Mixing a grimy underworld tale of aggravators and Jack-the-lads with the hedonistic darker side of the 1960s trip, Performance is a British masterpiece with few peers. Although the film was held up for release by its aghast studio until 1970, it’s now 50 years since directors Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg shot it on the streets of a post-swinging London, with one of the most enduring icons of that time – Mick Jagger – making his acting debut.
At first, Performance plunges us into the violent day-to-day life of hard-man gangster Chas (James Fox) as he puts the frighteners on London’s businesses for his boss, Harry Flowers (Johnny Shannon). They fall out, leaving Chas on the run for his life, and he ends up hiding out in the house of a rundown pop star, Turner (Jagger). Along with his lovers, Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michèle Breton), Turner begins to play with Chas’s identity, using a variety of drugs and psychological games until identity and reality itself begin to collapse.
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In its uniquely fractured, heady style, the film captures London in a very particular moment, exploring that surreal 60s atmosphere made up of glamour, spiritualism, violence and a new licentiousness around sex and drugs. Roeg’s camera roams several different parts of the capital, following Fox’s character on the run through dirty, empty streets before settling as Chas is holed up in one, now iconic, bohemian location.
The result is one of the great films about the city, and exploring its locations shows the dramatic changes that have occurred in the decades since passed.
Although Performance is very much a London film, it begins and ends with various shots of the Surrey countryside. After the opening images of a jet plane, a car is seen from above driving eventually towards a pub. Though the countryside and roads used are largely nondescript, the pub where this car stops is The Black Swan, a few miles north of Effingham Junction. The pub is still open today, although you can no longer drive right in front of it. These country roads also feature in the film’s end credits.
As the characters are isolated in one house for the film’s second half, most of Performance’s London locations are found in the early part of the film. My first stop was in Old York Road, Wandsworth. It’s here that Chas, now on the run from Flowers, phones his relatives for help. The railway bridge seen is at Wandsworth Town Station and, though dramatically changed since, there’s still a telephone box here – just not the classic red booth that Chas uses.
Next, I took a train north of the river to the borough of Kensington. My first stop here was at 469 Fulham Road. This is where Joey Maddocks (Anthony Valentine) had his betting shop, just past Stamford Bridge football ground. The shop is now a Brazilian hair salon, though the layout of its frontage is exactly as it was.
Making my way further inland, my next stop was in South Kensington. Next to the Natural History Museum is Queen’s Gate Mews, where a number of scenes were shot. This is where Chas and his cohorts destroy the lawyer’s car and shave his chauffeur’s hair off. The street is still recognisable, even if the general layout of the buildings has changed. As Moody (John Bindon) suggests: “Hair today, gone tomorrow.”
Exploring the area further, I hopped on the train to Kensington Olympia. It’s here that Chas overhears about the room in Notting Hill Gate from the musician travelling to Liverpool. Chas can be seen sitting in a café at the station overlooking Russell Road. There’s a new development between the station and the road now, so the view is dramatically different. The café has also gone.
From here, I wandered further into central London, where there are a number of Performance locations. I initially believed Chas’s flat to be at Park West Place, although it turned out later that the flats used are actually in Latymer Court in Hammersmith (When I made a trip here later, I was sadly stopped from taking any photos by security, as the building is now a private estate).
Perhaps the most difficult location to source was the garage depot where this car journey ends. In the film, the garage is called Portland Cars, so I assumed I’d find it near Portland Place. However, on obtaining some original documentation from the film’s production, it turned out that the garage was actually Victor Britain’s Garage on Headfort Place near Buckingham Palace.
On visiting, it became clear that the building had been flattened. All was not lost though. I chatted with the builders working on the building opposite, who suggested that garage doors to the front still lead down into a private garage, with the exterior of the building opposite showing how it would have looked back then. Satellite images on Google Earth show that the open courtyard seen at the end of the ramp has now been turned into a garden.
Next I ventured to Holborn. Here, in 57/58 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, is where Chas and his men intimidate their cohort on trial and his lawyer. The scene was shot at night, so it’s difficult to gauge, but the exterior of the building is recognisable.
Keeping with the theme of law, I then walked a little further south to Temple. The Inner Temple Gardens is where the lawyer is first seen in a short, fragmented car journey to the courtroom early on in the film. There’s still a car park here, and the scene remains little changed.
Finally, I wanted to find Harry Flowers’ pad, so I wandered back into Mayfair and on to Mount Street. Number 115 can be seen in the film, with Flowers’ office on the second floor. The building is now the Goyard shop, selling luxury suitcases.
Evocative, and still marvellously intact, 25 Powis Square in Notting Hill was used for the exteriors of Turner’s mansion. Set behind Portobello Road, not far from the locations later used for Notting Hill (1999), the square is as close to the visual world of Performance as is possible to find today. In the years when the film was shot here, 80 Powis Square, as it’s named in Performance, was far from the affluent, polished Notting Hill location that it is now. Its bohemian dereliction made it the perfect place for a down-on-his-luck musician to retire into seclusion.
Performance includes a handful of shots of the square. We first see it once Chas has overheard that the room in Turner’s house is available. We see him wandering slowly down the road, with his red hair and blue trench coat, as Ry Cooder’s rendition of the blues standard ‘Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground’ plays over the soundtrack.
Once inside the house, we see little of the exterior again until Flowers’ mob tracks Chas down. Aptly, nothing is as it seems, however, as the interiors for 80 Powis Square were actually shot at the far more upmarket 23 Lowndes Square in Knightsbridge. The spaces overlap as easily as a gangster turning into a pop star. Or vice versa.