"You're a cog, boy! A cog in an organ!" Thus begins the journey of Performance protagonist Chas, bloodstained thug on the run.
Directed by Nicholas Roeg and Donald Cammell in 1970, Performance (Wednesday, March 17, Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House, 8 p.m.)opens with a fighter jet rocketing across the sky before quickly cutting to aerial shots of a traveling Rolls Royce.
This footage is interspersed with cropped images of poorly lit and intertwined flesh. Boogie-woogie music lends the proceedings with the well-worn feel of a porn flick from back in the day when porn attempted plotlines. But the boogie-woogie is quickly subsumed by an ominous synth signal, as if the 8-track got eaten in the deck. And that's when you realize Performance means business.
Roeg mixes experimental technique (fast and odd edits, an often overwhelming electronic soundtrack, sudden color shifts, etc.) with pasty pornographic imagery, depictions of an abject underworld, and a touch of the old ultraviolence to achieve what's generally referred to as "Hollywood magic."
Performance exploits the endless possibilities inherent in the form --- the real magic that can occur when celluloid meets sound in the editing room --- to keep your jaw on the floor. It draws attention to the fact that it's a film.
We see so little of this these days. Last year's American Splendor, with its self-conscious shifts in narrative and many levels of reality, was a welcome surprise. So are some of the movies being made by the Dogme 95 collective.
But films like Performance, Antonioni's Blow Up, Bergman's Persona, or Godard's Weekend, all made between 1966 and 1970, make movie magic without the digital dependency. They openly cause you to question your role as viewer. And their shocking approaches to technique and storytelling still seem so monumental you almost expect the film to start bouncing off the reels, as it does, quite literally, in Persona.
Rolling Stone Mick Jagger has a prominent role in Performance, a fact which could easily have pushed the entire project beyond the limits of bloated pretension. And there are many ridiculously '60s moments in the movie. But for zeitgeist's purposes, the selection of Jagger was brilliant. And he plays the perfect Mad Hatter --- inducing Chas into a blissfully hazy identity crisis that you'll feel in your gut. But don't forget: You're just a cog, boy!
Fans of omni-musician Jim O'Rourke should know that O'Rourke has named several of his more recent solo albums (Insignificance, Bad Timing, Eureka)after Roeg's films.
And if it's the more base aspects of Performance that thrill you, be sure to see Myra Breckinridge (Wednesday, March 24, Dryden Theatre, 8 p.m.), which is screening as part of the Dryden's "Loathsome Films" series. Generally regarded as a subversive classic of '70s camp, Myra stars film critic Rex Reed as Myron, the recipient of a sex-change operation that converts him into the voluptuous Myra (Raquel Welch). The film shows as little regard for Hollywood's lofty history as it does for testosterone. Be warned.