Roeg’s striking debut was made in close collaboration with writer and co-director Donald Cammell. Performance is a rare bird in British cinema: a major modernist movie. It anticipates Roeg’s future work in all kinds of ways: in its casting of a pop staroMick Jaggeroin a leading role; in the exploration of the theme of identity; in the gangster milieu; and, most significantly, in its style, which is dense and daring.
The plot is simple enough. Chas (James Fox), a flashy London gangster, has to go on the run when he antagonises his boss by murdering a rival in a grudge vendetta. He eventually hides out in a house run by a reclusive pop star in retirement (Jagger), who has two young ladies also in attendance. They begin to put pressure on Chas, feeding him drugs and breaking down his sense of identity.
Yet the film’s approach towards its narrative is oblique. It invites us to follow not so much a linear plot as a cluster of themes and structured juxtapositions: life/death; male/female; sanity/insanity; reality/performance. For some, at the time of its appearance, Performance seemed insufferably self-indulgent and pretentious. For others it was and remains a milestone of British movie-makingoexperimental, challenging and subversive.