Friday, September 13, 2019

Performance (Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, 1970)

Any attempt to briefly describe the plot of Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s Performance would have to say something about changing places, or mutually appropriated identities, or the transmigration of souls - about vice and versa as the poster put it. And yet, if measured by screen time this is a relatively minor part of the movie, and one that hardly seems to arise organically from what precedes it: it seems more likely that James Fox’s gangster Chas and Mick Jagger’s rock star might spend a few days avoiding each other before going their separate ways. It’s a tribute to the film’s druggy, ornate, discursive texture that it always feels it might slot into place (sort of anyway) with just one more consciousness-shifted try. But in practice, further viewings just yield further points of reflection and oddity. To cite just one, I always forget how far the movie goes down the path of genre, sinking with real relish into the brutally swaggering gangland world and its pretensions to external respectability – sometimes it feels as if Turner and his milieu might just be a projection, excavated from the secret heart of the violence (the intertwining of the worlds, especially in the “Memo from Turner” performance, support this view). And yet Turner’s house is so brilliantly and specifically visualized, and the languid behavioural rhythms so compelling (Chas’s probing pillow talk with the boyish Frenchwoman Lucy feels particularly authentic) that this explanation clearly won’t do: Turner embodies new propositions and realities (however undefined and faltering, as indicated by his un-Jagger-like withdrawal from stardom) that in one way or another will undermine the old certainties. The film teems with oddities of emphasis or pacing, or expression or framing, and sometimes makes you wince (that’s how the close-up of Borges makes me react anyway) and yet you might fantasize about living entirely within it.

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