Performance (1970) (R)
I made no hesitation to voice my utter disdain for "The Man Who Fell to Earth" and as such, I've been very careful to steer away from Nicolas Roeg ever since, which is hard because of the influence the man has on cinema. I stumbled across "Performance" by accident and I watched the entire movie without knowing that it was Nicolas Roeg, but everything made sense when I realized that he was one of the two directors (the other is screenwriter Donald Cammell).
I think the reason that "Performance" is tolerably frustrating is because Roeg may have taken a back seat on this one...but that's just conjecture.
Although Mick Jagger gets top billing for the movie, the film is really about Chas (James Fox), a hired gun for a not-so-legal company. He's the muscle end of the dealings and he revels in his work. This much is fairly hard to ascertain from the first thirty minutes of the movie because of the editing. It has the Roeg-style: the blindingly fractured and juxtaposed snippets that eventually begin to make a little sense, but only a little.
Chas is sometimes a little too eager and oversteps his boundaries, the result of his actions get him chastised by his boss.
After an operation goes down (one that Chas was forbidden to be a part of), he is attacked at his apartment by "an old friend". Molested and whipped, Chas is tortured before he gets a chance to get back at his adversaries. He shoots a man and now he has jeopardized his whole mob family.
On the run from both the law and his own people, Chas finds a basement apartment, the owners of which are nothing short of bizarre. Turner (Mick Jagger) and two women occupy the upstairs apartment and they seem to be hippies. They have a loose sense of sexuality and always indulge in as many drugs as possible; yet there is something else here.
"Performance" seems to be one long inside joke, which is the problem I had with the other Roeg work I'd seen; yet I can tolerate that here.
What the movie does is delve into the mindset of culture and a man. It does not shy away from wrestling with huge issues like sexuality and the meaning of existence, and it not pious enough to try to give us answers to these questions. It bends genders, sanity, and philosophy.
Certainly a spiritual ride for Chas, "Performance" gives us many odd scenes that include pouring acid on a car and shaving a man's head, a threesome, and a drug-trip hallucination that promotes the homo-erotic theme of the movie.
"Performance" is also almost epic in the way that it skips and hops over large gaps of time, the way it edits its scenes, and the theaters of shock and awe it tries to promote. I don't know how this film managed to feel genuine for even a single second, but it does. As Chas begins to realize how pointless everything is, he may be giving some meaning to Turner's life. The two have the worst relationship, if can even be called that, yet they feed off each other.
It's bizarre and completely random; yet "Performance" is absolutely fascinating. It's the kind of movie that you like with no reason to like it.
Posted by Micah Jones