The late 1960's were a transitional time. The so-called Summer of Love was long gone, hippies became yippies, drugs became heavier and things were getting darker. Many musicians and film makers were responding to the zeitgeist with projects like Zabriskie Point and the disturbing Performance - famous for its casting of Mick Jagger and its graphic depictions of violence, sex and drug use.
Filmed in 1968 but not released until 1970 Perfomance was directed by Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg and was initially envisioned as a Swinging 60's romp starring Marlon Brando.
With a dramatically re-written script dealing with identity crisis, the lead role eventually went to distinguished actor James Fox who played 'on the run' psychopathic gangster Chas who seeks refuge in the basement of a house owned by former rock star Turner played by an androgenous Mick Jagger - a quantum leap from the wrinkly beknighted roue and corporate huckster of today.
With genuine gangsters turned thesps in the cast, it is rumoured that Fox took part in a real robbery as part of his research into his part and after the troubled production closed, he took a sabbatical from reality in the nether world of heroin addiction. There are also stories that some of the sex scenes were not simulated and footage exists of some of the principals engaged in some onscreen hanky panky.
The soundtrack produced and written by veteran knob twiddler Jack Nitzche (apart from Jagger and Richards' Memo from Turner), is both intriguing and terrifying, being a melange of folk, blues, wailing and primitive electronica. Ry Cooder's distinctive slide guitar is all over the score and his open tuned guitar style clearly made an impression on the Stones and can be detected on much of the band's late 60's and early 70's output.
The stand out track that most Stones fans seek out is of course Jagger's sinister solo spot Memo from Turner. Although the Stones recorded their own version which eventually saw the light on their patchy odds and sods release Metamorphosis, it fades in comparison to the snarling, satanic swagger of the film's original. Other highlights include The Last Poets' proto-rap Wake up Niggers and the scary Turner's Murder, which features Merry Clayton, who provided the soulful vocals for the Stones' Gimme Shelter, wailing over Beaver & Krause's thunderous electronica.
"The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness."