Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Is This the Best British Film Ever? the Re-Released Film Performance Can Still Challenge Our Notions of Normality

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Is This the Best British Film Ever? the Re-Released Film Performance Can Still Challenge Our Notions of Normality

Article excerpt

Byline: COLIN MACCABE

TOMORROW sees the cinematic return of a cult that, in truth, never went away.

Performance was one of the defining movies of the Seventies. Never had a film generated more rumours before it was released: the sex had been live, the violence real, the madness genuine.

Astonishingly, most of the rumours were true.

Its story was simple: gangster on the run takes refuge in the house of a reclusive rock star. But the gangster, James Fox, made every previous screen villain look like a model schoolboy, and the rock star was played by a certain Mick Jagger.

Add scenes of drugs and sex which had Warner Bros executives trying to close down the film, plus a range of intellectual references unparalleled in British movies, and you can see why thousands learned the dialogue by heart.

But why should anybody go and see it now except as a period piece? Well the first reason is that it is a definitive picture of the most extraordinary period in London's recent history.

Shot in the summer of 1968 when, for a brief moment, it seemed as though all society's rules were changing, the film offers an unforgettable picture of a city when the upper end of Ladbroke Grove seemed to exist in a parallel universe, and when class antagonisms were as raw as a freshly grazed wound.

Nic Roeg's cinematography, given free rein as he was also director, provides a perfect frame for a London now gone.

Before Performance, British villains were about as menacing as a Carry On film. Performance provided a new model, one plundered by two decades of gangster films, from The Long Good Friday to Lock, Stock, and they injected it with the gritty realism of London's most famous gangsters, the Krays.

It was the Kray trials of the late Sixties which had revealed a criminal world of unspeakable violence and torture, and it was this world that Donald Cammell, Roeg's co-director, tapped into when he wrote the script. Cammell was part of that louche Chelsea world where no party was complete without a gangster or two. …

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