times produce dangerous art. The cinema of the late 1960’s reflected
a wild and dangerous mood that was best crystallized in Performance,
a witches’ brew of crime, decadence, and drug-induced hallucinations.
This film of “Vice… and Versa” was the work of two directors:
Nicolas Roeg supervised the cinematography, while Donald Cammell wrote
the screenplay, directed the actors and supervised the editing. It took
nearly two years for Warner Bros. To distribute Performance in
the United States, where after it immediately assumed cult status throughout
In the wake of Performance, Roeg directed a number of acclaimed
motion pictures, while Cammell's appeared to stall. The common assumption
that Roeg’s success resulted in feelings of envy and sour grapes
is unfounded: no ill feeling existed between the two directors. I emphasize
this because, in the interview you are about to read, Cammell makes certain
comments tht might be mistaken for a kind of animosity that simply was
not in his nature. If they were rivals, it was only as siblings would
be. When he heard that VIDEO WATCHDOG was planning to print the
following statement about Cammell, Roeg said, “I feel like a part
of me has been taken away. He was like a brother.”
Anyone familiar with Cammell’s work habits knew that he liked the
collaborative mode and the communal environment of filmmaking. He took
everyone’s suggestions, never subscribing to the auteur
theory. It wasn’t the way Hollywood pictures are made, but no one
ever accused Cammell of making a Hollywood picture. In 1978, when his
directorial solo Demon Seed was being produced, Cammell envisioned
it as a comedy. He found that the idea that technology would lead to sexual
reproduction between woman kind and a machine, hysterically funny. The
studio, Metro-Goldywyn Mayer, wasn’t laughing.
Donald Cammell was an extremely bizarre and eccentric artist. His views
were very personal and he refused to conform, not in Europe, and certainly
not in Hollywood, to what was commercial or politically correct. This
previously unpublished interview was conducted in June 1988. At the time,
Cammell had just completed White of the Eye (1987), a billiant,
mesmerizing odyssey through the mind of a serial killer (David Keith)
and his loving wife (Cathy Moriarty). It anticipated films like Henry:
Portrait of a Serial Killer and The Silence of the Lambs,
and at the same time, went light years beyond them. It was critically
acclaimed, even publicly endorsed by Martin Brando, yet it was too potent
and unique a work to attract a popular audience. Ironically, I was trying
to get in touch with Donald a couple of weeks before his suicide to urge
him to appear at The American Cinematheque for a screening of
Performance. However, days before the screening, Donald phoned
to beg off. He apologized, saying that it was “bad karma”
to look to the past. For him, nostalgia was a waste of time. He lived
life in the present tense, preferring to leave the explanations to people
like myself. He ended our conversation by saying if he ever consented
to another interview, he would give it to me. Well, Donald, it seems to
have worked out that way after all. –David Del Valle
Duffy your first major screen credit as a writer?
I think so… yes, Duffy must have been. I saw it long ago.
It’s based on an adventure that really happened to a mate of mine,
or maybe it was all my lovely group-Susie York, James Mason, James Coburn,
and Willie (James) Fox. It’s not a serious movie, more of a bon
bon, very carefree. Not worth discussing.
James Fox played a far more important role in your next, Performance.
Indeed! It changed his life, mine… everybody connected with it,
actually, Performance is a landmark and a swan song for the era
of Swinging London, not a success when it came out. Warner Bros. wanted
none of it.
To what extent did Warners want it changed?
When they saw my rough cut, they were appalled that Jagger was not onscreen
until maybe an hour into the film. So, in a vain attempt to keep it from
being shelved permanently, I tried to rescue the work. I mean, I completely
re-edited it three times, compressing it more and more. By then, Nick
Roeg was completely absorbed in filming Walkabout, so he blissfully
wasn’t involved in any of this.
What did Roeg say when he saw the re-edited cut?
He wanted his name removed, because he felt that too many liberties had
been taken with the continuity. You have to realize, it was a collaborative
effort, yet it was my screenplay, my concept. I directed the actors and
Nick did what Nick does best, which is the director of photography.
