Performance (1968)

is a British crime drama film directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, written by Cammell and starring James Fox and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones, in his film acting debut. The film was produced in 1968 but not released until 1970. Cammell was heavily influenced by the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (a portrait of Borges on a book cover can be seen at a crucial moment in the film).


Dir: Donald Cammell, Nicolas Roeg

UK, 105m


Now I get Donald Cammell. Long before he would grow exasperated with moneymen interfering in his work, he had said his piece. I loved his eye, how he cut and moved a camera, but I wasn’t sure how he considered his protagonists, were they flawed individuals or affectionate caricature of the evil in man. Now I understand they’re looking for their inner demon, now maybe transcending the world by achieving madness in a final performance of death. Only yesterday I wrote about Wild Side that it’s a movie that flails in violent anarchy but there’s no hidden insight behind the flailing, it’s the flailing itself that matters. I had to go back to Cammell’s first film to find the affirmation of that spoken by Mick Jagger who echoes Artaud. Or as Kenneth Anger might say, zap! you’re pregnant, that’s magick.

It’s very interesting for me to see codirected films. Who did what, how did the creative process evolve, how did two people share a vision? Powell was in charge of the camera, Pressburger wrote the stories, but they were both present on set. A similar thing happens here but I’m willing to give the film to Cammell. Roeg is the eye but he sees what Cammell wants him to see. Now and then we see the basement lit in yellowgreens and purples, Roeg tutored well next to the great Roger Corman, but it was Cammell who spent months re-editing the film and it was Cammell who came back from the Left Bank with a New Wave influence to make the film he had written. His trade Roeg owes it elsewhere but through the madness of this collaborative effort I believe he learned his art (and then forgot it again?).

There’s a silver line of Borgesian reference that goes through the film which I’m not sure I get, not having read any Borges, but I read something on the Performance board that I feel is a great comment: “we’re all frames – what we put in them is a performance (ganster, rock star, barrister – it don’t matter)”. This may or may not be Borgesian, but the film itself is Aleister Crowley (whom young Cammell had known). It’s cinema that performs, cinema as a flamboyant provocateur of laws and ethos, auteur of arcane nothings, it’s the old charlatan magician who now maybe plays a trick of smoke and mirrors, the soothsayer’s knife that cuts open the belly of cinema to see is there a secret to be divined in the innards of its celluloid, where nothing is true and everything is permitted, where the way out is the way (to quote Crowley on his poem 23 Skidoo). The film is organic, alive, like the editor who assisted Cammell in the Los Angeles re-edit (the one we have) said about it, they could edit any number of footage in the film and it would still work. Its nature for me is not a narrative, it’s the madness of shaking loose from one, like there’s a story here and out of its confines a demon of cinema is breaking out. On top of the psychedelia, I like how it’s also a terrific gangster flick.


Reducing my fever

Ive been hitting a level of depression lately that its just been making me sad

I feel like im getting this unfairness in my life like if it’s not one thing its the other

I cant even articulate how I feel.

I just feel like people are going behind my back way too much for silly reasons

Because you think I wont care or it wont hurt me doesn’t mean it will like you think im joking about the last straw on the cammels back

I dont think people have seen me angry

Because im more angry then sad

But it all still hurts