Sunday, 2 February 2014

Performance (1970)

Performance is probably the most bohemian of films. It is a frenetic mish mash of cockney gangland thriller, euro- hippy morality tale, and iconic music soundtrack, all wrapped up in a mélange of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Although released in 1970, the film was shot in the summer of 1968 and faced difficulties getting on screen. The film's content was an unwelcome surprise to Warner Studios. It has been reported that during a test screening, one Warner executive's wife vomited in shock.

Directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, its cultural and philosophical roots go deep- a kind of 60’s hippy hangover meets the impending morning after of the 70’s. And then of course there is the outstanding cast including Mick Jagger (Turner), James Fox (Chas), Anita Pallenberg (Pherber) and Michèle Breton (Lucy).

First impressions are perhaps that Pherber is the most mesmerizing female presence, but after a while, Lucy exerts a peculiarly enigmatic influence (Chas: “you're a funny little frog, like a little boy”). I have quoted some information on Michèle Breton from the Bloomsbury Movie Guide by Mick Brown:

“Breton was a French actress for whom Performance was her one and only film role… For many years after the making of the film, Michèle Breton was to be the enigma at the heart of the Performance story. Those who had worked on the film, or known Breton for the short time that she was associated with Cammell’s circle, could cast little light on where she had come from, or what had happened to her when filming was completed.

Sandy Leiberson remembers her as “one of Donald’s little girlfriends, someone he’d picked up in France who didn’t care who she slept with. A strange little creature, totally androgynous- looking- the way Donald liked them.” … she represented that image that Donald was so in love with- that young girl who is totally uninhibited, no hang up whatsoever.

By Cammell’s own account he had met Breton in St. Tropez. It is clear from the early drafts of the script that Cammell already had her in mind for the part of Lucy. Breton was just seventeen, and Cammell was obliged to falsify her age to secure the necessary work permits.

Breton was erratic, and sometimes disturbing presence throughout filming. Cammell would later recall that “she smoked too much” hash and was frequently under the influence of psychedelics. On at least two occasions, workmen had to be dispatched to her Knightsbridge flat to repair a bathroom window which she had smashed.

[After the film]… Breton seemed to vanish off the face of the earth. Anita Pallenberg has heard she had been admitted to a sanatorium. Marianne Faithfull thought she had died- “perhaps in Marseilles”.

In 1995, Mick Brown found Breton living in Berlin… Her memories of making Performance were confused. She had never acted before and she said she was stoned all of the time. “I was very young and very disturbed. I didn’t know what I was doing and they used me. It was a very spaced- out atmosphere. There was no love there, no understanding between people. Everybody was on a heavy ego trip. James Fox was the only person who had some human communication. He saw what was going on with me- the emptiness. He understood that and was very gentle to me.”

In Paris, a friend told her the drugs were cheap in Afghanistan, so she made her way to Kabul. She lived there for a year, shooting morphine, selling her passport, her belongings, everything. One night she took LSD. “I looked at my needles, my drugs, and said never again”.

From Kabul, she traveled to India where she was hospitalized for three months. She returned to Kabul, then to Italy, and eventually to Berlin, where she had lived for the past thirteen years.

“I’ve done nothing with my life” she said. “Where did it start going wrong? I can’t remember. It’s something like destiny.” She last saw Performance in 1987. “I was feeling kind of sick looking at this. It was a feeling of death.”

By South Utsire

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