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Photographs

5 Things to Know about Performance

S|2's upcoming Performance by Cecil Beaton is an exhibition of photographs taken on the set of the iconic 1968 British film, directed by Nicholas Roeg and Donald Cammell, produced by Sandy Lieberson and starring James Fox, Anita Pallenberg and Mick Jagger in his acting debut.

POSTER FOR PERFORMANCE, RELEASED IN 1970. © SANDY LIEBERSON.

At the time considered highly controversial, Performance explored themes of sexuality and identity against the backdrop of organised crime, and depicted the use of drugs and violence at a level not typically seen in a major studio production. Roeg and Lieberson’s groundbreaking portrait of 1960s London still retains its ability to shock nearly 50 years later. Performance was the quintessential London film; unapologetically breaking rules to present a snapshot of bohemian life, alongside the underworld of gangsters and rock stars that gave the city a reputation for decadence and debauchery. Prior to his commission on the set of Performance, Beaton had been on assignment to photograph the Queen – showing his diversity and relevance at the forefront of popular culture and the ease with which he inserted himself in to each context. His documentation of society figures, musicians, actors and royalty demonstrated his innate ability to always remain current and perfectly capture the essence of a time. Read on to find out five interesting facts about the movie...

1. It was Mick Jagger’s first time acting in a film, but despite it being his feature debut, his involvement in the project reassured Warner Brothers that the film would be a success. In fact, they were so shocked when they saw the rushes that the film was delayed from release for 2 years – during which time Nicholas Roeg had started filming Walkabout in Australia, leaving co-director Donald Cammell to complete the numerous re-edits.

2. James Fox was used to playing well-to-do upper-class characters, so the role of East-End gangster, Chas Devlin, was a departure for him. He prepared for the role by visiting Ronnie Kray in Brixton Prison, and also learned to box for the role – taking regular lessons to complete his transformation into a bona fide gangster.

 

ANITA PALLENBERG, JAMES FOX AND MICK JAGGER ON THE SET OF PERFORMANCE, 1968. COURTESY OF THE BFI ARCHIVE.

3. The film was banned from general release due to the controversial nature of the story. After a test screening amongst film executives from the studio, the film was shelved for two years before being re-edited to cut out some of the more violent scenes, and got its official release in 1970. Much of the original footage shot for the project was destroyed in the processing lab as the technicians thought it was pornography.

4. Director Nicholas Roeg went on to direct The Man who Fell to Earth starring David Bowie – the film that the current musical Lazarus is based on. Lazarus is produced by Robert Fox, a close friend and collaborator of David Bowie, and son of James Fox who plays Chas in Performance.

5. There were no studios used in the making of Performance. The whole film was shot on location at a basement flat in Powis Terrace in Notting Hill, which was then a far cry from the fashionable enclave it is today. Cecil Beaton visited the set to document the shoot; his previous commission had been taking a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, a testament to his status as the most sought after society photographer in England at the time.

MAIN IMAGE: MICK JAGGER ON THE SET OF PERFORMANCE, PHOTOGRAPHED BY CECIL BEATON, 1968.  

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