05/01/2017

Performance - Into The Mirror

Thoughts On: Performance (1970)

Chas, a 'performer' in a gang who specialises in violence meets his apparent antithesis in Turner, played by Mick Jagger, through a malicious twist of events.


Left with a nasty taste in my mouth having been subjected to Michael Snow's, Wavelength, I searched for another film to watch and came across Performance, another experimental film, thankfully, one that's nothing like Wavelength. Performance splices experimental direction amongst a story of two halves. The first half of this film is pretty much a gangster film, one reminiscent of the first act of The Italian Job - but much darker and on steroids. The second half of the film turns into... something else... something that I can only equate to Withnail And I meeting Sid And Nancy - but on mushrooms. This is a mesmerising juxtaposition which created a few rare moments in which I could say nothing but, "What the fuck am I watching?". More than this, the juxtaposition of the halves creates a perplexing, yet poignant, statement - which we'll later delve into. Overall, this is an incredibly enjoyable film that rightly deserves its cult following. However, there are quite a few faults with the film. The major one has to be the sound design. Whilst the sound track is irrefutable and just works so well with the tone of the narrative, the ADR is awful at so many points with voices being out of sync and performances being terrible. This creates a horrible beat to almost all dialogue, emphasising hyperbolic elements of characters to an absurd degree and shattering a lot of character work. All of this merges with the experimental direction at certain points to create very iffy sequences - one example being this moment...



Whilst the screencaps are a slight exaggeration of the absurdity in this scene (forgive me, there's a lot of movement) you can find many moments across the narrative where experimental aspects do age the film and make things very cheesy. That said, the sequence, what is basically a music video, which follows this is phenomenal.


It's gleefully ludicrous, but undeniably expressive, allowing all the cheesy, experimental and weird elements to really shine. This sequence then best represents the experimental parts of the second half. Coming back to the opening, however, there's a very different approach to direction taken. Whilst the second half is jarringly psychedelic, the first is disorientating. The key difference between these halves is then tonal with much of the cinematic language in the first act implying violence and deceit and that in the latter half being much more captivating and immersive. But, like the second half of the film has its cheesy moments and more poignant ones, so does the first.




This is another scene where playful direction meets bad sound design. Again, characters are made too hyperbolic and the film steeped in cheese. As Bergman demonstrates most famously...


...  to pull off this striking two-shot design, you must have a concise control of atmosphere. Bergman manages this by bringing together a subdued tone and the bold mise en scène, hence allowing the framing alone to provide the emotional impact of the shot. Roeg and Cammell, however, use the garish two-shot framing with high-pressured (slight euphemism for over-the-top) acting, which results in cheese again - all because atmosphere spirals out of control. This pivotal scene, however...




This scene is probably the most impactfully directed sequence, demonstrating a daring flurry of unconventional cinematic language that powerfully expresses character and emotion simultaneously. And it's with these four examples that you get a general sense of the experiments that occur in this film. There are plenty of beautiful shots, in fact, it seems that almost every single one has been meticulously planned and set up, but, these shots do not always build into successful sequences. Whilst the absurdity is probably the most novel draw of this film, direction certainly cannot be overlooked with Performance.

Moving away from direction and towards narrative, Performance is a film that wrestles with concepts of identity. Whilst many films explore an idea of personage and pretense...

      
      

... Performance takes a very original approach. In terms of narrative message, this film is very much a combination of Trainspotting and Shame. In such, there are elements of drugs completely changing a person's idea of self meeting sexuality. Taking this towards a very traditional approach to the character arc of changing identity - ones like Simba leaving his pride, forgetting ideas of responsibility and monarchy, before re-assuming them - Performance manages to conjure a hauntingly nihilistic subtext.

Chas starts the film as a gangster, but one we accept as normal to a certain degree. I think this is a major element of why we like many anti-heroes of this capacity...




They all seem so normal, almost like us, but in a different context. This allows them to become a vessel for ourselves and so sink into their narratives comfortably. Whilst Chas isn't a likable anti-hero in the same respect Henry Hill is, we see this paradigm of sinking into the normalised murderer play out in Chas. This is what makes this moment so striking...



Not only is the imagery so strong, but, with juxtaposition, it is also a revelatory moment. It's here where Chas proclaims that he is normal - that. without the wig and makeup, he was. This is something we'd certainly agree considering the facade of this juxtaposition...



However, beneath the surface of Chas in the first half of this movie is a murderer with sexual tendencies that seem to intertwine with his violence 'performances'. Beneath the make-up and wig, however, Chas seems to just be a scared, drugged up and bewildered moron. This suggests two powerful things. Firstly, there is a confounding demonstration of how deceiving and dangerous 'normal' can seem, whereas the weird and unusual seem to be transparent as such - just weird and unusual. Secondly, there is an unusual projection of a cliched concept; truth being revealed under duress. Instead of Chas' true colours being revealed with a gun to his head, it's dressed in drag. In such, it's his destructive relationship with authority that is exposed by the end of the film.

As is made clear in this sequence...


... Turner is an antithetical projection of Harry...


Despite being opposites, both Harry and Turner hold authority over Chas. He does not appreciate this as they seem to expose aspects of himself he doesn't like - those being fear and a convoluted sense of self. However, despite this objection to authority, Chas will exist under it. This is why he remains with Turner after he drugged by him, but also leaves with Harry - to his death. This final scene, however, exposes a further layer to Chas' authority complex. Chas seems to kill Turner so he can destroy apart of himself - that being:


However, when he steps in the car he also destroys this:


In such, we see a complete surrender to authority and fear in Chas as he may only confront those that control him (Turner) when more powerful figures show up. The core internal conflict of Chas then seems to be a struggle with abnormality. He lives at extremes; sexually, with violence, in his home with his fixation to detail, in work with violence again. Later this is exposed through an extreme transformation, one that makes Chas' reflection clear to him. This is explained subtextually in the third act with the idea that some people aren't happy getting to know themselves and getting rid of demons. Chas, possibly like Turner, needs his demons to survive. With this clarity comes his end.

This is the expressively confounding subtext of Performance; a reversal of a character arc of lost identity. Instead of finding oneself being the implied solution to your problems, here it is insinuated that the performance is what some people live for and desire. In such, the crucial truth revealed by this film is that some people are 'real phoneys', they are born to pretend, to never be comfortable in their skin. Why? is thus the question left to us, the audience. One I will also leave to you.






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Wavelength - Substance?

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Dogtooth - Behaviourism & Social Exchange

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