I have written about Antonioni’s BLOW-UP here several times, as per labels, for me it remains a key movie and is still endlessly fascinating with those set-pieces of the park, the studio, blowing up the photos, and that picture of London emerging in the mid-60s which for those of us who were there (and I arrived in 1964 when I was 18) is so realistic with the new buildings and how the city looked. (I later lived near that restaurant they lunch at, in Chelsea). David Hemmings here is like how we used to look and dress then… the soundtrack by Herbie Hancock is also part of the film’s fabric and appeal, I have been playing it for decades, on vinyl, cd and now ipod. It was just THE movie to see and be part of when I was 21 in '67.
PERFORMANCE remains the more problematic title – filmed in 1968 by Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg it was shelved by Warner Bros until 1970 as they did not know what to do with it's decadence. It is still a disturbing film with layers one could peel off and still not get to its mysterious core. In a way it symbolises the end of the hippie dream as the drugs and violence escalate out of control. It begins with razor sharp editing as hard nut gangster James Fox who enjoys the violent life and casual sex and the perks it brings going too far and killing the man (in an incredibly powerful scene, like the murder in the woods in Bertolucci's THE CONFORMIST) who has violated him and having to go on the run from the head honcho Johnny Flowers. Chas (Fox) takes refuge, with his blond hair painted red, in the run-down mansion of reclusive rock star Mick Jagger who has lost his mojo and lives in dreamlike seclusion with two women (Anita Pallenberg and newcomer Michelle Breton) who minister to his needs in an exclusive part of Notting Hill. Chas of course gets drawn into their games and begins to lose his sense of reality as he too takes those hallucogenics.
Cammell’s previous script (as directed by Robert Parrish) the psychedelic crime caper DUFFY (also with Fox, and reviewed here, at Fox/York labels) is an amusing jaunt among the rich hippes in North Africa, which is also referenced here with those mysterious tribes out in the desert, as well as that fashionable Argentine writer Borges (whose image appears tellingly at the climax). Chas and the rock star seem to be changing identities so when the gangsters arrive at the end which one is being taken away? That’s it in a nutshell but it is a lot more elliptical and mysterious than a resume can begin to do justice to. It is still one to see and re-see … Cammell (1934-1996) went on to direct DEMON SEED (the one about the computer wanting to impregnate Julie Christie) which is his other best known credit. Roeg of course went on to be one of the key British directors of his era with those classics like WALKABOUT, DON’T LOOK NOW, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, BAD TIMING etc after photographing the likes of THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD.
James Fox was of course one of the golden new stars of the '60s [like David Hemmings, Terence Stamp, Tom Courtenay etc] and has had a fascinating career. A child actor, he was perfect for the master of that Chelsea house in Losey's THE SERVANT, and followed it with films like THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES, KING RAT, THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, an Italian one I have not seen ARABELLA, ISADORA, DUFFY and then PERFORMANCE - the filming of which was it seems so traumatic for him he left acting for over a decade, but returned married with a family and continued in lots of different roles, becoming one of England's most respected elder actors - his son Lawrence now carries on the tradition (in series like LEWIS).
A double bill to savour then. By the time PERFORMANCE made it into the cinemas that late 60s era of pushing the boundaries regarding sex and violence was in full swing (with MIDNIGHT COWBOY winning best film), as per the magazine covers below: