August 12, 2010

Justify My Netflix: Performance

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)


Today's movie: Performance, 1970 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because it was only recently that this 1970 film by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg (The Man Who Fell to Earth) came out on DVD for the first time, a supposed "lost countercultural classic" that also happens to be the acting debut of Mick Jagger.

The reality: Wow! Well, I gotta say, out of the two types of movies that the countercultural era seemed to produce (brilliant and awful, that is), this is definitely in the former camp, because of it not nearly being what you're expecting it to be; in fact, the entire first third of the movie is a Guy-Ritchie-style straightforward crime film, concerning a group of impeccably-dressed skinny-tie-wearing Cockney gangsters, and of the various machinations that eventually leads head bruiser Chas (British acting veteran James Fox, nearly unrecognizable from how he looks today) into hot water with his bosses. (And in fact, both Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino have confessed in the past what a heavy influence this movie had on the look and feel of their early films.) This then leads to him going on the lam; and after eavesdropping on a conversation with a hippie musician at the airport, eventually to the basement apartment of a dilapidated building owned by a reclusive retired rock star named Turner (Jagger), who very easily sees past Chas's cover story but invites him to stay in the empty flat anyway, eventually opening the criminal's eyes to the wider world through the enticement of free love with his hot, perpetually naked female acquaintances, as well as copious amounts of psychedelic drugs slipped into Chas's food without his knowledge.

This then makes the film not really an experimental mess at all (although there are plenty of messy scenes shot in an experimental way, which when combined with the nudity and flower-power message is what got it its trippy reputation), but rather a remarkably solid psychological drama, a surprisingly realistic look at the complex relationship between a burned-out musician with a secretly dark heart and a straight-laced thug with a secretly poetic soul. It's a shame that so many petty distractions kept this from being the New Wave classic it deserves to be (including the fact that Jagger's love interest in the film, played by Anita Pallenberg, was bandmate Keith Richards' actual girlfriend at the time, with rumors of Jagger and Pallenberg's onscreen sex scenes being unsimulated almost breaking the band up); because this really is one of the more brilliant films from the entire countercultural period that I've now seen, an easy-to-understand and surprisingly black look at the hidden costs of an artistic lifestyle, filmed not coincidentally in the same year as the Rolling Stones' infamous concert-related murder at Altamont, yet another reason why this film was sort of culturally buried not longer after it first came out. Divorced now from its trendy circumstances, it remains a true highlight of that period of film history, and it comes highly recommended today.

Strangest piece of trivia: Believe it or not, this project began its existence as a lighthearted comedy, and was pitched to Warner Brothers as the Rolling Stones' version of A Hard Day's Night; it was only as the '60s dragged on, and Cammell became a fan of Jorge Luis Borges for the first time, that the script eventually became darker and more obtuse, with the Stones' plan for recording its soundtrack eventually scrapped as well because of the sex scandal mentioned above.

Worth your time? Yes

Filed by Jason Pettus at 4:44 PM, August 12, 2010. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |