FOCUS New British Cinema Cultural Forms Montage and Narrative

Performance was widely loved, loathed and dismissed on its late release in 1970, but holds an important place in film history. Whether truly visionary and innovative, or the unmatured promise of a future master, it remains nevertheless unique, provocative and intensely cinematic to the extreme: drama that could only be cinema. Additionally, its subversive narrative is powerfully laced with the contemporary ideas, ideals and challenges of narcissistic pop music counter-culture. Despite the glaringly obvious (and undisputed) fact that directing tasks were shared by Cammell and Roeg, speculation about authorship has dragged on. It is fair to say that Performance shows little similarity to Cammell's later work, whilst, in the cinematic elements of camera zoom lens use, lighting and the provocative style of editing montage, it bears Roeg's unmistakable creative signature. Regardless of its own merits, the film heralded the arrival proper of one of Britain's greatest film-makers. Roeg's next films consistently displayed his great fascination with (and handling of) time, fantasy, reality, memory and meaning and he made some of the most important British films to date, including his next feature Walkabout (1971), Don't Look Now (1973), The Man who Fell to Earth (1976) and Bad Timing (1980). Even when less successful, Roeg's films quite literally make most other Western directors' work look conventional.

Roeg belongs to those post-war British directors who were inevitably marginalised whenever cinema became fashionably judged in terms of socio-political content by 'serious' critics - a critical approach still common in popular film reviews. He belongs in a group of visually and cinematically literate directors that would have to include Michael Powell, whose Peeping Tom (UK, 1960) led to the most extreme example of virtuoso filmmaking being utterly ignored, following critical rejection of content. Performance, as disturbing as Powell's study of voyeurism, can now be appreciated as an authentic reflection of a period of social upheaval that would, among other changes, bring down the most rabidly prudish and conservative powers of the critical establishment.

Performance is still admired as much for its precious vision of England in 1968 as for its innovative handling of narrative structure. Its rediscovery and re-evaluation could be expected to enjoy a welcome in 1990s postmodernist, pseudo-culture, but the film offers far more than simply images, sounds and atmosphere of late 1960s 'swinging London'. They are all there; however, they exist not as celebration but as part of a formally dazzling violence between characters and places, beliefs and coda, that were in shocking contrast. We are in a city / universe where Chas, a small-time, violent East End gangster (James Fox), becomes pulled into personality-disorientating mind games with the occupants of a house belonging to jaded, faded rock star Turner (Mick Jagger), having gone there to escape the brutal troubles of his own milieu. The film's second half is dominated by scenes depicting the mind / sexuality / identity-bending exchanges and liaisons between Chas, the teasing, taunting women in Turner's

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