwood) of definitive guides to the classic TV dramas ‘The Sweeney’ and ‘Callan’.