Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Performance (DVD)


Another chance to recommend Performance.

It's probably the most accessible of all Nic Roeg's films and the 'performance' he dissects is something I think it's possible to grok immediately. (The straights who saw it in 1970 had no clue.)

It's "about" which parts of masculinity are innate, and which are a 'performance'. It was ahead of its time - music didn't really begin to explore these issues for another 18 months or so - the first indication probably being the "dress" cover of David Bowie's Man Who Sold the World. Mind you, once it did, popular music really got into the idea.

In the movie Chas (James Fox) is a London gangster who goes against his boss and has to hide. He holes up in Notting Hill Gate, in the basement room of a retired rock star, Turner (a young and pretty Mick Jagger). Pherber (Anita Pallenberg), in the kitchen, cooks him dinner. She picks an Amanita muscaria from her garden. He likes mushrooms, he says, so she gives him three-quarters of it.

The turning point (Turner, get it?!) comes when Turner, who once tried to chase Chas away, accepts him. They are both in Turner's closet. The tripping Chas is being dressed up in various guises by Pherber. Turner is 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.

Turner abruptly 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.

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'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. In a sequence that's sometimes referred to as a "rock video" we see Turner acting out the part of a Chas-like gangster, which at this stage of his metamorphosis is still mixed bizarrely with his own identity. He rules Chas' firm as the new boss, but he's singing a Stones' song, "Memo from Turner", one which has nothing to do with East End gangs.

Chas knows his firm will eventually rub him out. He goes to tell Satan he believes it's time to go. But Turner isn't finished with him. He's trapped here in the house. His only way out is with someone who still has the capacity to move between worlds. "Take me with you," he says.

He does, but I won't say how.

Much more detail and spoilers here

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