My DVD pick of the week is Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg’s groundbreaking British film Performance (originally filmed in 1968 and finally released in 1970) and an honorable mention must go to Tony Richardson’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), which is another great British film finding it way onto DVD this week. Both movies are being released by Warner Home Video.
My 1985 VHS Tape . The New 2007 DVD
From the original text on my old Warner video:
Chas Devlin (James Fox) is a young man with a talent: in cold blood, he can scare you half to death. In British underworld terms, he’s a “performer” – a specialist in violent intimidation and a master of his craft, running errands of terror and doing the dirty work for a notorious racketeer.
Turner (Mick Jagger) is another kind of performer. A one-time rock-‘n’-roll superstar, he has retired to a cavernous, crumbling house in a shabby London neighborhood. He lives with two beautiful women in dreamlike suspension, waiting for the universe to give him a sign. When Chas and Turner meet, their worlds collide – and the impact is both exotic and explosive.
Performance holds a very special place in my movie loving heart. Way back in 1985 Performance became the first movie I ever bought on video.
I grew up in a home with a black and white TV, and going to see a double feature at the local Drive-In on the weekends was a special event. When my family finally got a color TV in the late 1970s I was amazed by the thing, and when the video age arrived and we got a VCR in the mid-1980s, I was simply astonished. The ability to watch just about any movie at any time in the comfort of your own home totally blew my mind and frankly, it still does. In these current times of giant plasma TVs, DVDs and home computers where access to just about anything you can think of is only a mouse click away, 1985 seems like a lifetime ago.
Before buying the video version of Performance, I had already seen the film a few times in the early 1980s and owned the terrific soundtrack on vinyl. The movie would play as a midnight double feature in local theaters alongside other films starring pop stars and bands from the same era such as Nicolas Roeg’s brilliant The Man Who Fell to Earth with David Bowie and The Who’s terrific musical Tommy. As much as I loved the the other movies mentioned, Performance was the film that really captivated my imagination at the time and I fell in love with the movie’s odd mix of gangster crime drama combined with rock musical. As a young teenage girl I was also deeply drawn to the complex ideas about sexual identity and androgyny that Performance explores. I wasn’t buying into the clear cut ideas about sex and identity that were being forced down my throat at school and by society. Performance offered me other ideas that I eagerly absorbed. Around that same time I was also starting to experiment with drugs so I’m sure the rather old-fashioned idea of psychedelics being used to “open my mind” probably fueled my interest in the movie as well. Last but certainly not least, I loved The Rolling Stones and like many girls and boys over the years I developed a mad crush on Mick’s Jagger’s androgynous character in the film.
Performance managed to become my favorite movie by the time I was 15 so when I found myself at a local video store in the mid ’80s and overheard the owner explaining to another customer how he could order any movie for them on video if it was available, I immediately asked him if he could get a movie called Performance for me. He pulled out some big catalogs and after about 10 minutes of looking through them he told me, yes. The movie had just become available from Warner Home Video but it would cost me around $65. The amount was absolutely enormous at the time but the idea of owning a movie that I loved and that I could watch over and over again seemed priceless to me so I had him order it on the spot. I spent the next few weeks eagerly awaiting its arrival while I scraped together all the extra money I could to pay for the video by doing odd jobs around the house and breaking open my piggy bank.
When I got the call that my Performance video had finally arrived I can remember begging my mom to drive me to the video store so I could pick it up and I walked to the counter with exactly $65 in my hand. The man hadn’t mentioned the word “tax” to me when I ordered the video so when the total came to about $68.03, I had to run outside and ask my mom to lend me $3 to cover the cost. She got a bit pissed off and said something like, “I really hope this movie is worth all the fuss and money!”
Thankfully I grew up with very liberal mother so when I got back in the car and showed my mom the X-rated film that I had just spent weeks waiting for (only Rated R for the 1985 Warner video release!), she didn’t bat an eye. As a matter of fact she didn’t care at all what movie it was and I don’t believe she ever bothered to watch it herself since she was a Beatles fan who thought the Stones were a too “dirty.” But it seemed to make her happy that I was so thrilled about buying my first movie on video. She just thought I was ridiculous for spending so much money on it and who can blame her? $65 was a lot of money!
It’s some 22 years later and I still own that Warner video that I first purchased back in 1985. Warner must be congratulated for making a video tape that could stand up to numerous viewings over 22 years. I’ve watched Performance countless times and even watched it again last night. I now appreciate many things about the film that I didn’t really notice much back in 1985 such as Nicolas Roeg’s intimate photography and the brilliant acting of James Fox who I now “crush on” just as much as Mick Jagger. In some ways Performance has become more then just another one of my favorite movies. It’s become a film that I often compare all others too. It changed the way I see film as well as the world around me, and it has shaped my love for cinema.
Part of me is really excited about the DVD release of Performance and I can’t wait to see it. I’m sure the movie will look 5x better than it does on my old video tape and I’m looking forward to seeing any additional footage which may have been restored to the film. But I’m also feeling a little nostalgic about replacing my old video tape with a brand new DVD. I think I’ll be keeping both copies of the movie for reference as well as for the memories that the old Warner video conjures up in my movie loving mind.
I hope to share a few more thoughts about Performance as the week progresses so don’t be surprised if this week Cinebeats becomes somewhat of an ongoing tribute to the first movie I ever bought for myself.