Donald Cammell with Anita Pallenberg on the set of “Performance.”
Though he only directed two films that are truly extraordinary, Donald Cammell will always hold a special place on my list of the all-time great cinematic mindfuckers.
Dangerous Minds readers will undoubtedly be familiar with the hugely influence Performance, but Cammell’s last film, the darkly witty and perverse Wild Side, deserves to find a wider audience. It was butchered by its original production company and released in a bastardized form that so depressed the already mentally fragile Cammell it sent him over the edge and he killed himself in 1996.
Wild Side was re-released in 2000 in a version that comes close to Cammell’s original cut. Cammell’s close friend editor Frank Mazzola managed to gather together the “lost” footage from Wild Side and reconstruct it in a form that approximates Cammell’s vision. It is available here as an import DVD. For some unfathomable reason the director’s cut has never been released in any form in the USA. I did manage to see it years ago at a Cammell film fest in NYC. It features one of Christopher Walkens’ best and most bizarre performances in a career of bizarre performances. Trust me when I tell you, you’ve never seen Walken at his weirdest until you’ve seen him in a kimono and a long black wig.
Wild Side is cut from the same dark cloth as David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. But I can’t stress enough the fact that the butchered version available on Amazon and elsewhere is worthless. Avoid it like a bad case of the clap.
Here’s a clip from Wild Side with Anne Heche, Steven Bauer and Walken to whet your appetite. “Off with the Calvins.”
Cammell got his professional start in the arts as a painter and photographer in the swinging London scene of the 1960s. He lived the life of a rock star, looked the part and was prone to the hedonistic excesses of the times as well. He worked with filmmaker Nic Roeg to create the greatest head movie of all time, Performance. Artistic recognition led to a series of disappointments in Hollywood and Cammell’s life quickly veered toward a sad end. His story is compelling and tragic and in this documentary his fascinating life unfolds like one of his movies.