Did it bother you that Roeg got the lion’s share of credit
I don’t really want to discuss Nick, but I will say this: Nick went
on to several features on the strength of Performance, and when
you realize that the whole project was based on my friendship with Jagger,
and the fact that Jagger trusted me, it does aggravate an already open
wound. Enough said.
How did you get the idea to combine the gangster world with that
of a faded rock star?
Well, in Britain, the underworld was typified by the Krays. The
Krays were very macho, very dangerous and rather glamorous. This I saw
as sort of a parallel with the rock world and, particularly, The Rolling
Stones. Originally, my script was called The Performers because
each of the characters is a performer, in one sense or another.
You seem to have a healthy disrespect for Hollywood storytelling.
I have a very healthy disrespect for Hollywood altogether! One of the
reasons I think Warners hated the film so much is because it forces an
audience to consider the construction of their own fragmented selves,
the various aspects of sexuality, which is something people never question.
Nick loves to tell the story of one Warner executive who observed, “Even
the bath water is dirty in this film,” referring to the menage
a trios in Turner’s bath. Nick could only say, “Well
the water looks that way because they just took a bath!”
I’ve always been impressed with the film’s opening
shots. They seem unrelated at first, a rocket taking off, an overhead
view of a Rolls Royce moving through the countryside, a couple making
violent love with mirrors. What was you concept here?
It’s to emphasize the sense of transition, of change, of continual
mobility. Some of it is subliminal and Nick loved to intercut. (Laughs)
The cinematography seems to me to be from the school of Psychedelic
(Laughs) Well, perhaps the whole film is Psychedelic Expressionism! Yes,
I like that very much. Can I use it?
Seriously…I showed John Clark, our art director, several examples
of artists like Aubrey Beardsley and Francis Bacon. We deliberately wanted
[to reflect] an artist’s vision. Every film I’ve been allowed
to make owes a very heavy debt to art because, after all, I’m basically
The editing technique, in my opinion, was a cross between someone
like Alain Resnais and Aram Avakian.
Are you sure you’re not with CAHIERS DU CINEMA?
(Laughs) If you mean that seriously, yes. Quite so. It ha s a precision
and formality which could be like a Resnais film, and yet it’s very
flashy and glamorous in the manner of Avakian. However, that technique
is nowadays referred to as “Nicolas Roeg.”
At one point, Turner says, "Nothing is true. Everything is
The line comes from Nietzsche. Performance is about
the trans-valuation of all values. Perhaps the film is Nietzschean in
the sense that I believe in living one’s life that way. The film
brings the Neanderthal gangster and the effete yellow book world of the
rock star into one demonic fusion. The gangster is really more bisexual
and in touch with his feminine side; once again, the fragmented self.
It’s really a provocative love story. The margin between love and
hate is exceedingly narrow and I’ve made an effort to show that,
where violence exists, it’s as indicative of love as much as hatred.*
What was Mick Jagger like to work with?
Well, Jagger is Jagger. His life is his art. Turner is Jagger-ish is something
Mick really didn’t want to deal with, as he was trying very hard
to make that transition from rock star to movie star. At the time, Mick
and the Stones had been offered A Clockwork Orange, but Jagger
wanted something a bit more solo. Something apart from the Rolling Stones.
But Mick is not acting in Performance. That is Mick to the teeth.
He even wore the Turner makeup on the street. He tried to look like that
for years. The relationship between Mick and Anita (Pallenberg) was real.
They became lovers, even though she was Keith Richards’ lady. I’ll
never forget Keith Richards’ Rolls Royce parked across the street
from the location, keeping an eye on his paramour. Jagger simply took
Anita under the house for sex. Keith would come on the set looking for
hanky-panky, not realizing that he was standing about three feet above
is mistaken here. This celebrated line appears in William Burroughs novel
Naked Lunch, where it is atributed to Hassan i Sabbah, the Old Man of
the Mountain, leader of the 11th century Ismailli sect known as the Assassins.
Turner mentions Hassan in the film and the quote latter served as an epigraph
in David Cronenberg's film adaptation of Naked Lunch.