Performance, 1968 film by Nicholas Roeg & Donald Cammell

A critique by Alice Gebura

Cecil Beaton, Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg on the set of Performance, October 1968. ©The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s

Running from his mob boss and the law, sadistic thug Chas falls down a rabbit hole, Alice in Wonderland style. His exit from a seedy and gratuitously violent world into a psychedelic and gratuitously sexual one projects two fantasy experiences for the adolescent male. As such Performance is a typical film pandering to the male gender. It’s a man’s man-world with lots of creative torture on the streets. The two women who inhabit the wonderland mansion serve up sex fantasies in the favored prototypes blonde bombshell and pubescent nymph. Pherber, the blonde, also tends to Chas’ wounds. How convenient when your sex priestess is also a mother figure, at the ready to kiss your boo-boos. The au courant counter culture embellishments that gave the film its cache can’t disguise its underlying service to the hormonally-driven male persona. 

I suppose it’s admirable that the actors were so dedicated to their “deep-method” craft.  They say James Fox spent time with real London criminals to perfect his character. Too bad the film didn’t otherwise extend its authenticity. Since when does Uncle Mobster read Borges? Performance tries to be Warhol Factory cool but the sanitized bodies, all glamour and no grit, are more in the spirit of Playboy Magazine. Also, those were not psilocybin mushrooms. The red aminita muscaria will kill you within 48 hours.

The duality-themed reveal when Turner and Chas reverse identities is foreshadowed with mirror shots and pretentious dialog.

“The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way is the one that achieves madness.”

[Guffaws in the room]

Lots of food for Freudian analysis, I suppose. What a nightmare for some poor schmuck psychiatrist. Performance is a postmodernist journey into the male psyche on a quest to aggrandize its ordinary propensities.  As a female viewer I experienced it as a singularly effective sleeping pill.

via GIPHY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While enjoying Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite I was reminded, surprisingly, of Kiss Me Deadly – a brutal noir from 1955 shot on location in Los Angeles.  In Parasite, Ho uses elevations as a metaphor throughout the film: from a subterranean shelter to a high-ground wealthy enclave reigning over a below-the -sewer-line slum. The protagonists move up and down in a vertical world that mimics their aspirations as well as their attempts at survival.

               Kiss Me Deadly also sets up a vertical world. Dana Polan noted, “The hard-boiled detective is a cartographer, who finds that the spaces of the city are not random but are traversed by networks of class, power and privilege.”  In Kiss Me Deadly the networks negotiated by Mike Hammer are signified by various stages of decay or luxury: a marble floor in an upscale art gallery or classical statuary flanking slate steps contrast with cracked wall plaster lit by a single light bulb in the ceiling. 

A prominent architectural feature throughout is the staircase.  Sixteen distinct stairways, interior and exterior, are seen in Kiss Me Deadly.   Staircases exploit all the spatial characteristics of cinematic space (landscape within a frame): width, height, depth, elevation, and density.  In Kiss Me Deadly, they run the gamut from the softly curved concrete steps that lead from hospital to street, to the worn-out wooden stairs that crisscross the façade of a boarding house to narrow, interior stairways deep in shadow.  They are stylish, softly curved, physically taxing, steep and dangerous, dark and sinister.  They go up, down, across, and reverse direction.  Where a staircase begins and ends is rarely visible.  For example, the stairs at the base of 121 Flower Street are hidden by shrubs.  In the cheap hotel where Lily Carver lives, camera work suggests the deeply shadowed, turning staircase leads to an infinite abyss. 

 

 

 

The first staircase we encounter is a treacherous set of multi-story concrete steps leading out of an alley down which Hammer throws an assailant. That perilous tumble foreshadows Hammer’s own downfall and the implied fall of humankind building throughout the film.

Staircases are a metaphor for the twists and turns in Hammer’s quest, the physical and psychological spaces that must be navigated from one witness or clue to another.  The physical attributes of each staircase match, of course, the social status of its location.  More importantly, as David Hockney noted, “The way we depict space is connected to the way we behave in it.”  Staircases become locations for controlled and intentional action vs. uncontrolled actions based on fear and panic.   Camera work and lighting intensify these experiences. The dangerous stairways that stitch together Hammer’s movements across Los Angeles are metaphorical conduits through a psychic landscape in hell. Human life emerged from the sea and so the cycle closes there as a nuclear fire sends Hammer and Velda down the rickety steps of a criminal hideaway and into the surf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kiss Me Deadly Inventory of Stairs

Cue Description Int/Ext Notes theme
27:40
 
Hammer throws his assailant down steep concrete stairs that descend from an alley EXTERIOR
Height
Night, deep contrast, shadowy, almost infinite, spiked posts Urban squalor, danger
28:11 Ray Diker’s boarding house – the beginning of the steps are hidden by shrubs, wooden steps emerge EXTERIOR
Traversing across
The stairs twist around and up in one direction, then reverse direction, ornate but the paint is old and rough  Genteel
urban decay
31:20 Cristina’s apartment building, beautiful white, carved balusters and a dark rail  

INTERIOR

Depth

Deeply shadowed by overhead landing Genteel middle class
33:01 Short set of brick steps to the street, full view of Victorian façade EXTERIOR    
33:40 The stairs between storefronts (Aldezma shoe repair) are straight up, steep  and narrow, leading to Lily Carver’s decrepit apt. INTERIOR
Height
shot from above we see Hammer’s shadow grow larger, the staircase turns 3 times with 2 landings Poverty and crime, sinister
45:47 Camera follows black man descending wooden stairs to the street as Hammer ascends INTERIOR
vertical transition
transition into a boxing gym Violence as a vocation
51:00 Slate and stone stairs to Evello house, flanked by statuary EXTERIOR decorative Upper class, pretentious
52:37

 

Stone staircase from back of house to pool, wrought iron railing EXTERIOR
vertical transition
decorative Upper class, fashionable
55:28 We see the curved staircase inside Evello’s mansion INTERIOR decorative Money for luxury
56:00 Hammer parks his car underneath Angels Flight, twin concrete stairs lead up to Hillcrest Hotel EXTERIOR
height
trashy Urban decay
56:51 Inside staircase of Hillcrest Hotel, painted, simple balusters INTERIOR
vertical transition
Functional but not fashionable or modern Cheap construction
1:00:06 Back to the stairs at Lily’s apartment, views through bannisters and landings INTERIOR
height
creepy, twisting Poverty and crime, sinister
1:00:55 Overhead shot as Hammer descends Lily’s apt. stairs to street INTERIOR
height
Surreal camera work menace
1:01:07 Shot looking up as Lily descends those stairs INTERIOR
height
The shot reverses 3 times vertigo
1:14:51 Beach house stairs – wooden, utilitarian, no balusters, unfinished unpainted EXTERIOR
height
Rickety, unsafe Criminal hideout
1:26:25 Behind Hammer we see a modern staircase at Hollywood Athletic Club INTERIOR
height
Mid-century modern Upscale modern, members only
1:29:05 Short set of concrete steps under an awning of the Athletic Club lead to the street EXTERIOR
transition
The protective awning ushers members in and out of the club privilege
1:33:47

Back to the stairs of Flower Street

 

EXTERIOR

The stairs twist around and up in one direction, then reverse direction, ornate but the paint is old and rough 

Genteel urban decay

1:36:20 The stairs of Mist Modern Art Gallery

INTERIOR

Stairs not shown, we see only Hammer’s movements upward and the fantastic modern art

For the wealthy consumer

1:44:44 Stairs inside the beach house lead to an exit

INTERIOR

back lit by nuclear fire

 

Extreme mortal danger

Final scene

Hammer and Velda struggle down the wooden stairs of the beach house

 

EXTERIOR

Armageddon

the culmination of greed, violence, lust for power

On Location in Los Angeles

Hammer’s investigation takes him to the Bunker Hill area of Los Angeles, a turn-of-the-century prosperous neighborhood that had devolved into a slum of rooming houses by 1940. In the 1960s urban renewal razed Bunker Hill and rebuilt it as a civic area. The Los Angeles Times has an excellent timeline with photos here.

Bunker Hill in 1901. By 1955 most houses had become rental units for immigrants.

Bunker Hill today.

 

 

 

Copyright 2020 Alice Gebura All Rights Reserved

Cinematic stills are copyrighted by their respective owners.

22. August 2019 · Comments Off on 4 Friends | 4 Photographers | 4 Ways of Seeing  · Categories: Photography

 Alice, Lynsey, Barry, & Fred visit the Peace Garden & Roberts Bird Sanctuary at Lake Harriet. All of us met taking photography classes taught by Xavier Tavera at the UMN. This was our first excursion that was NOT a class assignment – we just got together to visit and take photos as the spirit moved. It was great to hang out  while drifting about looking for photographic inspiration.  Photo sets appear in the order in which I received them!   

