Performance | 1970
That old art-movie chestnut, the personality swap, is made over by the dream teaming of Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell with such style and innovation that, alongside Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, this has to be one of the best British movies ever.
If you needed a demonstration of the massive cultural shift in the 1960s, you need only look at the films made around Notting Hill.
At the beginning of the decade, British cinema was just coming to terms with social realism and location filming. In 1962, Bryan Forbes’s The L-Shaped Room squeezed a microcosm of social ‘issues’ into a shabby West London boarding house: abortion, race, lesbianism, prostitution...
A year later saw down-at-heel loser Alfred Lynch getting drawn into a life of crime in Michael Winner’s downbeat West 11 (the area’s postcode). Both films are worthy slices of grainy, black-and-white social realism.
Five years later, this same house was the setting for Cammell and Roeg’s eye-popping melange of magic mushrooms, homoerotic gangsterism, rock decadence, gender fluidity and Jorge Luis Borges (always a good name to drop, eh?).
The directors stretched the language of cinema with fractured, cubist editing, and fluid visuals as a juryroom morphs into a porn cinema and a burned out rockstar into a gang boss.
Shot in 1968, the film was left on the shelf for two years by shell-shocked studio execs who had no idea what to make of it. I loved the movie. Along with Alain Resnais’ L’Année Dernière A Marienbad, it seemed to redefine the possibilities of cinema, but it remained pretty much a one-off in the UK. Only Ken Russell, it seemed, grasped the notion that Brit cinema could be more than earnest realism, English Heritage or Confessions of a Carry On.
Performance was one of the key movies which triggered off my fascination with film locations. When I first moved to London, I was determined to track down the rather sinister retreat of Turner Purple (Mick Jagger). The address is clearly given in the film as ‘81 Powis Square’. And although there is a Powis Square in Notting Hill, there's no 81.
It won't take you long to figure out that the house is 25 Powis Square, at the corner of Talbot Road. The neighbourhood has moved seriously upmarket since the 60s. The derelict area in front of the house is now fenced and manicured into a playground and you’re unlikely to find magic mushrooms on the doorstep.
The interiors, though you’d hardly guess, were filmed in the much posher 23 Lowndes Square, SW1, in Knightsbridge.
Queen’s Gate Mews, running between Queen’s Gate and Gloucester Road, is where the unfortunate chauffeur gets his head shaved. The Mews was later (real) home to director Guy Ritchie, and is featured in Layer Cake.
The buffet of Kensington Olympia Station stands in for ‘Paddington Station’, where on-the-lam gangster Chas (James Fox) overhears that there’s a basement flat vacant in Powis Square.
Directly opposite Chelsea FC's Stamford Bridge ground and the new Chelsea Village complex on Fulham Road is hair salon Brazilian Look, 469 Fulham Road, which was the betting office of Joey Maddocks (Anthony Valentine), smashed up by Chas.
Just north of Wandsworth Town Station on Old York Road, is the phone box from which Chas phones his one-time boss Harry Flowers (Johnny Shannon) for help after the killing of bookie Joey. This is close to the underpass where the tramp is attacked in A Clockwork Orange, by the way.
Crime seems to pay handsomely for gangster boss Harry Flowers, who’s doing pretty well for himself with a very upmarket office in the heart of Mayfair. It’s 115 Mount Street, Mayfair, W1, which currently houses the Goedhuis Art Gallery.