Wednesday, September 20, 2017

#607: Performance

1970, TSPDT Rank #178

Nicolas Roeg made his directorial debut with this mind-bending psychological thriller, together with his co-director Donald Cammell, who wrote the script, while Roeg took charge of the film's cinematography. As such, the credit for this film, especially its complex themes of identity and the repercussions of performance, should go as much to Cammell as to Roeg, although the fact that Roeg went on to have a much more notable directorial career (with much of his work building upon this film) has led him to be given most of the retrospective credit for it.

Certainly, the stylistic make-up of this film was unlike anything that came before it, which is likely Roeg's doing. He employed audacious cross-cutting throughout the film, while using primitive visual effects to convey abstract psychological themes in a very uncanny way. The presence of Mick Jagger and Stones girlfriend Anita Pallenberg also elevate the film, giving it a dose of rock 'n' roll energy and wild-side flair that conventional British actors wouldn't have been able to convey. Jagger's musical performance in the film isn't all that spectacular, but it performs an important narrative function and allows Roeg and Cammell to make proper use of their famed star.

The other music in the film, provided by Jack Nitzsche, Randy Newman, and others, is uniformly excellent - giving the film a unique, earthy feel which complements its groundbreaking visual style. This unusual confluence of elements has made Performance a veritable cult classic, but Roeg and Cammell probably also deserve a fair amount of credit for liberating films from the burden of linear, reality-based narratives. While others, such as Alain Resnais and Michelangelo Antonioni, had tread this ground before, Roeg and Cammell did it here in a particularly arresting and immediate way, resulting in an uncanny film that has influenced many of the most adventurous filmmakers of the past few decades, while continuing to confound expectations today.

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