Young gangster Chas Devlin seeks refuge from the mob in a basement belonging to a reclusive, fading rock star Turner.
Co-director Nicolas Roeg’s gender-bending film (his directorial debut film) was criticized as sleazy and worthless for its homoerotic violence, explicit sex and nudity when first released. The dark, psychedelic and violent avante-garde psychological melodrama was about the blurring of sexual identities.
It was a wild and drug-filled psychedelic, originally an X-rated cult film kept out of circulation for two years after production until edited down.
The opening title credits sequence was disjointed and disorienting: views of a screeching Lockheed fighter jet in the air, a black Mercedes driving down a country highway, and two naked heterosexual bodies making love (“confirmed bachelor” and East London hit-man gangster Chas Devlin (James Fox) and cabaret nightclub singer Dana (Ann Sidney)).
The non-linear film starred Stones’ singer Mick Jagger as Turner – a reclusive, androgynous (described later as “a man, male and female man”) washed-up hippie ex-pop-star in a decaying London (Notting Hill) mansion with his two groupie lovemates:
Pherber (Anita Pallenberg), a poly-amorous blonde junkie girlfriend
Lucy (small-breasted Michèle Breton), Pherber’s young, androgynous French girl lover; later in the film while making love to Chas, she admitted that she was boyish – she had “small titties,” was “a bit underdeveloped” and was “skinny like a little boy or something”
In the film’s most erotic scene, Pherber lay down on a bed while talking to London hit-man (or ‘performer’) gangster Chas (James Fox) and stroked/fondled her fur coat covering her otherwise naked crotch. At one point, she injected her bare bottom with what she claimed was Vitamin B-12 (although it was probably heroin).
One of the film’s most publicized scenes was the shared menage-a-trois bath scene among them.
In a scene of shifting sexual identities, there was the merging of personalities and sexual characteristics by the use of mirrors and costuming. Pherber and Turner cross-dressed Chas up in effeminate clothing (and an androgynous curly wig) to give him a “female feel.”
Pherber: “Do you like my physique?…I’ve got two angles. One male and one female. Just like a triangle, see? Did you notice?… Did you never have a female feel?”
As she asked the question, she mirror-reflected or super-imposed one of her breasts onto Chas’ chest – causing Chas to lose his sense of manliness. He objected to her characterization:
Chas: “I feel like a man, a man all the time.”
Pherber (reflecting her face onto his): “That’s awful. That’s what’s wrong with you, isn’t it?…A man’s man’s world.”
He claimed that he was “normal” and that nothing was wrong with him (“There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m normal”). She laughed, and then reflected his face onto hers: (“How do you think Turner feels like, huh?”), but he thought Turner was “weird” and that she was both “weird” and “kinky.” She asserted that Turner was “a man, male and female man. He continued to negate what she was saying about him having a female side:
“I said I’m not one of those….You’re sick. You… You… You degenerate. You’re perverted.”
By film’s end, there was a merging of the personas of Chas and Turner; the transformation occurred after Chas took out his gun and shot Turner in the head, as Pherber screamed next to him in bed; there was a dramatic bullet’s-eye zoom-in shot as the fatal bullet penetrated and tunneled into Turner’s brain – the bullet shattered a photograph of Jorge Luis Borges and then emerged into the outside street, where Chas was walking (first seen from a rear view) toward a parked car.
After he had left a note for Pherber (“Gone to Persia – Chas”), Chas entered the back seat of the mob boss’ white Rolls Royce, where he was greeted: “Hello, Chas.” As the car sped off, a zoom-in through the car window revealed that Chas had been stunningly “transformed” into his doppelganger – Turner.
Tags: Anita Pallenberg, Ann Sidney, Anthony Valentine, Free movies 1970, James Fox, John Bindon, Johnny Shannon, Kenneth Colley, Michèle Breton, Mick Jagger, Performance, Performance Online, Stanley Meadows