The casting of musicians in acting roles has been a varied affair, often capitalizing on the success of the artist, and exploiting the target audience; fans of the musician's work. For the artist the transition from sound to vision could be a method of reinvention (Bjork in Dancer in the Dark) or a platform by which the performer can promote their music (Eminem in 8 Mile). With Performance, the alteration of Mick Jagger's career from lead singer of The Rolling Stones, to his first serious acting role, after appearing in Jean-Luc Godard's documentary Sympathy for the Devil, seems to be a genuine attempt at change, funneling Jagger's on-stage persona and renouncing that image throughout the course of the movie.
Originally completed in 1968, but released two years later after controversies surrounding the film's content (one executive's wife infamously vomited during a test screening), Performance takes place on the back-end of the 60's, following Chas (James Fox) a 'Performer': a violent member of an East-London gang. After finding himself overpowered and tortured in his own flat by order of his boss, Chas is forced to abandon his life of crime, and go on-the-run, finding refuge in a house owned by Turner (Mick Jagger), a reclusive hermit and former rock star. Although the pair clearly come from polar worlds, Chas deriving from a male-run heterosexual background, and Turner's indulgences into a hidden world of sex, in the form of a bi-sexual ménage à trois, and recreational drug use, their influence upon each other culminates towards the end of the film, with each character gaining qualities of the other, Turner abandoning his feminine appearance during a David Lynch-style dream sequence, in which he becomes the boss of Chas' gang, and performs an impromptu version of Memo from Turner, and Chas' transformation from virility to androgyny after consuming hallucinogenic substances.
Whilst Performance may run parallels to certain other British crime movies of the day, such as Get Carter or Brighton Rock in terms of theme, what places the film miles apart from it's gangster movie counterparts, aside from it's study of gender identity, is Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg's prominent directorial work, which blends various different styles and techniques together, from jump cuts to crash zooms, often with the camera focusing on inanimate objects and rapidly panning out to reveal the subject. Most notable of all, is Performance's use of the cut-up technique, a style often used in literature, most famously by William S. Burroughs, in which text is literally cut up and rearranged to create an altogether new text. This style works in the films favor, giving the impression that the character of Chas may be losing his mind, or perhaps exposing the audience to his and Turner's perspectives with the character's consumption of mind-altering drugs.
Whilst Mick Jagger's acting career has been somewhat diverse, appearing in Tony Richardson's poorly received Ned Kelly as the title character, and even being briefly cast alongside Jason Robards in an early production of Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo before the film was entirely re-shot (footage of which can be found in either Herzog's own documentary My Best Fiend, or in the Fitzcarraldo documentary Burden Of Dreams) Performance remains as Jagger's greatest feat in the world of acting. Whilst the demographic for Performance is arguably fans of The Rolling Stones (the poster for the movie boasts 'Mick Jagger and Mick Jagger') and released under a year after the huge success of Let It Bleed, the film is far more than a method of reinvention or a promotional platform for Jagger, it remains nonpareil, perfectly capturing the essence of the 'swinging sixties' along with the seedy underbelly of London, whilst the execution of the film is as experimental as the period it captures.
words by danny walker.