Friday, April 27, 2007

Performance (1970) II

Warning: All of the below are spoilers, except the bits where I'm speculating. If you want to be shocked by the ending of the film, don't read any of it at all.

Call him Lucifer. He's in need of some restraint.

The linear story starts to dissolve. The hallucinogen is the excuse, but this is not a freak-out movie. The story is faceted, and since each part of the story has to be shown simultaneously, the style has to change. The dialogue becomes fragmented and some parts are repeated in different situations. In a way, the narrative resembles a dance-hall mirror-ball; multiple moving reflections patterning a complex surface.

The turning point (Turner, get it?!) doesn't come when Chas literally goes underground in the bohemian basement, but now, when Turner, who once tried to chase Chas away, accepts him. The scene is in Turner's bathroom closet. He's playing guitar and singing a hopeless, lost, despairing song by the hopeless, lost and despairing Robert Johnson, a bluesman long rumored to have met the Devil at a crossroads and sold his soul for the songs we know him by. The song is "Come on in My Kitchen".

You better come on in my kitchen
It's goin' to be rainin' outdoors.

It's enough to make you reach through the screen to warn Chas away. Turner abruptly drops the standard lyric for that song and moves on to another Robert Johnson line, one that drips with real horror, adapted from Me and the Devil Blues.

Woke up this morning,
Heard a knock upon my door.
I said Hello, Satan; I believe it's time to go.

It's rare to find any means of expression that can match the power and magical realism of blues; even Performance 'can't make it', can't 'achieve madness' – its own criterion for success - without using the real thing as a sort of sourdough starter for what's coming next. Having mistakenly accepted the invite into the kitchen Chas finds himself walking side by side with Satan. Chas is introduced, if not to hell, to Chapel Perilous.

Turner switches to John Lee Hooker – Bad Like Jesse James.
I may shoot ya
I may drown ya
Cause I'm mad wit'cha
Bad like Jesse James.

Turner has begun to get inside his guest's head, as they say, singing a gangster's blues.

Run, Chas! (He can't hear me.)

Turner quizzes him on his identity as Pherber plays sexual mind-games. Chas struggles to remember who he is and why he's there as the mushroom takes hold. He tells them he needs a photo, for his agent, and the two of them make a game of dressing him up to take his picture. They give him a wig that completely transforms him – he looks like a hippy, like a woman, like a parody of a washed up showman, each at different times. Turner dresses up as a South London hoodlum, Chas as an urbane American untouchable. As they role-play, Pherber and Turner uncover the lash marks on Chas' back and realize he's on the run, that he actually needs the picture for a fake passport. Pherber sits astride him as she puts ointment on his wounded back. "He's a striped beast," Turner says, suggesting she's his Babylon, from Revelations. "Nothing is true, everything is permissible," says Turner, then. He's been reading from Borges all evening, so we know that by now, but each facet from the mirrorball has to go past once it's set in motion. He tells us the story of the Hashishin, to get Chas into their enchanted garden.

To part III
Back to part I

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've never seen anyone comment on the blues he sings before. Good discussion!


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