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Mick Jagger, James Fox, Anita Pallenberg, Nic Roeg, Donald Cammell filming ‘Performance’ in 1968

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 (allegedly) 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 this explicit footage—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 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
‘Demon Seed’: The computer had her mind… now it wanted her body!
12:38 pm


Donald Cammell
Julie Christie

After attending a screening of Wild Side at a Donald Cammell retrospective at LACMA several years ago, I was startled to see the divine personage of Poison Ivy Rorschach herself waiting outside the theater. She had apparently come to see the next feature, Demon Seed, about which I knew nothing. But, reckoning that Ivy must be a world-class horror movie connoisseur, I rented it at the first opportunity, and it did not disappoint. It is one bizarre hellride of a motion picture.

Demon Seed is the second movie in Cammell’s slender oeuvre, following Performance, starring Mick Jagger, which Cammell wrote and co-directed with Nicolas Roeg. His father, Charles R. Cammell, was a biographer of Aleister Crowley, and if you’ve seen Lucifer Rising, you’ll recognize Donald Cammell as the actor who plays Osiris. His singular career included a script treatment for a “swashbuckling romp” called Fan-Tan, co-authored with Marlon Brando. (There’s an interesting documentary about the director’s life on YouTube, featuring interviews with Mick Jagger and Kenneth Anger, among others who knew him.)

Fans of The Simpsons will recognize Demon Seed as the basis for “House of Whacks” from the 2001 Halloween special, in which Pierce Brosnan plays the voice of a computer that becomes obsessed with Marge. A word about the content. See on the lobby card above where it says “Never was a woman violated as profanely,” etc.? All I will tell you about the plot of this movie is that, in one deeply disturbing scene, Julie Christie is sexually assaulted by her house. Not as in “she is sexually assaulted next to her house,” but as in “the actual building that is her house sexually assaults her.” Nor is that the strangest thing that happens in Demon Seed.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
Donald Cammell documentary and a clip from his lost masterpiece ‘Wild Side’

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.


Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Sixties psychedelic sexploitation: ‘The Touchables’

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.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Performance in the making: Donald Cammell & Mick Jagger

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

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment