Donald Cammell documentary and a clip from his lost masterpiece ‘Wild Side’

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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.

 

Written by Marc Campbell | Discussion
Sixties psychedelic sexploitation: ‘The Touchables’

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1968 film The Touchables is an explosion of mod and pop art imagery. It was the only film directed by Robert Freeman, whose iconic photos of The Beatles adorn the covers of “Rubber Soul,” “Help” and “A Hard Day’s Night.”

The Touchables was written by Donald Cammell, the director of the mindbending classic “Performance” and the underrated and rarely seen ‘Wild Side,” and stars the stunning Judy Huxtable, who later married comedian Peter Cook.

Four independently wealthy dolly birds kidnap pop star Christian (David Anthony) from a wrestling match, chloroforming him and smuggling him out of the arena dressed as a nun. They spirit him back to their communal home, an inflatable plastic dome, tie him to a circular bed and take turns having their way with him. Meanwhile, Christian’s manager and besotted gay wrestler try desperately to find the pop idol, who, truth be told, isn’t especially eager to be rescued. One of the most sought-after of psychedelic obscurities, this little-seen naughty comedy is a non-stop riot of Swinging London fashions and pop art accessories. The soundtrack features a score by Ken Thorne (“Help,”), short-lived flower-pop Brit band Nirvana and Wynder K. Frog.”

The Touchables captures a moment in time when London was swinging and LSD was melting on pop culture’s tongue. Grab a DVD of this hard to find gem here.

The music on the trailer soundtrack is Brit psych band Nirvana.
 

Written by Marc Campbell | Discussion
Performance in the making: Donald Cammell & Mick Jagger

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Much like a TARDIS, a Borges short story, or Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg‘s 1970 film, Performance, is far bigger on the inside than its outside might indicate.  Starring Mick Jagger, James Fox and Anita Pallenberg, and with its primary action confined to that of a London flat, Performance manages to explore, in its uniquely heady and hypnotic way, such notions as gender, identity and madness as a function of creativity.

In fact, it feels at times like there’s so much going on within Performance‘s 105 minutes, in terms of philosophical scope and ambition, movies like The Matrix or 2001: A Space Odyssey seem almost puny in comparison.

And much like the London flat itself, Performance is a movie to lose yourself in.  Since my preteen exposure to it via the Z Channel, I must have watched it a good dozen times.  Nevertheless, the film continues to surprise me.  Disorient, too.

Part of this was due, no doubt, to the alchemical editing of co-writer/director Donald Cammell, who sadly, took his own life in ‘96.  Cammell’s ultimately tragic life and career is certainly deserving of its own post at some point, but, in the meantime, what follows is Part I of an absolutely worthwhile 3-part documentary on the making of Performance and the controversy that’s dogged the film ever since its release 30 years ago.  Links to the other parts follow below.

 
Performance in the making, Part II, III

Written by Bradley Novicoff | Discussion