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The Kinks showcase a storming selection from ‘Sleepwalker’ live in 1977
10:58 am



1973 was not a good year for The Kinks. Personal problems, changes in line-up and a whole shift in the music scene led Kinks frontman and main songwriter Ray Davies to question what he was doing with his life. In June of that year, Davies’ wife Rasa left him taking their children with her. It sent Davies into a major depression.

During the band’s headline concert in July at the White City Stadium in London, Ray Davies announced from the stage he was quitting the band. According Roy Hollingsworth in his review of the gig for music paper Melody Maker:

Ray Davies should never have been at London’s White City Stadium, on Sunday. Physically, and more important, mentally. Davies was in no fit condition to play. And in no fit condition to stand on a stage and say that he was quitting, He was a man neck-high in troubles, and when he shouted “I quit,” he should have shouted “Help!”

Ray looked frightening in dark glasses for the sun wasn’t shining … He was a wreck that evening … Davies swore onstage. He stood at the White City and swore that he was ‘F—ing sick of the whole thing … Sick up to here with it … and those that heard shook their heads.

After this tirade, Ray walked across to his brother, guitarist Dave, kissed him on the cheek and exited the stage. He then collapsed from a massive overdose of “valium.” According to Dave Davies this was the night Ray had “tried to top himself.”

I thought he looked a bit weird after the show—I didn’t know that he’d taken a whole bloody bottle of weird-looking psychiatric pills. It was a bad time. Ray suddenly announced that he was going to end it all—it was around that time that his first wife left him. … She’d left him and taken the kids on his birthday, just to twist the blade in a little more. … I think he took the pills before the show. I said to him towards the end that he was getting a bit crazy. I didn’t know what happened—I suddenly got a phone call saying he was in the hospital. I remember going to the hospital after they’d pumped his stomach and it was bad.

During his recuperation in hospital Ray spent much of his time listening to Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony The Resurrection—the story of one man’s redemption and resurrection after death, which Ray described as “a moving piece of music.” It made him think about taking the band in a more theatrical direction.

When Dave came to visit him, Ray told his brother he no longer wanted to just be a rock band but “wanted to explore the idea of rock theatre, something no one else had really done before.”
In many respects this idea—or concept albums similar to this idea—exactly what The Kinks had been experimenting with since The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society in 1968, and had continued with in Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (1969), Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (1970), Everybody’s in Show-Biz (1972) and Preservation Act 1 in July 1973.

Out of hospital, Davies returned to the band and started mining his “rock theatre” idea with Preservation Act 2 (1974), Soap Opera—which was made into a TV musical extravaganza Star Maker (1974), and Schoolboys in Disgrace (1975). Though each of these albums has its merits—and all deserve considerable reappraisal—they performed poorly in the charts and did little to keep The Kinks relevant with a younger audience. In hindsight, none of this matters much as the quality of the songs and Ray’s ideas have outlasted the fickle fancies of pop fashion. However, the Kinks’ record company was not impressed and demanded that the band’s next album had to be a stand alone traditional collection of good songs—as if such a thing can be ordered to suit.

In 1976, Davies therefore started writing a non-concept album Sleepwalker, which was released in February 1977. Though the songs still reflect Davies’ own preoccupations—the title track dealt with the singer’s insomnia after moving to New York—it was the first album to give The Kinks a top fifty placing since the singles “Lola” and “Apeman” in 1970.

Sleepwalker was generally well received—Melody Maker said the record was “the group’s strongest and most organised album in years” which:

...emphatically testifies to the dramatic artistic revival of Raymond Douglas Davies, whose supreme talents as a writer have been so distressingly overlooked during the first half of this decade.

The Kinks showcase ‘Sleepwalker’ and more, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Frank Zappa: Shut Up ‘n’ Play yer Bike!
09:41 am



Long time ago on British TV there was what I guess you might call a talent show titled Opportunity Knocks. Each week host Hughie Greene offered young hopeful singers, comedians, magicians, variety acts, you know the kinda thing, the opportunity to make it big.

Among those who did make it big were the likes of Mary Hopkins who sang “Those Were the Days” and was quickly signed to The Beatles record label Apple. There were quite a few others who are better known over here than over in the US.

And of the many people who did take part but never made it big, there was always some kind of novelty act—a bodybuilder who flexed his muscles and inflated hot water bottles with his mighty breath; impressionists whose speciality was imitating the sound of railway engines and planes taking-off; belly dancers; bird-handlers who pushed little budgerigars on rope swings then made them hop thru flaming hoops; and last but certainly not least, those hobbyists who made music out of everyday objects such as kettles, washboards, radiators, hoover attachments and alike.
These freaks reminded me of Frank Zappa’s appearance on The Steve Allen Show in 1960, when the precocious young musician impressed with his ability to play a bicycle.

At the time, Zappa was earning a living playing cocktail lounges and writing a score for a film called The World’s Greatest Sinner. As he explained to Steve Allen during his appearance he had also written a “bicycle concerto.”

I suppose I have to ask, what kind of twenty-year old goes on national TV to promote himself as a player of the bicycle other than one who is utterly desperate for recognition? Not just any kind of recognition but one that highlights an interest in the avant garde, some serious musical intent and (you guessed it) a zany sense of humor.

That Zappa pulls off all three says much for his talent, ego, and ambition.

Watch the video, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Hail the King: Muddy Waters rules the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, 1968
10:36 am



In his later years, when Muddy Waters started making the money he was long overdue, he’d call up his friend John Lee Hooker and the pair would jokingly brag about the cars they owned. If Waters said he had a new Mercedes then Hooker would call back a few weeks later and tell Waters he had just bought a Mercedes with a phone in the back. It was a small perk in a long career of endless nights gigging, playing or recording for little return.

For playing blues didn’t make money unless you were somebody, as Waters told the N.M.E.‘s Charles Shaar Murray in 1977:

The kind of blues I play, there’s no money in it. You makes a good livin’ when you gets established like I am, but you don’t reach that kind of overnight million dollar thing, man…no way.

If you play nuthin’ but blues, it’s hard to get big off of it. It takes years and years and still the kids come in and go, ‘Who he?’

That night in 1977, Waters was playing a gig with Johnny Winter at some small deathtrap venue in the village of Willimantic—which according to folklore means the “Place of the Swift Running Waters.” As journalist Murray discovered, Waters was right the audience knew more about Johnny Winter—ironically the whitest blues musician of all time, as the Texas guitarist, was of course an albino—than the legendary king Muddy Waters—even after forty years of hard work.

Forget Elvis—Muddy Waters is the true King of modern rock, r’n'b and all the rest. Without Muddy Waters things would have been a whole lot different and sure as hell not nearly as good.

McKinley Morganfield was born on April 4, 1913 or 1915—depending on who you believe—in Rolling Fork, Mississippi.  He was the second son of farmer Ollie Morganfield. When his mother died in 1918, McKinley was sent off to live with his grandmother in Clarksdale, who first christened the boy “Muddy”:

‘I was raised in the country, and out there they didn’t have no concrete, ya know… just muddy country roads and people used to clean their feet off on our front porch. I’d be playing around crawlin’ in the mud, probably eatin’ it…and my granmother started callin’ me her little muddy baby.

‘I started to play harp [harmonica] when I was seven. At nine I was really tryin’ to play. At thirteen I thought I was good. The kids I used to sing to would call out “Hey Muddy Waters play us a piece.”

‘I didn’t like that “Muddy Water” thing, ya know…I didn’t mind my grandmother calling me Muddy, but that whole Muddy Waters thing, I didn’t like it. It just growed on me.’

As a teenager, Waters picked up his first influence, bluesman Charley Patton. Then Son House—from whom he learnt the finer points of bottleneck guitar—and Robert Johnson—whose style Waters copied before finding his very own distinct voice. He traded in his harmonica and took up the guitar.  Waters had known for some time he was going to be a musician—he was going to be someone. Ever since he could remember music was what he wanted to do. If he couldn’t make it music, he figured, then he’d be a preacher, a ball player—“something outstanding.”

‘I didn’t want to grow up with no one knowin’ me but the neighbourhood people. I wanted the world to know a lot about me. I thank my God I got it through…’

By day, Waters worked on the cotton plantations. But he was soon earning more in a night playing blues than he made in a week working for someone else. His early recordings were for the Library of Congress in 1941—an organization which Charles Shaar Murray points out “treats folk musicians as wildlife specimens rather than artists.” Waters never made money on these recordings until about a quarter of a century later when they were released as Down on Stovall’s Plantation.

In 1943, Waters moved to Chicago to become a full-time musician. He earned his money playing bars and clubs. In 1944, he made a major change to his sound by purchasing his first electric guitar. With the release of his single “I Can’t Be Satisfied” in 1948, Waters changed the course of modern music—its beat and loud powerful electric sound announced the imminent arrival of rock ‘n’ roll.

As Murray writes in Shots from the Hip:

[Waters] consolidated his success with a series of harder, heavier, more passionate and more electric hits, and began to assemble, member by member, the toughest and most exciting band in town. Muddy Waters’ Blues Band was to become, not only the best and most influential band in Chicago, but what was for all practical purposes, the first electric rock band.

More Muddy Waters, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
30 gorgeous black & white photos of Frida Kahlo
11:31 am

Pop Culture


Frida Kahlo in the artist’s studio by Manuel Alvarez Bravo, 1932

I’m posting these gorgeous B&W portraits of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo because A) they’re all simply wonderful and B) there’s never enough Frida as far as I’m concerned.


Frida Kahlo by Lucienne Bloch, 1933

Frida Kahlo by Lucienne Bloch, 1935
More Frida after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Fascinating vintage promo film on the making of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’
08:39 am



In 1964, Stanley Kubrick wrote to Arthur C. Clarke.  He told the science fiction author he was a “a great admirer” of his books, and “had always wanted to discuss with [him] the possibility of doing the proverbial really good science-fiction movie.”

Kubrick briefly outlined his ideas:

My main interest lies along these broad areas, naturally assuming great plot and character:

The reasons for believing in the existence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life.

The impact (and perhaps even lack of impact in some quarters) such discovery would have on Earth in the near future.

A space probe with a landing and exploration of the Moon and Mars.

Clarke liked Kubrick’s suggestions. A meeting was arranged at Trader Vic’s in New York on April 22, 1964, at which Kubrick explained his interest in extraterrestrial life. He told Clarke he wanted to make a film about “Man’s relationship to the universe.”

The author offered the director a choice of six short stories—from which Kubrick picked “The Sentinel” (published as “The Sentinel of Eternity” in 1953). The story described the discovery of strange, tetrahedral artefact on the Moon. The narrator speculates the object is a “warning beacon” left by some ancient alien intelligence to signal humanity’s evolutionary advance towards space travel.

Over the next four years they worked together on the film—two of which were spent co-writing the screenplay they privately called How the Solar System Was Won.
Director and Author.
Kubrick and Clarke decided to write a book together first then the screenplay. This was to be credited: “Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, based on a novel by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick.” It turned out slightly differently as the book and screenplay were written simultaneously. While Kubrick made the film “a visual, nonverbal experience,” Clarke widened the story out, explaining many of the events Kubrick left open-ended. The director wanted to make a film that hit the audience “at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does, or painting.”

In an interview with Joseph Gelmis in 1970, Kubrick described the genesis of both the book and script:

There are a number of differences between the book and the movie. The novel, for example, attempts to explain things much more explicitly than the film does, which is inevitable in a verbal medium. The novel came about after we did a 130-page prose treatment of the film at the very outset. This initial treatment was subsequently changed in the screenplay, and the screenplay in turn was altered during the making of the film. But Arthur took all the existing material, plus an impression of some of the rushes, and wrote the novel. As a result, there’s a difference between the novel and the film…I think that the divergences between the two works are interesting.

Clarke was more direct. He wrote an explicit interpretation of the film explaining many of its themes. In particular, how the central character David Bowman ends his days in what Clarke described as a kind of living museum or zoo, where he is observed by alien life forms.
The director on a sound stage at MGM Studios, Borehamwood, England.
Kubrick was less forthcoming. Though he did share some of his thoughts on the meaning and purpose of human existence in an interview with Playboy in 1968:

The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism – and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But, if he’s reasonably strong – and lucky – he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s elan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death – however mutable man may be able to make them – our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfilment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

Similarities between shots and designs in ‘2001’ and Pavel Klushantsev’s ‘Road to the Stars’ (1958).
Kubrick involved himself in every aspect of the film’s production—from costume and set design, technical specifications, the requirements of specially designed cameras, to the building of a 32-ton centrifuge used to create the interior of a space craft. Kubrick was greatly influenced by Pavel Klushantsev’s Road to the Stars from 1958—and exploited many of the designs, crafts and ideas featured in that film.

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
That awesome time in 1975 when there was a giant Alice Cooper balloon
10:21 am



Alice Cooper and the massive 30-foot Alice Cooper balloon, 1975
Alice Cooper and the 30-foot tall Alice balloon, 1975
According to rock and roll legend, in late August while on a press tour in the UK, avid golfer Alice Cooper got a spot at a major tournament in Scotland at a course called Glen Eagles. At the end of the match in what may be one of the coolest moments in heavy metal history, Cooper got to present the trophy to the winners—who included Christopher Lee. Let that sink in for a minute before we move on to the subject of this post, the epic Macy’s Parade-sized balloon of Alice that followed him around Antwerp, London and Australia in 1975.
Alice Cooper and the giant Alice Cooper balloon, August 30, 1975
Alice Cooper, his excellent mustache, and the giant Alice balloon, August 30, 1975
The Alice Cooper balloon taking a ride on the Ferry Prince floating by Big Ben and the House of Parliment in 1975
The Alice Cooper balloon taking a ride on the Ferry Prince, floating by Big Ben and the House of Parliament in 1975
The Alice Cooper balloon floating up and away, September, 1975
The Alice Cooper balloon floating up, up and away, September, 1975
The massive 30-foot tall Alice Cooper balloon
Used to advertise gigs during the Welcome to my Nightmare tour, the Alice balloon was around 30 feet tall and clad in all white (a nod to the white tuxedo Cooper wore during the tour for the 1975 album Welcome to my Nightmare). Alice’s massive helium-filled face was, of course, painted in standard Cooper corpsepaint style and there’s even ballooney hair on top of its head. If there is a heavy metal artifact that is cooler than a 30-foot balloon of Alice fucking Cooper, I do not know what it is.

More Alice after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
‘I died in a bar of a heart attack’: Oliver Reed predicts his own death in a TV interview from 1994
09:27 am



Though we never know the exact moment when we will shove off this mortal coil, it was very small odds to wager Oliver Reed would pop his clogs in a bar after one too many jugs of ale. It was how the great actor said he wanted to go and he predicted as much in an TV interview for The Obituary Show in 1994:

I died in a bar of a heart attack full of laughter. We were having a cabbage competition. I was very confident that for once I was going to win this vegetable competition. And somebody made a bet with me that was so lewd that I took it on and he shook my hand. And I laughed so much I was sick and died.

Reed died in a bar in Valletta, Malta during the filming of Ridley Scott’s movie Gladiator on May 2nd, 1999. Though he died in a bar drinking is true, the myths of that fateful day have clouded one small fact about Reed during his final screen role. As one of his co-stars Omid Djalili surprisingly recounted earlier this year, Reed “hadn’t had a drink for months before filming started.”
Above him the sky…

Everyone said he went the way he wanted, but that’s not true. It was very tragic. He was in an Irish bar and was pressured into a drinking competition. He should have just left, but he didn’t.

The stories as to what and how much Reed consumed that day vary enormously. All that can be said is that Reed’s untimely demise was a great loss to acting, cinema and most of our lives in general. For if Reed did anything—he entertained us for forty years.

Gladiator would have been his comeback movie. His career had sadly withered during the 1990s to a handful of movies and too many inebriated appearances on TV. Reed never regretted his chat show escapades claiming he was an entertainer and the audience always expected him to be bad.

Reed’s role models for life and drink were the fighter pilots he met as a child during the Second World War. Many of these pilots had been his mother’s lovers. Reed’s job was to mix their drinks at the cocktail his mother organized. At each successive party, the number of pilots in attendance diminished as they were killed in active duty. Reed never forgot the carefree way they laughed, drank and enjoyed life fully without worrying about their ever-approaching death or injury.
Reed wanted to live “bravely.” He felt acting was a fraud compared to those who fought battles, won wars, or worked hard every single day of their lives to eke out a basic living to support their families. Acting was pretending. Real life was out there—somewhere—usually in a bar.

The Obituary Show was a novel—albeit somewhat morbid—take on the traditional chat show. It presented various celebrities in heavenly surroundings discussing their lives as if they were looking down from the other side. The guests weighed up their lives answering questions on regrets, failings and success.

Though “frightened of not dying bravely,” Reed ‘fessed up very few (serious) regrets:

I regret having not made love to every woman on Earth.I regret having not kissed the nose of every dog on Earth. I regret having not been into every bar on Earth. But that doesn’t make me a hellraiser. If somebody punches me on the nose, I’ll punch them back. If somebody buys me a drink I’ll buy them one back.

The punctuation mark I leave on this helter-skelter of life: On my gravestone is written “He made the air move.”

How the press reported it.
Reed gave a rare and thoughtful interview in this edition of The Obituary Show with his most moving admission made when discussing events after his death:

The only thing I regret about my own funeral was that I couldn’t go to my own wake because it was a wonderful party. And every time I kept on tapping somebody on the shoulder—I’m going to cry now. They didn’t know I was there.

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
HEY YOU: If you’ve been thinking about donating to Bernie, THERE’S A VERY GOOD REASON TO DO IT TODAY
01:07 pm

Class War


Design by Aaron Thornburgh
If you’ve been kinda sorta thinking about maybe donating to the Presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders and you haven’t done it yet, today would be a very good day to stop procrastinating and actually do it: The Sanders campaign is trying to raise about $4 million dollars by the end of the day today, before the end of the month in other words, and before the Federal Election Commission’s monthly reporting deadline.

If that can be accomplished, it would mean that the Vermont senator, who has set grassroots fundraising records and raised an already astonishing $21.3 million in January from small dollar donors, will have nearly doubled that amount the following month. By comparison, Hillary Clinton raised $14.9 million in January. Ted Cruz, the leading Republican fundraiser for the month, took in $7.6 million.

The average donation to the Sanders campaign is $27. If you can afford $50, send that. If you can only afford to send $5, by all means, send it. It all adds up and it’s a chance to send a powerful message that the Sanders campaign is alive and well after the unfortunate drubbing he got in South Carolina.

But forget about that, America is a big country.

I want to see how Bernie does in California. I don’t think that I even know a single person who’s not all in for Bernie. I see no excitement, none, for HRC. I see plenty of excitement for Bernie.

Speaking of, have you seen the reputable polling showing that Bernie Sanders can beat Donald Trump and beat him handily? I’m not confident that Hillary Clinton can beat Trump. Democrats need to vote strategically, everyone agrees, so that we don’t have a wily vulgarian Republican strongman orangutan with cotton candy hair and a spray-tan moving into the White House and redecorating it like a certain gaudy Fifth Ave apartment building/tourist trap. Bernie’s lead over Trump is, as both men might say “YUGE.” Numbers don’t lie.