Alice

 

Lynsey

 

Barry

 

Fred

The Guthrie Theater hosted the 2017 New Griots Festival at its Dowling Stage for 10 days of inspiring performances and free community workshops.  The festival, a presentation by emerging black artists in the Twin Cities, is the brain child of Jamil Jude and Josh Wilder.  I photographed some of the workshops and rehearsals. It was deeply satisfying to watch the audience sizes growing as word got around that this was the place to be to see amazing talent with both breadth and depth.

Photos Copyright 2017 Alice Gebura All Rights Reserved

 

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09. June 2017 · Comments Off on Merce Cunningham: Field Dances · Categories: Dance, Photography · Tags: , , ,

The Walker Art Center hired me to photograph Merce Cunningham’s Field Dances. The Dances are based on the movements of children he observed at a playground.    At the Walker Art Center I photographed the workshop where volunteers were taught five interactive movements and then joined by a corps of professional dancers to perform the piece.

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Visions of Sugarplums is a burlesque parody of our traditional Nutcracker ballet, joining the catalog that includes Mark Morris’ The Cracked Nut and Myron Johnson’s Nutcracker Not So Suite.  Sugarplums  is a hoot with lots of talent, great costumes and music.

In 2014 I photographed the dress rehearsal for the Sugarplum’s inaugural run at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis.  This year I photographed the dress rehearsal and one of the performances for the 2016 show, this time running at the Lab Theater in Minneapolis. In the following compilation of images you might notice how different lighting and textures are created in the two theaters.

All images Copyright Alice Gebura All Rights Reserved

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Belly Dance Costume

Model: Vie Boheme, Photo by Alice Gebura

Handcrafted dance costume by Shadia Costume Design of Boston

This is an exquisite work of art suitable for professional dancers and performing artists.  Truly, you get what you pay for and this costume is for dancers who are deeply serious about their art. Every detail is handcrafted with only the finest materials for beauty and durability by Shadia Costume Design of Boston.  Valued at $1,100, asking $949.

Style

Middle Eastern, Bellydance, Harem

Description

Gold lame base skirt,  overskirt, top,  belt, and wristbands constructed from fabric  purchased in India that features gold, silver and turquoise embroidery outlined with gold sequins.  Embellished with Swarovski crystals and beaded looping.  Sturdy construction.

Condition: new, never worn

Measurements

Under bust length of bra: 37 inches

Size of cups: 36C and has lots of padding

Skirts are A-line in shape and are meant to rest on the hips.

Overskirt has elastic band that is 31 inches unstretched, stretches to 48 inches, length of skirt from top to bottom of hem: 36 inches

Gold base skirt has double knit band that is 32 inches unstretched, stretches to 39 inches, length of skirt from top to bottom of hem: 36 inches

Belt length is 39 inches, snaps and hooks can be moved if needed

 

Price

$949

To purchase, please contact the owner Alice Gebura at 651-224-4539

 

2310

Model: Vie Boheme, Photo by Alice Gebura

2312top

Model: Vie Boheme, Photo by Alice Gebura

detail

Detailing on belt, close-up of embroidered fabric

wristbands

Close-up of wrist bands. Model: Vie Boheme, Photo by Alice Gebura

13. February 2016 · Comments Off on Re-Imagining the Background of a Studio Portrait · Categories: Photography, Portrait · Tags: ,

Studio portraits are great because I can control the lighting and other factors in the environment to create a high-quality image.  But they can be a bit boring with the same old backdrop. I enjoy using Photoshop to create an alternate background.  First there’s the technical challenge of making a clean mask. How this goes depends on the clarity of the edges.  Elements such as flying hair are time consuming.  Then, once I have an idea for the background, I have to figure out how it’s going to work in terms of light, color, perspective, and blending.   All photos Copyright 2016 Alice Gebura All Rights Reserved.

Cara Seymour

Cara Seymour, 2015 Lois Greenfield Workshop

Cara Seymour

Replaced the wall and floor with a soft background and figure shadow

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Anton LaMon and Kelly Vittetoe, Photo shoot at the Tek Box, Cowles Center for Dance

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Sunset and water. Bi-colored filter on the dancers to blend the tonality.

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Anton LaMon and Kelly Vittetoe, Photo shoot at the Tek Box, Cowles Center for Dance

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Hue, saturation, and exposure applied to background fabric from another photo. Created a mirror floor.