Bit of Background Performance is a film about the merging of opposites: of male and female, of identities, of personae, of the apparently different worlds of gangsterism and extreme artistic decadence that are both revealed to function through the engine of the performative ritual of violence.
Bit of background The explicit sex and brutal violence of Performance were a breakthrough for British cinema, explicitly linked in Chass taste for rough sex and his oddly sexualised whipping at the hand of Maddocks (Anthony Valentine). These elements, and the frequent drug-taking, seem to have caused Warner Bros to panic about the film, shelving it for two years and then re-editing it before its 1970 release.
Non-diegetic Soundtrack Performance is as challenging to listen to as it is to watch, and it is the soundtrack that is perhaps the most influential and groundbreaking aspect of the film. Rather than being a totally composed score or a collection of found pop songs, Jack Nitzsches soundtrack mixes together disparate and impure musical forms,
Pop Film? Performance is also a pop film, or, at least, it has often been considered in this way. In this respect it is useful to compare it to AHDN whereas Lesters film centrally stages the vibrant charisma and pop celebrity of their star protagonists, Jaggers film appearances are much more troubling, indistinct and ill-at-ease.
Performance – A SimpleStory in Complex Terms The opening half-hour is a tour of the London underworld of the late 1960s. Once gangster Chas (James Fox) enters the house of reclusive rock star Turner (Mick Jagger), the film becomes concerned with the disintegration of his perceptions about himself and his world. The film becomes a jumble of jump-cuts, point-of-view shifts, visual effects, elliptical editing and seamless changes between fantasy and reality.
Two Halves – Two Worlds The first is clearly a classic East End gangster genre. It includes all the classic iconography of the gangster genre: protection rackets, hard men, gang bosses, girlfriends, sharp suits violence, rough justice and courtroom scenes etc. This has the effect of establishing a whole set of expectations amongst the audience.
2 half nd The second half of the film goes onto deny all of these expectations by taking the principle character Chaz (James Fox) into a surreal world of drugs hippie culture anarchy and decadence.
2 Half nd All the characters in Powis Square seem to believe that their lifestyle is in some way superior to Chaz’s. Chaz is literally turned on to Turner’s decadent lifestyle, in a way that many people involved in the drug subculture would recognise. Chaz soon comes to see however that Turner’s lifestyle is fraught with traps and obstacles of its own.
Representations Society Corrupt / hypocritical / violent. Gangsters operate on the business model (hostile takeover – “business is business”). Progress is not forward (“he’s an out of date boy”).
Representations Swinging ‘60s Darker side to counterculture and experimentalism: drugs gender subversion crime search for liberation through risk taking (sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll).
Representations Masculinity – is a ‘performance’. There is a dark side represented through violence, exploitation. Macho man (Chas/Fox) Sex god (Turner/Jagger).
Representations Femininity – is a ‘performance’ Females are presented as intelligent, voracious and ready to play. Middle class women. Ethnic minorities are marginal characters.
Representations Celebrity / Identity Turner is trapped and needs an audience to escape – he needs Chaz.
Themes Freedom/restriction – Chas trapped by gangster underworld finds freedom in the character of Turner – only to discover Turner is trapped himself (by drugs and celebrity) Crime – A way to power. No different to business. Linked to celebrity in terms of performance.
Themes Identity – As a game, a performance. Use of mirrors to suggest a fractured or shifting identity. Gender – As ambiguous and fluid. Not fixed. Examples of role play.
Themes Sexual experimenting - threesomes / bisexuality / homosexuality. Drug use – Presented as a key to liberation from social constrictions (gender identity, social roles).
Psychedelic style (represented asrevolutionary, shocking, decadent) Techniques used to shock and disorientate the audience. Sound design- Abnormal disrupts realist narrative Dutch angles – Create sense of mental abnormality extreme psychological conditions. Non diegetic inserts- Creates disruption of realist narrative Montage Disruption of continuity style- Cutting in on action Juxtaposition of images (editing style rapid, symbolic) B/W film stock Non linear narrative – images out of sequence
Symbolism Mirror images - suggest shifting identity Photographs - cameras capture identity Music Suggests atmosphere and descent into decadence Non diegetic inserts - (breast/blood/sex) Sound - Reinforces disruption of the senses and symbolises altered states