The 100 best British films

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Time Out counts down the best British films, as chosen by the film industry

By Dave Calhoun, Tom Huddleston and David Jenkins, with Derek Adams, Geoff Andrew, Adam Lee Davies, Gareth Evans, Paul Fairclough and Wally Hammond. Explore the individual top tens of every contributor.

7

Performance (1970)

Dirs Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell (James Fox, Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg)

You gentlemen all work for me

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at the first screening of ‘Performance’ for Warner Bros executives. Expecting a jolly, Beatles-esque musical romp starring those loveable rogues The Rolling Stones, they were subjected to 105 minutes of graphic gangland violence, explicit three-way sex, celebratory drug taking and Mick Jagger in a dress. Dismissed on release as incoherent and indulgent (LA Times critic Richard Schickel described it as ‘the most worthless film I have seen’), ‘Performance’ has grown in stature and influence, culminating in its top ten appearance here, a leap of 41 places since the BFI’s similar list in 1999.

So why is a film which should, by rights, be too dated to watch still gaining traction well into its fourth decade? The sex ’n’ drugs ’n’ rock ’n’ roll aspects don’t hurt, but there’s more to it. Perhaps it’s simply that ‘Performance’ is the most perfect example of imperfection, a ragged, uncontrolled miasma of disparate influences and conflicting ideas, genres and even directors battling for dominance.

But where most superficially similar works of consciousness-expanding ’60s experimentalism are now embarrassing, ‘Performance’ manages to remain confrontational, exhilarating and relevant. True, there’s the odd awkward moment, and the depiction of women leaves something to be desired. But as the story fragments along with James Fox’s consciousness, as Jagger pouts and struts like the world’s sexiest junkie ostrich, as the visuals become more berserk and hallucinatory, you can almost hear Roeg and Cammell rubbing their hands together and chuckling at the sheer, mindblowing intensity and uniqueness of this monster they’ve somehow managed to create. TH

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