Want to beat Donald Trump and help America win our collective IQ test? Please consider donating to the Bernie Sanders campaign today.

If you still believe that it’s possible to beat back the oligarchs, please support Bernie Sanders and pass this on via Facebook and Twitter. And just remember DO IT TODAY.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Francis Bacon gets drunk
09:45 am



Toast of London: Francis Bacon and friends at the Colony Room
If you want to know about the artist Francis Bacon then there are his celebrated interviews with David Sylvester, two biographies by Michael Peppiatt (Anatomy of an Enigma, Francis Bacon: In Your Blood), a memoir by his longtime friend and boozing buddy Dan Farson (The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon) and a film Love is the Devil starring Derek Jacobi and Daniel Craig. Then there is this: Melvyn Bragg’s access all areas documentary with Bacon from 1985 that is one of the finest portraits of an artist ever committed to film.

What makes this South Bank Show documentary so utterly brilliant is the honesty and directness with which Bacon answers Bragg’s questions. He often pauses and considers his answer before committing himself to a reply. When he does, Bacon reveals his essence as an artist.

Bragg asks him how he paints:

‘Until the images come through you’re not in control. When they come up you have to control them.’
‘So you come up with an overall image which you don’t want to define except by working towards it?’
‘Yes…no…yes, that’s exactly how it is.’
‘You’ve thrown paint at the canvas?’
‘Once or twice. I couldn’t stand the sight of them so I just threw a pot of paint at them.’
‘You put yourself at risk.’
‘You have to, otherwise you’re an academician.’


‘When is a painting finished?’
‘I know instinctively when it’s finished. There it is…I’m always hoping chance will work in my favour. I don’t want to tell a story. I’ve no story to tell. I like the starkness of the image. I want it to give me a sensation. Shock, you could say. It’s a form of experience. A visual shock.’
‘What does your painting mean when you’ve finished?’
‘Nothing. Except what people want to read into it.. Nothing.’

Bragg always allows his subjects to present themselves as they want to be seen. Unlike too many other presenters, he does not interpose himself between the camera and the subject. He is the unseen hand who steers the ship through the storms, around the hidden rocks, towards its final destination. Bragg once told me in an interview (long, long ago) why he wore suits:

...basically because it’s easier if you are doing a television programme to wear the same thing all the time then you don’t get in the way over the programme. Another way to get people to forget about me and concentrate on the person I am talking to.

It’s advice worth heeding.

In 1985, when Francis Bacon was being hailed as the world’s greatest living artist and on the verge of his second Tate Gallery retrospective—a major feat in itself—Bragg interviewed Bacon at length about his life and art. At one point during the filming, while at lunch in Mario’s restaurant in Kensington, London, Bacon and Bragg became increasingly drunk. As Bragg later wrote in his book The South Bank Show: Final Cut:

There’s bound to be truth in cliches some of the time or they wouldn’t be. In vino veritas is less spouted now that there is less Latin about but still the notion persists that people when drunk tell the truth. That they also tell lies, come out with rubbish, destructive abuse, venom, hysterical hyperbole and all manner of degrading speech has not entirely impaired its claim. When Francis Bacon and myself appeared on The South Bank Show and for a few minutes were caught in a state of naked inebriation it provided, I think, a true insight into Francis as a man and as a painter. So I left it in the film.

As the wine flowed, Bragg asked Bacon if he paints the real world, to which the artist replied:

‘Yes! Between birth and death has always been the violence of life. I paint images of sensation. What is life but sensation?’
‘Do you think anything exists outside “the moment”?’
‘No. I believe in nothing. We are born and we die and there’s nothing else.’
‘So what do you do about it?’
‘I do nothing about it. I just drift.’
‘You paint.’
‘Yes, but my own life is just going from bar to bar and drifting, that sort of thing. I’m an optimist. But I’m an optimist about nothing. I was born with that nature.’

