The Only Performance
'Good Dog' by Mike Dooney, (c) 2006
There's more exciting Mario Bava DVD news on
But my mind wanders to something else -- I've unpacked my old LP collection and been spinning many of my favorite vinyls. Prominent among those is Performance, which I was spinning a fair amount before our move, for reasons I can neither articulate nor divine.
For some reason, the film and score have been much on my mind of late, in part due to my own struggling through a comics story I'm working out in my sketchbook that's clearly informed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's approach to Performance (a 'fragmented narrative' orientation that Roeg explored more adventurously than any other filmmaker, to my mind, and which I trace back to a fave film Roeg photographed but did not direct: Richard Lester's Petulia).
I first saw Performance on the expansive screen of Burlington, VT's Strong Theater (sadly, long gone now) with my best high school friend Bill Hunter; we were teenagers, and completely unprepared for the film and its impact on our tender teen psyches. Like the underground films (which we'd begun to sample, thanks to two competing underground film societies that sprang up in Burlington and on the UVM campus at the same time) and comix (thanks to my high school art teacher Bill Cathey, who could have lost his job for turning me on to Zap, which forever changed my life and made me want to draw comics forever) I was just beginning to explore, Performance completely demolished all previous modes of cinema I'd ever experienced. It quite literally blew my mind, as surely as any illegal substance I'd later dabble with ever did or would (I was not a stoner in high school, had never smoked a joint or even been drunk before graduating high school: in terms of body and brain chemistry, straight-arrow Boy Scout, that was me).
It forever altered not only how I experienced movies, but how I saw and experienced life. Bill, I recall, loathed the film, so I drove myself back to the Strong the very next night to see Performance again, both shows, back-to-back. Remember, this was the pre-home-video era, and I feared I might never, ever get to see the film again. I had to experience it anew, plunge into its maze and sort out what I could from its strange multi-tier layering.
Like almost every film I loved from that period in my life, the American critics reviled the film; if memory serves, John Simon scribed the single most scathing review, treating the movie as an infectious viral aberration. That it was, but like so many other films of the time, I was glad to have caught the contagion.
In that pre-video era, too, the only artifact most films offered that one could take home to preserve memories and/or further explore the experience were paltry and few. Some films had paperback adaptations, some had comic book adaptations -- neither a reliable companion to the cinematic experience, though still treasured -- but many had soundtrack LPS, and Performance's was a doozy. Given the limited time I have this morning, I can't come close to the eloquence of
Still, Tim's post rings lots of bells for me, as that album has been a key one in my collection since I first picked it up back in '71, days after seeing the movie. Jack Nietsche's score -- and the album -- are among the best ever wed to a film, and that record turned me on to Randy Newman, The Last Poets, Ry Cooder and, natch, Nietsche. Too bad he scored so few films; one of my (and Tim's) favorite cuts on the album, "Harry Flowers," has another association for me: it anticipates the lovely concluding passage of Nietsche's fantastic score for Robert Downey's Greaser's Palace (a score never released on LP or CD, to my knowledge), another of my favorite '70s movies (and a viewing experience which I'll rhapsodize over another time).
I'm glad I caught Performance three times in its original X-rated run at the Strong (no, I wasn't 17; the Strong always accepted my ticket money, whatever the rating of the film showing) because here in the US, the film never, ever unreeled in that complete a state again. I know, I've screened it many times since: the film was re-rated 'R' in every incarnation since (a fact Tim seems to misremember).
I showed it on 16mm at Johnson State College to kick off our Nicolas Roeg retrospective, heartsick at the minor cuts and missing bits of vital tissue; it was among the first videocassettes I ever rented, or purchased, though the video version was even more truncated than the 16mm print I'd projected onto the Dibden Theater screen -- and the cuts were odd: plucked piecemeal hither and thither, like tiles chipped from a fresco with no discernable reasoning (note that Ken Russell's The Devils -- also first seen by this sick puppy at the Strong! -- suffered the identical fate: someone, or someones, at Warner Bros. had it in for their most daring 1971 films). A few years ago, a British fan of my comics work helped me secure a copy of the UK video release, and despite the inevitable degeneration of even the best available transfer (from PAL to vhs), that release was closest to the film I'd seen back in '71.
I'm eager to pop Performance into the player and savor the first near-complete (note Tim's picking up one inexplicably dropped line from the opener of the unforgettable "Memo from Turner" sequence), and once again split my skull for love of cinema.
I'll just remember to personally lip-synch Mick's "Here's to Olde England!" toast at the appropriate moment.
Away down in Massachusetts, in the land of Mirage Studios, lives one hell of an artist (among many) named Michael Dooney, who I've now known for some twenty-odd years. Mike's got a great site up posting his "sketchbook paintings," which habitually knock my best paintings in the dirt.
The man's got the touch, as these portraits should demonstrate, and you can see more
OK, I really, really have to run.
See ya later in the week...