Last month we told you about a new line of cult cinema books that Creation Books has put together. The publisher's 'Persistence of Vision' series boasts a set of limited edition, illustrated monographs on essential cult classic titles. You can check out a review for the first two books, 'Killing Machines: Russ Meyer's Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!' and 'Inferno De Sade: Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò' before digging into their latest -- based on Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's '60s trip film, 'Performance.'
Keith Perry and Jack Hunter have delivered 'Bullet in the Brain' -- about the film that merged "ultra-violence, nudity and softcore sex, cross-gender blurring, psychotropic drug abuse, personality disintegration, and the seedy underbelly of gangland London." The film references esoteric lit favorites like Artaud, Borges, Burroughs, Crowley, Genet and Gysin, as well as filmmaker Kenneth Anger -- and features Mick Jagger in his acting debut as the rockstar has-been who has "lost his demon." The mysterious eccentric provides cover for Chas (James Fox), an uber violent East London gangster who's been looking for a place to lay low after a botched hit. 'Bullet' provides a detailed overview of the sex and drug-fueled film along with over 40 rarely-seen publicity photographs (over 70 images in total), full production details and an illustrated 1968 Rolling Stones chronology (including recording sessions, film projects and drug busts).
Cammell and Roeg's alchemical (and chemical) adventure is well-documented by the authors who delve into the "single key event in the genesis of 'Performance,'" which was the police raid on Redlands (Keith Richards' country estate). An arrest, bad publicity and a slew of urban legends (including an amusing anecdote involving a Mars chocolate bar ... ) helped secure Jagger's rep as a counter-culture icon, making him more than perfect for the role of Turner. The film's provocation doesn't end there, however, as Perry details the themes that make 'Performance' so controversial: sexual/gender-bending duality, the ritualization of violence, transgressive mind games and graphic sex -- rumored to be real, of course. The frantic editing "using sophisticated montage and time-jump effects ... only added to its initial hostile reception." Keep in mind, this was not some rinky-dink operation -- it was a studio production released (reluctantly) by Warner Bros -- and not the Hard Day's Night film they had hoped for. Jagger's commentary on the movie is a nice addition to the thoughtful essays that examine every aspect of why 'Performance' has gained such a cult following long after its release.
Perry writes, "Over the coming decades its ['Performance's'] meaning will continue to change as our collective memories of the 1960s are altered, and as our notions of the self evolve." I imagine that's exactly the way that Cammell would have wanted it. The director didn't live long enough to see his movie gain recognition. He committed suicide in 1996 -- something that morbidly helped to reignite an interest in the film. Creation Books has done another fine job of reinforcing something that Jagger's character proclaims: "The only performance that makes it -- that makes it all the way -- is the one that achieves madness." They offer more than enough fodder to make a case for the movie's genius as well.