Thursday, August 30, 2007

More madness

Could this become a theme?

Now I'm reading the Aug. 16, 2007, edition of the New York Review of Books and the article "The Road from Danzig" that reprises the career of Guenter Grass, the brilliant German writer. The author of the article is Timothy Garton Ash, one of the most perceptive writers on Europe of the past 20-some years. The main topic is Grass' recent memoir, "Peeling the Onion" in its English title, which ends with Grass in Paris where he came up with the startling words: "Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital."

The link to madness quickly rises in my thoughts. Those are the opening words of Grass' great novel, "The Tin Drum," which I struggled to read in German in the 1960's, and what a fantasy it was -- the book and reading it in German, too. Thank goodness for fine translations.

I bring it up here partly because the article is graced with a photo showing Grass and Norman Mailer together at an event at the New York Public Library on June 27, 2007. Mailer looks a hundred years older than Grass, though their age difference is only four years, and it's said to be perhaps his last public appearance. One report on the meeting noted that Grass and Mailer were the two last great writers from World War II.

Mailer's being in the article is a link to the previous post here, which was so much about Mailer and the touch of madness around him. I'll confess that I bought and like his recent novel, "The Castle in the Forest," with the unlikely subject of the boyhood of Adolf Hitler. Now, there's some madness. The remaining question: will Mailer write about stabbing his wife? More madness.

This link takes you to the NYRB article. And from that I found a link to an audio recording of Grass and Mailer together at the NY Public Library. Life is good.

UPDATE: It took two hours to listen to the recordings in the last link above. Two great writers talking about the madness of the world in the 20th Century -- a fruitful way to spend an afternoon with the ears open. It bears relistening.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"Achieving madness"

Aug 26, 2007, The New York Times Book Review unexpectedly gives up a reminder of why we think “Performance” was a movie of some profundity. Wild violence and drugs and sex, too, in plenty, but some moments of philosophy. This comes from the Essay at the end of the weekly book review, this week by Gerald Howard, an editor at Doubleday Broadway (whatever that is), about the movie Norman Mailer made in 1968, two years before “Performance” came out. Its title is “Maidstone,” and it was seen only for two weeks in 1971, thereafter becoming part of the Mailer legend.

In this excerpt, Gerald Howard cites a philosophical moment in our favorite movie while describing the unscripted violence that erupted as the filming of “Maidstone” was almost complete:

“Much of this and more unfolded on the screen like some long-delayed acid flashback to a bad trip I had never taken. Then came the last three minutes, which guarantee “Maidstone” a kind of immortality. The filming proper was supposed to have ended one very late night in a so-called “Assassination Ball,” where Mailer/Kingsley, in top hat and tails, delivered a vainglorious speech to the assembled cast, though disappointingly to many, no attempt on his life was staged. The next day the cast went to rustic Gardiners Island to decompress and use up some leftover film. Pennebaker’s camera captures them strolling about the fields and then focuses on Rip Torn, who removes a hammer from a backpack, strides over to Mailer and hits him on the head twice, announcing: “You are supposed to die, Mr. Kingsley. You must die, not Mailer. I don’t want to kill Mailer, but I must kill Kingsley in the picture.” Shocked, Mailer wrestles him to the ground, and they roll down the hill in an ugly tussle, Mailer biting Torn’s ear as Mailer’s wife and children scream. Finally separated, the two bloodied men walk at a wary distance from each other, Mailer hurling curses, Torn explaining calmly: “When — when is an assassination ever planned? It’s done, it’s done.” The sequence ends with Torn calling Mailer “a fraud” and pointing a finger at the camera, taunting, “Hoo hoo!”

“In the film “Performance” (1970), the reclusive rock star played by Mick Jagger declares: “The only performance that makes it, that really makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness.” Rip Torn took Mailer’s premises more seriously than Mailer himself did and acted them out, in the process both stealing Mailer’s film and making it for him. Over the next two years, as Mailer struggled to edit his 45 hours of footage into something workable, he was forced to accede to Torn’s logic and made his attack the centerpiece and culmination of the film. “

Yes, achieving madness is a heck of a performance, and the trip up to the edge of madness and perhaps beyond is what makes the movie “Performance” such an exciting trip.

I’ll leave a link here to the full writeup in the Times Book Review, and hope it doesn’t fall into the archives too quickly.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Regarding James Fox

The hard-man gangster Chas is played by James Fox. I've sometimes mixed him up with another British actor named Fox, Edward Fox. A little Googling on James Fox took me to a website where I learned that James and Edward Fox are brothers. Well.

Down in James Fox's bio are some notes about "Performance."

"Fox left the acting profession for nine years (1970-79) after he filmed Performance (1970) with Mick Jagger. A combination of his father's recent death, the strain of filming and smoking the hallucinogen DMT with Mick Jagger led to a nervous breakdown. Fox subsequently joined a religious cult known as "The Navigators".


