Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Performance, by William Hughes
1970, Tandem Books

Despite the rekindled interest in Performance, this novelization has been forgotten. The movie's finally on DVD, there are manifold books out there about the film and its production, and you can even buy Donald Cammell's script, but this novel by William Hughes has been out of print for 37 years.

The first thing to be said is that Hughes was obviously working off an early draft of Cammell's script, or at least the shooting script. There are many mysteries around the multiple edits of Performance, and they all can be answered by the script. Long story short, Cammell wrote a story in which a thug on the run spends a day with a shut-in rock star, ending with the thug having gained a new lease on and appreciation for life, but still going off to his death at the hands of the thugs he was running from. While shooting Cammell changed the script to the darker storyline we know, one in which the thug (Chas) not only meets his end, but the rock star shut-in (Turner) does as well. Despite changing this, Cammell still followed his script in that things followed a logical progression of events.

The first cut of the film was rejected by the executives, who abhorred the violence and nudity. Cammell went to LA and recut the film, taking out some of the violence and nudity, but replacing them with a quick-cut esthetic which if anything made the film more visceral and shocking. Most of the changes were made to the first half of the film, Chas on his daily errands. Whereas the script and the first cut of Performance (and this novelization) followed Chas step by step, this new cut was all over the place, cutting to and from scenes of destruction with fury. So, whenever you read something like, "The original, more shocking version of Performance has been lost," know that the first version was in no way more shocking than the version which has come down to us.

As for this novelization, first of all Hughes' prose is dry as the Sahara. No fancy literary tricks here. Just a straight-up rendering of Cammell's script. However Hughes explains many things that the film leaves unsaid. For one, he clearly points out that Chas and Joey share a past that was much more than just friendship; explanation for why the two have such a loathing for one another. This is something the film only hinted at. We also learn more about the inhabitants of Turner's lair; Pherber is an artist, and Lucy supports herself by doing modeling work around London. Noteable also is that the novelization features the character Mojo -- featured in early script drafts but not in the movie. Turner's assistant, he shows up for one brief scene in the novel to fix Turner's tape recorder, and it is to Mojo that Turner says what would have been a great line in the film: "I can't now, baby. I have an orgy on." (Colin MacCabe mentions this line in his BFI book Performance.)

It's in the second half of the novel that the differences become so apparent. First, Chas has his way with Pherber, which of course doesn't occur in the film. This has a major effect on his personality (something Hughes strains to convey, but has difficulty doing so), but doesn't make for a permanent change. Then the cops show up, looking for the drugs they know Turner has on the premises. Apparently this part of the script was a big part of the film's funding; the executives were nonplussed to discover Cammell ditched the entire subplot while filming. For muddled reasons (again, the novel does little to convey the symbiosis between Turner and Chas, though I'm sure this is more due to the film relying so much on visual impact and import) Turner takes the fall, afraid the cops will discover Chas and his gun rather than the drugs.

After a fight with Pherber, Chas retreats to his room, where he has his encounter with Lucy -- something which does happen in the movie, but under different circumstances. This makes for a permanent change to his character. Again, Hughes struggles to relay just HOW a brutal thug like Chas can so thoroughly change within a day, just from being with two hippie chicks. Hughes even has Chas question this himself. But no matter, it was the sixties; stuff like that just happened.

An important note is that in the novel (and early draft of the script) Chas doesn't kill Turner. Instead, upon Turner's return from jail the next dawn, the two of them share an awkward moment in which Chas thanks Turner for all of his help. So then we lose all of the moments that made the film so unique -- Chas being dressed up like a Hashishin, being prepared for the murder of Turner (however the "Chas on drugs" scene remains, only in the novel it's marijuana that does him in rather than mushrooms). This makes for a less effecting but happier ending. Instead of being shot in his bed, Turner instead watches Chas being driven off by Harry Flowers, and somehow knows the journey will be his last.

While this novelization is a great item to have for the Performance fan, I wouldn't recommend spending too much on it. The book is super-slim and the print is small, but it conveys none of the impact or mystique of Cammell and Roeg's film. Fans who want to read the story but don't want to search for this novelization are recommended Cammell's script, which was published a few years back.

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