Back before Mick Jagger was a geriatric millionaire, he was the Byzantine sylph of the psychedelic era, a rock incubus whose unsettlingly androgyne beauty clenched tight the knees of both scandalized mothers and phobic he-men unaccustomed to red lips and come-hither eyes on a guy. It's his pout staring out from the Performance poster, so what's most startling about Nicolas Roeg's co-directorial debut (with Donald Cammell) is how uninteresting Jagger is as a screen presence, and how little the movie depends on his debatable charisma. What lingers instead is the time capsule dispatch from the hungover end of the '60s, and a hint of the proto-punk snarl that would follow its overmellow wake.
Clean-cut Chas (James Fox) is a protection racket goon who missed the peace-and-love revolution ' he digs violence, whether it's busting heads or waking up with scratches on his back. But when he shoots an underworld compatriot, he's got to go underground, finding refuge in the decadent London mansion of reclusive musician Turner (Jagger) and his companions Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michele Breton). Pherber doesn't waste time corrupting their new guest with 'shrooms and freaky talk like 'I've got two angles, one male and one female ' just like a triangle, see?â?� while Turner's unmacho sex appeal throws the repressed Chas into a gay panic.
'Jagger devoted many months to perfecting his abilities as an actor before attempting his first film role,â?� crows the starched-sounding narrator in the promotional short Memo From Turner (included as an extra on the DVD, along with a making-of that's too laudatory to be believed), but it's the other scenes of Chas grappling in a room splashed with gory red paint, or the seductive Pherber flashing her eyes at Chas with praying-mantis lustmord, that last longer in the brain than any of Jagger's prancy contortions. A pulpy, Pop Art Persona too incense-scented to draw any deep conclusions, Performance recalls that other presciently nihilist cult film A Clockwork Orange in the way it thumbs its blood-spattered nose at the Summer of Love.