"Personal Quotes
"[On his 9-year break from acting]: People think Performance (1970) blew my mind... my mind was blown long before that.
Performance (1970) gave me doubts about my way of life. Before that I had been completely involved in the more bawdy side of the film business. But after that everything changed.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

NY Times remembers our movie

The NY Times gives a pretty good review to the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, but one actor gets a thumbs-down: Keith Richards. The Times reviewer, Jeannette Catsoulis, may be a fan of our movie, since she advises Richards to get a copy of "Performance" and do as Jagger does. Here's the link.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Link to useful website

A friend passes along this link to a literary website on Borges with plenty of meat about "Performance."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Second Post -- Borges in some detail

It is with some regret that I start to explain a mystery of this movie. Now I won’t have to churn my mind about something I saw on the screen – won’t be churning it endlessly with no result, because in fact, I couldn’t figure it out. Well, in fact, I couldn’t figure it out. I found the solution in a book. It’s not the same as figuring it out, is it? So my regret at publishing it here is less.

Now, what was the mystery? Well, in one scene Turner is quoting something from a book. Must be important. What’s the book? Who’s the author? Then one of the gangsters, the smiling mild one, is sitting in the back seat of the Rover saloon car reading a book. What’s the book? Who’s the author? When the bullet roars into action, there’s a tunnel with the face of a middle-aged man in it. Who’s the man?

The new DVD version of “Performance” has added features that explain some of what was in these mysteries. Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine author who was coming into world renown in the 1960s, is identified as the author. His book is in the movie. His face is in the tunnel and on the cover of the book the gangster is reading. The book is “A Personal Anthology” -- by Borges.

Today I went downtown to the main public library and checked out a biography of Borges by Edwin Williamson, an Oxford professor of Spanish. “Performance” appears in the index. I opened to p. 396-7 and read about of the atmosphere surrounding Borges as he traveled in Britain in 1971, the year after the movie came out:

“Borges’s work had reached a peak of popular acclaim by this time. The anthology of his stories and essays that Penguin brought out in Britain in 1970 under the title “Labyrinths” had achieved cult status. Borges’s name, moreover, had already become associated with the New Wave in European cinema after several famous French directors – Jacques Rivette, Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais – had cited his work in a number of films in the 1960s. But in 1970 this association of Borges with the movies had reached unprecedented heights with the release of two films that were to become international box-office hits. “The Spider’s Stratagem,” by the Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, was a version of Borges’s story “Theme of the Traitor and the Hero,” and the film won critical acclaim at the Venice and New York film festivals of that year. Another film, “Performance,” directed by Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell and starring Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, was to turn Borges, rather improbably, into something of an icon for the cultural vanguard of ‘swinging London.’ The film paid homage to Borges in several ways – Mick Jagger is heard quoting from “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” and “The South,” twice Borges’s photograph appears on the jacket of his “Personal Anthology,” and at the very end, when Jagger is shot by the gangster played by James Fox, an image of Borges flashes on screen for a split second. “Performance,” moreover, owed its convoluted plot to some of Borges’s most compelling themes, such as the labyrinth, the double, and the enigma of personal identity, albeit weirdly transposed to a world of sex, drugs and rock and roll. The film, it must be said, was not to everyone’s taste; the critic of the New York Times, for one, attacked its ‘mindless pretension’ and complained that ‘even that great writer, Jorge Luis Borges, is dragged into the cesspool.’”

Mystery unraveled. It’s all Borges. Now I must admit I’m not widely read in Borges. A few of his stories crossed my desk over the years and I read them with pleasure, though I couldn’t cite a single title or theme today. When I read now that he was influenced by Kafka (among many others), I suspect that my extensive reading in Kafka may have given me a sated feeling when I encountered a Kafka-like writer, and so I didn’t venture further into Borges’ writing. At any rate, there’s a new author to read, and I’m ordering some of his works. Living in Miami, I’m more interested in Spanish-language writing than I used to be, so I hope I’m open to Borges now.

Monday, May 21, 2007

First post

I saw "Performance" soon after it came out in 1970. I was near the end of my summer in California, staying then in San Francisco, looking for a job and trying to have as much fun as possible before I turned 30. What a stunning movie. I probably saw it again right away. Then I got a job -- in Philadelphia. Soon I was there and telling my new friends about the amazing movie I'd seen in San Fran. And suddenly it was playing in Philadelphia, and we all got appropriately tuned up and saw it. Maybe again a few times, and then it wasn't playing at all.

We got the soundtrack album and played it until the grooves bled. A few years ago I got the soundtrack on CD, once left it on the voicemail of a friend who had seen it with me in Philadelphia. Otherwise, "Performance" the movie was pretty quiet in the 21st century.

Now it's back. That same friend who heard it on his voicemail, Michael Bein, found the DVD in Best Buy, and I happened to be in Madison last week to visit him and his family. We watched it, and once again were stunned at this most original movie.

And now I see that this blog title is available, and so here's the blog for "Performance" the movie.

Now, let's try to figure out what snippet of Jorge Luis Borges might have inspired it.