Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper Mersey Beat
A highly unconventional film, directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg and eventually released in 1970 after a two year delay, with music by Jack Nitzsche, Merry Clayton and the Merry Clayton Singers, Buffy Saint-Marie, The Last Poets, Randy Newman and Mick Jagger. James Fox portrays Chas Devlin, a thug who works for gangster boss Harry Flowers (Johnny Shannon). We first see his callous handiwork when he intimidates a barrister by pouring acid over a Rolls Royce and viciously shaving the head of the chauffeur.
Flowers is attempting to arrange a merger with Joey Maddocks (Anthony Valentine), a betting shop owner, but he keeps this knowledge away from Devlin as Devlin and Maddocks are personal enemies. Maddocks arrives with two henchmen, wrecks Devlin’s flat and has him savagely beaten up, but Devlin overpowers him and shoots him, against Flowers’ strict orders. As a result he is on the run from both the police and Flowers' gang.
He changes his appearance and poses as an out-of-work juggler, finally going to ground in a strange house in Notting Hill which is occupied by a bizarre ménage a trois: Turner (Mick Jagger), a rock star who has retired because he has lost the power to perform and two girls Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michele Breton).
Although Chas hates their life style he remains in hiding, gradually being seduced by the complex relationships and becoming attracted to the sensual Lucy. The trio discover that Chas is a gangster and they decide to get inside his mind by feeding him drugs in order to break down his identity.
personalities of the group begin to merge and Turner starts to regain his
power as a performer, something which he thought he had lost. Chas, a bisexual,
takes to cross-dressing and declares he fancies Turner as well as Lucy,
but almost seems to have absorbed Turner’s own identity. In the meantime
he has attempted to obtain a passport to travel to America from Tony Farrell
(Ken Colley), who double-crosses him and tells Harry Flowers where he is.
Eventually, Flowers’ gang members appear. Turner asks if he can go with
him, but Chas shoots him and is then escorted to a waiting car by Flowers’
In an interview with Time Out, Jagger was to say, “When I look at it now there are so many things I could have done to make it stronger or to make it more real. I think Turner was a bit too much like me in a few ways. But he’s not quite hopeless enough. I found his intellectual posturing very ridiculous…too much intellectual posturing in the bath when you’re with two women is not a good thing – that’s not to be taken too seriously! It made my skin go all funny. I know people like that.”
At one point, Turner quotes Hassan I Sabbah: “Nothing is true, everything is permitted,” at another he says, “The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness. Am I right?” When Chas. flicks cigarette ash onto a rug, Turner says, “That rug’s over a thousand years old.” Chas. answers, “Yeah, it looks it.”
This was Mick Jagger’s first dramatic role. He’d previously turned down the part of Jerry Cornelius in Mike Moorcock’s ‘Final Programme.’
Warner Brothers studio heard that Donald Cammell had Jagger interested in
a film, they suggested he create a script which included both Jagger and
Marlon Brando. Cammell wrote ‘The Liars’, about a Brooklyn gangster called
Corelli who arrives in London and takes refuge with a reclusive rock star,
Haskin, in the Earl’s Court area of London. Haskin’s girlfriend falls in
love with Corelli and the trio go on a tour of London, picking up another
girl called Pherber on the way. Corelli ends up sharing a bath with Pherber.
When Brando rejected the part of Corelli, Cammell decided to re-write the
script and replace the Brooklyn gangster with an East End mobster in what
he described as “a poetic treatise on violence” and re-named it ‘Performance.’
The part of Turner’s girlfriend Pherber was originally to be played by Tuesday Weld, but her shoulder was accidentally broken during New Age therapy treatment. Marianne Faithful was next considered for the part, but as she was pregnant with Jagger’s child, her doctor advised her against it. Anita Pallenberg was then approached. Pallenberg was also pregnant with Keith Richards’ child, but as soon as she was offered the part she had an abortion. Mia Farrow had been cast as Lucy, but she broke her ankle just as she was about to fly out to England and the part was given to Michele Breton.
Certain scenes were so sexually explicit that the developing lab refused to print them, regarding them as pornographic. Fifteen minutes of these edited scenes turned up at a ‘Wet Dreams Festival’ in 1970. Warner panicked when they saw the finished production.
With a film featuring Mick Jagger in his first film role they envisioned another ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ - what they got they considered a nightmare and its release was held up for two years. At a test screening in America in July 1969 one of the executives' wives threw up. There was nearly a riot in the cinema with the audience shouting ‘obscene’ and the studio had to refund the audience’s money. They insisted that the film be re-edited and further cuts should be made.
On hearing this, Jagger and Cammell sent a cable to Warner president Ted Ashley: “You seem to want to emasculate the most savage and most effective scenes in our movie. If ‘Performance’ does not upset audiences, it’s nothing. If this fact upsets you, the alternative is to sell it fast and no more bullshit.”
over the years it has gained a cult following and the general verdict is
that it was a film made ahead of its time. For part of the props, John Lennon
lent some of Apple’s recording equipment and also his Rolls Royce, which
was used at the end when the gangsters take Chas away in it to his inevitable
fate. When Chas originally arrived at Turner’s house he noticed two Mars
bars which had been left by the milkman on the front step. This was a joke
alluding to the incident at Keith Richard’s house when Marianne Faithfull
had allegedly been caught naked, wrapped in a rug after Jagger had performed
oral sex on her with a Mars bar. This is an apocryphal story, and there
was also another one associated with the film.
When Chas shoots Turner and the camera follows the bullet into his head, it was alleged that the sequence was done by inserting a microscopic camera into Pallenberg’s vagina. Cammell dispelled this rumour saying that the sequence was filmed at a Cancer Research Centre where a microscopic camera was shot into a cadaver’s tubing.
Donald Cammell committed suicide in 1996 by shooting himself in the head. He had studied the art of suicide for quite a while, learning about where the bullet should be aimed to provide not a painful death, but a pleasurable one. He remained conscious for 45 minutes before he died without experiencing any pain. After completing filming Mick, together with Marianne, Keith and Anita, left for South America to look for flying saucers. Marianne had had a miscarriage with Jagger’s child and, together with Anita and Keith, turned to heroin and spent years as an addict.
Mick and The Rolling Stones were to see the Sixties end with the horror of their Altamont music festival. James Fox gave up acting for ten years and became a Christian missionary. On her return to Paris, Michelle Breton became a drug addict and had to have psychiatric care.
soundtrack album issued by Warner Bros on 19th September 1970 was ahead
of its time, particularly with the introduction of rap by The Last Poets.
It was supervised by Jack Nitzsche and the tracks were:
Female vocalist Merry Clayton handles the tracks ‘Performance’, ‘Poor White Hound Dog’ and ‘Turner’s Murder’ while Jagger has his solo spot with ‘Memo From Turner’ and Buffy Saint Marie sings ‘Dyed, Dead, Red’ with rap introduced by The Last Poets with ‘Wake Up, Niggers.’
|Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.|
Article Text Bill Harry Original Graphics SixtiesCity Other individual owner copyrights may apply to Photographic Images