Miss Turner Regrets
Warners disliked Performance intensely and buried it for three years before releasing the movie to cult acclaim in 1970. The print at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s aptly named “Film Comment Summer Meltdown” has faded from its lush Oriental reds and comes across as pretentious in spots but has not lost its ‘60s hallucinogenic suggestiveness. About performance and power, personality and doppelgänger, mushroom and bullet mind-blowing, love and violence, underground and underworld, the mélange haunts like the dream just out of reach of the rational concrete.
Britain’s strange fringe Donald Cammell associate produced and wrote it, with legend attributing input from Keith Richards’ girlfriend Anita Pallenberg. A cameraman till then, Nicholas Roeg was brought on board as co-director as well as DP and technical adviser. With a Jack Nitzsche soundtrack under Randy Newman’s direction and blues picked and moaned by Mick Jagger, juggled intercuts and editing, and a head-trip lavishly decadent decayed Notting Hill townhouse, the film is an aural-visual peek at brutality and sensuality underlying a constipated England.
The first third plays standard noir in which Chas (James Fox, though Cammell had sought Brando for the part) enforces compliance for hairy protection-racket king Harry Flowers (Johnny Shannon). Before this dapper underling’s viciousness and personalization of his handiwork can be reined in, he oversteps discretion with former companion Joey Maddocks (Anthony Valentine), placing the gangster’s operation and himself in jeopardy, and so flees from his boss and the law.
On a conversation overheard at the railway station, he ignores mother’s counsel and, pending a forged passport for escape abroad, rents a psychedelic basement room at row house 81 Paley Square. Odd child-adult Lorraine (Laraine Wickens) runs about the place that is at once falling apart and overstuffed with Eastern plush. A performer, too -- a “juggler,” he invents -- Chas first deals with Pallenberg’s capricious Pherber, exuberantly endowed as one of the ménage à trios completed by pale, freckled, boyish-figured, accented Lucy (Michèle Breton) and by his pale, slim-figured satanic majesty Turner (Jagger), an erstwhile rock star who has misplaced his mojo and retreated into sunless mocking self-exile.
Pherber teases and turns him on with mind-expanding drugs but consciously does not seduce the straight gangster. Lucy teases and falls for him, as he does for her (as much as he is capable of). Turner teases and plays mind-games with the interloper in whom he recognizes his/her other self, mate and nemesis.
Like the film’s setting and its inhabitants, personality is scary and fluid, akin to visions where Turner becomes Harry, in hand-mirrors Pherber’s face becomes Chas’s and vice versa, and in wig and Arabic robe Chas becomes his own other self that is also his host’s. “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”
Reality and illusion, physical and spiritual, male and female merge and separate to re-merge. “The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness.” But the screen refuses to pinpoint in which way madness lies. Framed front and rear by a Rolls-engined commercial jet low over a white Rolls, faces replace others to the very end of the kaleidoscope.
Is there a pattern in the carpet, or only an inward meaning, or none? The sole outward-reaching gesture is Chas’s farewell lie of a note to the French girl-woman: “Gone to Persia.”
(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated "R" for sexual content, nudity, drug material and some violence.)