“The only performance that makes it…that really makes it…that makes it all the way…is the one that achieves madness.” – Turner aka Mick Jagger in Performance (1970)
If someone asked me the proverbial question: “The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?” I’d pledge my allegiance to the bad boys of rock and roll in an instant. The first concert I ever attended was a Rolling Stones’ show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco during the band’s American Tour in 1981. And one of the first records I ever bought for myself was Some Girls; their controversial 1978 album featuring hit songs like “Beast of Burden,” “Shattered” and “Miss You.” Some Girls inevitably lost some of its luster when I discovered the band’s earlier recordings but it was the record that introduced me to The Stones and thanks to repeated listenings I started to understand just how raunchy and rebellious rock and roll could be. Discovering The Rolling Stones at any age can be a thrilling experience but when you’re going through puberty the band is pure electricity. Their music was the perfect conduit for all my teenage daydreams and nightmares.
My interest in the band undoubtedly spiked when my mother made it clear that she was not a fan. She preferred The Beatles and found her young daughter’s obsession in the aging Rolling Stones more than a little odd. My mother and I had lots of arguments about my musical interests and extracurricular activities while I was growing up but she let me go to a Rolling Stones concert when I just 13-years-old. Somehow she managed to enable my obsession with the band at the same time that she was deriding it. Parents can be funny like that. Like countless teenagers before me, I became fascinated with the band’s androgynous thick-lipped front man, Sir Michael Philip “Mick” Jagger and I enjoyed plastering my walls with pictures of The Rolling Stones that often featured old rubber lips seductively posed with a microphone. Like the romantic British poets before him, Mick Jagger seemed mad, bad and dangerous to know and I found his formidable reputation incredibly intriguing. It didn’t matter to me that he was old enough to be my father.
During my early teens I read books about the Stones and sought out movies that featured the band such as the Albert and David Maysles concert film Gimme Shelter (1970). Around the same time I also discovered Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s earth-shattering film Performance (1970), which starred a very young Mick Jagger. I rarely refer to any movie as “earth-shattering” but that’s exactly what Performance was to me when I first saw it at an impressionable young age. Performance changed the way I experienced film from that moment forward and it helped shape my expectations of what a movie could and should be.
In the film Mick Jagger plays Turner, a washed-up, drug-fueled and sexually uninhibited rock star. The character of Turner was originally based on Brian Jones who helped form The Rolling Stones along with Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards but Jagger inhabited the role completely. He infused the character with his own devilish charm and androgynous beauty, which rattled critics and audiences when the film was originally released. Even today the character of Turner still seems incredibly subversive. During the early 1980s Performance played regularly at midnight showings in and around the San Francisco Bay Area so I was able to see it a few times before it finally became available on video. Much of the movie’s complicated subtext and magick was lost on me when I was growing up but over the years I’ve learned to enjoy and embrace the rich tapestry of ideas that make up Performance.
It’s not an easy film to recommend because like an untamed monster, Performance has teeth and a desire to devour its audience. But don’t let that scare you! The film can simply be enjoyed as an unorthodox look at the British underworld in the 1960s complete with gangsters, dangerous femme fatales and a reclusive rock star. It’s an unforgettable slice of pop culture history and it’s playing on TCM Underground this Friday on June 11th. To read more about the film and find out when it’s showing in your area I highly recommend visiting the official TCM Underground site where you’ll find an informative piece about Performance written by my fellow Morlock, Richard Harland Smith. Mick Jagger has been featured in many music documentaries about The Rolling Stones over the years but he’s also continued to pursue acting. I thought it would be fun to share links to some of my favorite clips from other movies that Mick Jagger has appeared in.
After making Performance Jagger continued to act in films but he never got a part that was as provocative or as interesting as the role of Turner. His next film was Tony Richardson’s biopic about the infamous Australian bushranger (runaway convict) Ned Kelly (1970). The idea of playing a notorious criminal was undoubtedly incredibly appealing to British born Jagger but he didn’t fit the image of a rough and tumble Australian outlaw and the making of Ned Kelly was plagued with problems. Jagger brought his longtime girlfriend and fellow musician Marianne Faithfull along with him to Sidney when shooting started but their relationship was coming to a harrowing end and she attempted suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. Faithfull ended up in a coma but thankfully she recovered and returned to England while Jagger stayed behind and tried to finish the movie. Jagger’s acting limitations are apparent when you watch Ned Kelly, which required a lot from its star. Unsurprisingly the film received abysmal reviews but Tony Richardson is a talented director and the movie contains some noteworthy moments. I’m particularly fond of the film’s powerful opening sequence that ends with Ned Kelly being hung. It’s a disturbing way to start any movie and it undoubtedly shocked a lot of Jagger’s fans when it was originally released.
Around the same time Mick Jagger appeared in an experimental Italian film called Umano non Umano (aka Human Not Human; 1969) shot by the artist Mario Schifano. Schifano would later gain notoriety as the man who supposedly helped break up Mick Jagger’s relationship with Marianne Faithfull but the artist was obviously friendly with the band for a period of time when this film was shot. Umano non Umano is an interesting collage of sights and sounds without any obvious narrative structure and it also contains an appearance by Jagger’s bandmate Keith Richards. The following clip from Umano non Umano features Mick Jagger mouthing the words to one of my favorite Rolling Stone’s songs, “Street Fighting Man.”
The lackluster critical response to Ned Kelly seemed to put a damper on Jagger’s acting career. He supposedly auditioned for the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the film adaptation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman; 1975) but was upstaged by Tim Curry and although he was cast in Werner Herzog award-winning film Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog ; 1982) alongside costar Jason Robards, his part was later written out of the script when both actors were replaced by Klaus Kinski. Jagger did make a brief and very funny appearance in The Beatles mockumentary The Rutles: All You Need is Cash (Eric Idle; 1978) that I couldn’t resist sharing.
It would be almost 10 years before Mick Jagger would appear in another movie. Unfortunately, that movie was Julian Temple’s Running Out of Luck (1987). The film was really just a poorly compiled video advertisement for Jagger’s first solo album, She’s the Boss and it’s a forgettable lightweight affair. It does contain a few funny moments and in this comical scene, Mick Jagger tries to convince some Brazilian shop owners that he’s a world famous rock star.
In the ’90s Mick Jagger starred in the dreadful science fiction film Freejack (Geoff Murphy; 1992) that I’m still trying to forget. Thankfully he followed that failure with a memorable appearance in the critically acclaimed WW2 drama Bent (Sean Mathias; 1997) where he played a cabaret performer who dresses in drag. The part was a smart return to Jagger’s roots as an androgynous entertainer. In the following clip, rubber lips sings the mournful ballad “Streets of Berlin” that was written for the film by composer Philip Glass along with lyricist Martin Sherman.
In the last decade Mick Jagger has made brief appearances in a handful of interesting films including another WW2 drama called Enigma (Michael Apted; 2001) that he also helped produce. Enigma tells the story of a smart British code breaker who is trying to crack the Enigma Code used by the Nazi’s to commandeer their fleet of U-boats. During the making of the film Mick Jagger actually lent an original Enigma encoding machine to the crew that he privately owned in an effort to insure the historical accuracy of the movie. His next big role would be in the critically acclaimed drama The Man from Elysian Fields (George Hickenlooper; 2001) where Jagger played Luther Fox, the owner of an escort service that specializes in entertaining wealthy women. One of my favorite moments in the film is the following exchange between one of his clients (Anjelica Huston) whom he’s grown fond of. Unfortunately, she doesn’t feel the same way. Mick Jagger was almost 60 years old when he made The Man from Elysian Fields and his age-worn face contains a real sadness that is apparent when he’s faced with rejection from a beautiful woman that he obviously cares for.
The most recent movie that Jagger appeared in was the entertaining heist film The Bank Job (Roger Donaldson; 2008). It’s one of my favorite crime films in recent years so I was happy to see Jagger make a brief and incredibly ironic appearance in the movie. The Bank Job is a creative throwback to earlier British crime pictures and takes place in London during 1971. In the film Jagger has an unaccredited role as an employee of the bank that the criminals plan to rob. His appearance is so brief that you’ll miss him if you blink, but it’s interesting to note that before he committed himself to The Rolling Stones, Jagger was a promising student at the London School of Economics. He could have easily ended up working in a British bank if he hadn’t formed the band. In the alternative world of The Bank Job, Jagger’s sudden appearance seems to hint at that possibility. It’s a funny little moment that makes you take pause and appreciate the route that the world-renowned rock star’s life did take.
I’m sure he would have been a wonderful banker but I’m extremely grateful that he decided to pursue a career in music instead. Mick Jagger’s acting will never be as celebrated as his musical achievements with The Rolling Stones but he’s a talented performer and I’ve enjoyed following his career wherever it happened to take him.
by Kimberly Lindbergs, originally published on the official blog of Turner Classic Movies, June 10, 2010