Chris Sullivan talks to Sixties icon Anita Pallenberg about the end of an era and the creation of an iconic movie, Performance...
Forty years ago, Performance caused an uproar at its London premiere... ”This film is about the perverted love affair between Homo Sapiens and Lady Violence,” read a telegram sent by the film's director Donald Cammell and star Mick Jagger to Warner Bros. chairman Ted Ashley in 1970. "It is necessarily horrifying, paradoxical, absurd. To make such a film means accepting that the subject is loaded with every taboo in the book."
Ashley had been anticipating watching a light-hearted romp starring The Rolling Stones - a fan-friendly riposte to The Beatles' Help! - instead he got a twisted and violent gangster film which featured oodles of drug use and group sex. It tells the story of a sharp-suited gangland heavy (James Fox) who falls foul of his boss and hides out in the freaky townhouse of ex-rock star Turner (Jagger) and his sexual playthings - the evil Pherber (Anita Pallenberg, the then Mrs Keith Richards) and the androgynous Lucy (Michele Breton).
It is a film that screws with your head, dallies with your uncertainties and is totally deserving of its cult status.
Donald Cammel's father was a writer who wrote books about Lord Byron, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Aleister Crowley...
"Yes, he was really well read and was into all those things. It was said he sat on [infamous dark arts practitioner] Crowley’s knee. There was a thing at the time where the rock stars were mixing with these English intellectuals and some befriended them and others didn’t. Keith [Richards] was sneering from the start while Donald blabbered in his face for hours."
Were there a lot of gangsters mixing in these circles?
"Not really - it was more artistic - photographers, musicians, painters. There was a huge rift between the Beatles and the Stones. I was with the arty camp."
"There was a lot of posing going on. It was quite a lively scene."
What was the scene like at the time?
"Well we used to go to Granny Takes A Trip and they’d give me clothing and I’d hang out the back room smoking a lot of dope and then we’d go to Alvaro’s, which is now La Famiglia, and sit at a table and show off and hardly eat anything. There was a lot of posing going on. We’d go to the Ad Lib club in Leicester Place and hang out and see Peter Cook and all those guys. It was quite a lively scene."
You do seem to have been around in all the right places at all the right times...
"Oh yes. I was well travelled before I met the Stones. I was lucky to be around in Rome in 1960 just as La Dolce Vita and all that was happening and met Fellini, Alberto Moravia, Visconti, Pasolini and all those guys. Then I was in Paris and met Luis Bunuel and François Truffaut in the early 60s when the French New Wave was in full swing. And I then went to New York with my boyfriend and hung out with all the pop artists - this was all before I met the Stones. I also hung out with Terry Southern, the screenwriter for Easy Rider. So I was around a lot."
Performance does seem to say goodbye to the hippy days and hello to a new rather more cynical era...
"Yes. It did."
Was the film an accurate portrayal of the times?
"I never saw the rushes, so for me it was my daily life - three people in a bath. I was working every day. Both the Stones and I were at our busiest. I did Barbarella with Roger Vadim and Jane Fonda and then the Volker Schlondorff movie, Man on Horseback that went to Cannes and all in the same year. I was in a working mode as everyone else was dropping out and doing his or her hippy thing. For me, the movie was the end of innocence. It was as if the James Fox character introduced another element into something that was on the way out."
He really got the London gangster thing down and then he did the acid casualty really well. Was he really out of it?
"No he's just a great actor."
What was your brief for the role?
"To be Pherber. I made up my own lines and was given a free rein. We didn’t have trailers liked they have today .We were all huddled in a small basement together waiting for our scenes. [James' actor father] Robin Fox got upset about all the homoerotic scenes between Mick and James, so they cut those. At the time, I thought it was just re-enacting Donald’s fantasies"
Was it hard work?
"Very hard work. It was a really small set and we were right on top of each other, sometimes quite literally all in these little rooms. One time, I spent a week in bed with Mick while Donald was under the sheets with his 16mm camera - although none of it was shown in the final film. There was all kinds of sex going on but I put it down to method acting. It was quite severe - like a porn shoot and Donald loved it. I can still see Donald’s happy smiling face emerging from beneath the sheets asking, ‘How was it for you?’"
Having at one time been with Brian Jones, you were now doing sex scenes with Mick Jagger. What did Keith Richards say?
"We never talked about it. It was a typical British scenario. Never ever. People used to say I was A Stones groupie but I was a one-man girl. I loved Keith and he was the man for me. No one else. Jagger was certainly not my type."
Did you realise how influential the movie would be?
"No because that was our life. It was matter of fact."
Performance is available to buy on DVD.
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