Performance: Anita Pallenberg talks about the notorious Sixties film
By Chris Sullivan
Published: 16 March 2007
At the centre of international counter culture for the last 40 years, Anita Pallenberg co-starred in two of the most stylish and influential films - Barbarella and Performance. She came to the attention of the British public as the girlfriend of the Rolling Stone Brian Jones, whom she left for Keith Richards - the father of her two children, Marlon, now 37 and Angela, now 35.
"But I'd been around a lot before I met any of the Rolling Stones," says Pallenberg, in her beautiful, wood-panelled, apartment overlooking Chelsea Embankment. "I was in Rome in 1960 just as La Dolce Vita was happening and met [Federico] Fellini, Alberto Moravia, [Luchino] Visconti and [Paolo] Pasolini. Then I went to model in New York in 1963 and hung out with Andy Warhol and all the Pop artists, and met the Beat poets. And then I went to Paris." On a modelling assignment in the French capital, Pallenberg secured a part in director Volker Schlöndorff's new film, A Degree of Murder.There she met Donald Cammell, the writer and director of Performance.
The film, which is released this week for the first time in the UK on DVD, is the tale of Chas (James Fox), a sadistic, sharp-suited London gangland enforcer who, by killing one of his own, falls foul of the boss Harry Flowers (Johnny Shannon) and hides out in the home of the reclusive rock star Turner (Mick Jagger). And as Chas is sucked into Turner's world of Eastern mysticism and Western debauchery, he is plied with hallucinogenic mushrooms, accepts the advances of Turner and his sexually insatiable inamoratas - the stunning Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and the androgynous Lucy (Michèle Breton) - and loses the plot.
Praised by Martin Scorsese, Bernardo Bertolucci and Stanley Kubrick, Performance is held in high esteem as one of the great British gangster flicks. The film-makers based Harry Flowers on Ronnie Kray. "David Litvinoff [who Marianne Faithfull once described as 'a genuine Mob boss'] was a great friend of Ronnie Kray and was given the title of dialogue consultant on the film," recalls Pallenberg. "But, really, he was Donald and co-director Nicolas Roeg's passport into the underworld. He knew them and took James Fox around London to meet the real guys."
Performance managed not only to accurately depict the archetypal Sixties hoodlum but also captured the avant-garde bohemianism of the era. "I guess Turner was based on Brian Jones to a certain extent," says Pallenberg, who often entertained the star-struck Cammell at the house she shared with Jones between 1965 and 1967. "Donald was part of that thing when English intellectuals mixed with rock stars and discussed Eastern mysticism, sat on exotic rugs, burnt incense and smoked hash."
Besotted with the Stones, Cammell engaged the services of Mick Jagger and sold the film as caper movie that would capture "swinging London" and allow Warner Brothers to break into the coveted teen market. He pulled in Pallenberg to replace Tuesday Weld, who had broken her neck, and started shooting exterior shots at 25 Powis Square and interiors at 15 Lowndes Square, Knightsbridge in the late summer of 1968.
"It was an absolute nightmare," recalls Pallenberg. "Donald was a real prima donna - going into fits of fury, screaming, shouting and trying to put all of these mad, deviant, perverted sexual scenarios into the movie. Nic Roeg would spend seven hours lighting one shot. We'd sit huddled together in the basement, shivering, getting stoned and waiting for scenes that we would eventually do maybe 28 times. It was all very, very messy."
Adding to Pallenberg's discomfort was the understandably miffed Keith Richards who had to watch his significant other jump out of his bed and into Jagger's. "I hated it," admits Pallenberg. "At night I would go home and Keith would be slagging off Donald and the movie."
Some of the scenes, encouraged by the salacious director, were so explicit that the processing lab called to say that they breached obscenity laws and that they were obliged to destroy them.
"It was like a porno shoot, and Donald loved it," recalls the actress. "At one point I spent a week in bed with Michèle and Mick. There was a camera under the sheets and there was all kinds of sex going on but I put it down to method acting." But when asked, categorically, if sexual congress did actually occur Pallenberg is unequivocal. "No, it never did. I was a one-man girl at the time and Keith was the man for me. I loved him. And anyway, Jagger was the last guy I would have done that with."
While the three cavorted, Cammell courted chaos, encouraging Pallenberg to do her worst. "Donald used my character to make the rest feel ill at ease," she recalls. "I'd tease James, telling him I'd spiced his coffee with LSD. It was not harmonious. And that was what Donald wanted - pandemonium and paranoia." Such shenanigans have been blamed for Breton never acting again, Fox abandoning his craft for the next decade in favour of Christian vocational work, and Cammell's dramatic suicide in 1997. But Pallenberg is not convinced. "The roots of all that were there before," she says, dismissively.
When the finished cut was screened in Los Angeles it caused one of the Warner executives' wives to throw up, didn't feature Jagger until halfway through and, instead of being the groovy London pop-meets-wisecracking gangland feature that Warner expected, was a homoerotic, sadomasochistic, sexually fuelled, venomous and violent London gangster flick. And so they demanded a re-edit. The resulting reworking of the film, overseen by Cammell (Roeg had gone to Australia to do Walkabout) and performed by Frank Mazzola (a former gang member who showed James Dean exactly how to wield a switchblade in Rebel Without a Cause), employed a series of rapid cuts that, designed to lose much of the offending sex, drugs and violence, gave the film its breakneck pace, upped the tension and revolutionised the art of film-making.
"The movie signalled the end of the hippie era and the end of innocence," asserts Pallenberg. "It was as if the James Fox character personified all these exterior forces that polluted this rather naive world, and things were never quite the same again." Although the film led to other roles, by 1976 Pallenberg had lost interest, as her drug and alcohol abuse spiralled.
But, of late, she has seen her acting career blossom once again. Scheduled for release later this year is the cult director Harmony Korine's eagerly anticipated Mister Lonely, in which she co-stars as the queen of England, while this month she is back in Cinecitta studios in Rome acting in Abel Ferrara's Go Go Tales, starring Willem Dafoe, Bob Hoskins, Matthew Modine and Asia Argento. "I've often been in the right place at the right time," chuckles Pallenberg. "I guess it's a knack."
'Performance' is available now on Warner Home Video; 'Mister Lonely' opens later this year.
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