Bacon was seventy-five when this film was made. He had enviable stamina managing a four-hour lunch at Mario’s before climbing the rickety stairs of the notorious Colony Room, where he dispensed fifty pound notes like confetti and gargled the millionaire’s mouthwash—champagne.  Throughout, Bacon is old school courteous—even when utterly pissed—and collaborates with Bragg in creating an unequaled intimate film portrait.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Mick Jagger, James Fox, Anita Pallenberg, Nic Roeg, Donald Cammell filming ‘Performance’ in 1968
02:02 pm

Pop Culture


The stories about the making of Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s Performance are almost as infamous as the movie itself. Some are true, some are not. But even the most excessive tales of sex and drugs and, well you know, rock ‘n’ roll during its making have never eclipsed the visceral power of the film itself.

Performance was written by Cammell. He had Marlon Brando teed-up to star as Chas—an American gangster in London who holes-up with a reclusive pop star. As Cammell worked on the script, he became more obsessed with identity, sexuality and violence. It made the script a far darker thing. When Brando dropped out, James Fox moved in.

Fox was best known for a certain kind of upper class character—either being exploited as in Joseph Losey’s The Servant, or being comically stiff upper lip as can be seen in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, or just being the right honorable eye-candy in Throughly Modern Millie. Fox took his role as Chas very, very seriously. He spent (according to some reports) six months “going native” with a few of London’s most notorious East End gangsters.

The casting of Mick Jagger as the androgynous, bisexual, drug-addled rock star recluse Turner was a touch of genius. At that time, no one could have played the part with Jagger’s ethereal, fey menace. As a side note: Jagger and the rest of The Rolling Stones thought they were going to star in a swinging sixties Beatlesque romp with lots of musical numbers and Dick Lester antics.

Roeg was originally only hired as the cameraman. When filming began in a house on Powis Square, London, Cammell became all too aware that he did not know what he was doing behind the camera, and needed someone else to be the eyes while he created the mood, tension and magic in front of the lens.

This magic included consuming large quantities of drugs and some full on sex between Jagger and co-stars Anita Pallenberg and Michèle Breton. Pallenberg was, of course, Keith Richards’ girlfriend. As Jagger and Pallenberg performed in front of the camera, Richards sat outside the location chain smoking, drinking and fuming over what his fellow Stone and woman were getting up to. The footage of Jagger’s sexual hi-jinks with his co-stars nearly had the film prosecuted and shut down. When the rushes were sent out, the lab refused to process the footage as it was considered pornographic. The footage was destroyed. But some of—or so it has long been rumored—survived and was edited together (allegedly by Cammell himself) into a short porn movie which won first prize at some underground porn festival in Amsterdam.

If it wasn’t the sex, then it was the violence that caused the outrage. Roeg and Cammell presented violence as realistically as possible. No John Wayne slugging it out without so much as a chipped tooth. Instead, this violence was brutal, bloody, arousing and horrific. The British Board of Film Classification objected to the editing together of scenes of a sexual nature with those of excessive and disturbing violence. In particular they wanted the head shaving scene cut as “forcible shaving is something that could be imitated by young people.”

The film studios hated Performance. At an in-house screening, the wife of one producer hurled chunks. A recut was demanded. While Roeg was off in Australia directing Walkabout, Cammell weaved some of his “alchemical magic” in the cutting room.

When it was eventually released in 1970, Performance was met with overwhelmingly negative reviews. The critic for LIFE magazine described Performance as “the most completely worthless film I have ever seen since I began reviewing.” This is still one of the very few reviews Roeg has ever kept. Warner Brothers threatened to sue both directors on the grounds they had failed to deliver the Beatlesque Stones’ movie they had “expected.”

Thankfully, Cammell and Roeg had chosen their own course and stuck to it. Today, Performance is considered one of the most original and influential movies made during the 1960s. Fox is unforgettable. Jagger has never been better onscreen. While Roeg went on to greater success, Cammell was never to be allowed to express such completeness of his vision again.
James Fox as East End gangster Chas.
Much more behind the scenes of ‘Performance’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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