Chas (James Fox) is a psychotic East London gangster who murders his childhood friend and rival Joey in a scene all the more intense for the homoerotic gun-and-whip play that precedes the actual shooting.
Chas goes on the run – not from the law but from his own former gangster allies, a mob headed up by “respectable” London “businessman” Harry Flowers – and hides out in a Notting Hill house with Turner – a decadent and reclusive rock star portrayed, in a real acting stretch, by Mick Jagger.
The two personalities begin to merge, the macho gangster experimenting with drugs and perversity and the singer discovering violence and cruelty.
Turner’s consort is the fabulous Pherber, played by the gorgeous Anita Pallenberg. Pherber embodies the darkened mood of life after Flower Power when rock’s new aristo’s dabbled with the devil.
Pherber and Turner suck Chas into their occult shadow-world, feeding him magic mushrooms and messing with his brutish geezer mind within the walls of 81 Powis Square.
Aleister Crowley and Kenneth Anger intersect in the hallucinogenic claustrophobia of the house, and the film has a perverse, creepy fascination; even when it’s being quite vile.
Loaded with every arty trick that the two first-time directors could think of, it was originally released with an X rating, although were it to be released nowadays it would probably have to be spiced up to even be given an R rating.
Brutal beatings, sexual identity crises and prodigious drug-taking is punctuated by one of Jack Nitzsche’s best scores (highlighted by Ry Cooder’s incredible bottleneck guitar work).
The brief heyday of British psychedelia was soon to be over, and Performance is its most authentic document and its finest product – Perhaps the wildest, most deeply layered psychedelic movie ever made.
Established character actors Stanley Meadows, Allan Cuthbertson, Anthony Morton and Johnny Shannon, and the fast-rising Anthony Valentine were all recruited for the film, and so was John Bindon, a real-life gangster turned actor who was something of a society darling during the mid-Sixties despite – or, perhaps, because of – his criminal past.
Anita Pallenberg’s rumoured off-camera seduction of Jagger upset her then-boyfriend, Mick’s fellow Rolling Stone Brian Jones – who was apparently sunk by the news.