Saturday, August 15, 2009

Performance addendum

I just finished reading this very illuminating and informative account of Performance, the 1971 film starring Mick Jagger and James Fox. I wrote a post on Performance two years ago, after seeing the film a second time, some 26 years after my first viewing. I was struck, on second view, by all the Orientalist hippy themes, the decor, the Hassan-i-Sabbah references, the Persian music in the soundtrack.

I learned a lot from this review, including the rather stunning fact that the highly-regarded film critic Colin MacCabe considers Performance the best British film ever made (in his 2008 book for BFI, Performance). And that the Moroccan style set for the interior of Turner's (Mike Jagger) house was designed by the collector and antique dealer Christopher Gibbs.

Read about him here, in this article in the New York Times, and you learn that in 2000 he had four residences, two of them in Morocco (one in Tangier).

Gibb's association with Jagger, and Morocco, goes way back, as an article on Rolling Stones locations tells us:

48 CHEYNE WALK, SW10 (London)

Mick Jagger bought this fashionable Queen Anne town house in May 1968 for £50,000 and hired designer Christopher Gibbs (see 98 Cheyne Walk) to redecorate the place.

Since visiting Morocco in 1958, Gibbs had been an enthusiast for all things Moroccan; arguably, it was Gibbs more than anyone who initiated the late-Sixties hippie craze for Morrocan art and culture (not least, hash). It was this same style that Gibbs introduced to Jagger’s new house, turning it into a “Moroccan bazaar” of drapes, pillows, ornate, painted furniture, brass lamps and fixtures. During the course of his work, Gibbs also came up with the title for the Stones' next album, Beggars Banquet. There was nothing beggarly about Gibbs’ redecoration, however, which cost Jagger a small fortune...

Reportedly, for all its quaint, cottage-like charm from the outside, once through the front door of the house, the ambience changed dramatically. The Gibbs-designed decor evoked the lush decadence of a Turkish harem or opium den (very similar, apparently, to the interior of the Jagger character’s house in the film Performance: see Lowndes Square). The blinds were kept closed, even during the day, the vast living room with its immense, Citizen Kane-style fireplace would usually be lit by just a single table lamp. Jagger liked to pad about the place in women’s slippers, wearing heavy Arabian kohl eye make-up and – when the mood took him - one of Faithful’s frocks.

The same source tells us this about Gibbs' own house:


Location of designer Christopher Gibbs’ sprawling, wood-panelled apartment – located just a few doors down from Mick Jagger’s. (NB. Another account gives Gibbs’ address as 96.)

Originally part of Lindsay House, built in 1645, Gibbs’ apartment was the epicentre of London’s bohemian Chelsea set during the 1960s. Lindsay House itself originally comprised nos 95-101 Cheyne Walk (impressionist painter James Whistler lived briefly at 101), but was split up into apartments in 1775.

Situated on the first floor, and boasting a splendid view of a lavish back garden and ancient mulberry tree (reputedly, England’s oldest), chez Gibbs was done out like a scene from the Arabian Nights, and wild all-night drug parties were frequent. “At every turn there were Moorish lanterns, leather camel saddles and jewel-like Persian carpets – all viewed through an acrid haze of burning incense,” wrote Christopher Andersen in Jagger Unauthorized. “Guests draped in caftans or Victorian lace luxuriated on huge embroidered cushions strewn about the floor.” Jagger, the Stones and Paul McCartney were regular visitors here, along with “the select pipe-dreamers of Sixties Chelsea: poets and mystics, artists and musicians, courtesans, hustlers and hangers-on.”

Cult director Michaelangelo Antonioni used Gibbs’ house as the setting for the famous party scene in his enigmatic Sixties thriller, Blow-Up.

Until I read the article on Performance earlier this morning, I knew nothing about Gibbs and his Moroccanist influence on the British rock aristocracy. I had thought that Brion Gysin was the main vector of influence (especially via Jajouka). It turns out that Gibbs was thick with the Tangier set, that included, of course, Jane and Paul Bowles, Brion Gysin and Mohamed Hamri. I've read a lot about Tangier and its illustrious and scandalous expats and foreign visitors, but hadn't known about Gibbs and his importance. This will set me off on even more research. But I need to finish that book. And now, I need to go to the Farmer's Market and buy some arugula (gargir in Egyptian Arabic).

Footnote: The same source that tells us about Jagger's and Gibbs' houses informs us that Anita Pallenberg, Keith Richards' girlfriend, who appeared in Performance, was enamored of filmmaker Kenneth Anger, and traveled to Cairo to shoot on location for Lucifer Rising. What I remember most of the Cairo scenes of Lucifer Rising, however, is Myriam Gibril, who plays Isis.

Myriam Gibril, it turns out, was the long-time lover of Donald Cammell, the co-director (with Nicholas Roeg) of Performance. Cammell appears as Osiris in Lucifer Rising. And Cammell has said that Kenneth Anger was “the major influence at the time I made Performance”, much of which is “directly attributable” to him.

And the Turner character in Performance is thought to be based on the actual life of the Rolling Stone Bryan Jones, who was so enamored with the Master Musicians of Jajouka.

God, another avenue, or avenues, for research.


Trinketization said...

hey, fun. We should do this together - my old neglected notes are

amonduulii said...

i'm a palestinian american and huge kenneth anger fan. I had once read that maryam gibril was of palestinian or lebanese descent. any idea if she is still around, or updated information about her history?

Ted Swedenburg said...

John, your notes are great. Let me finish my book first...

amonduulii--I really know nothing about Myriam Gibril. I've hunted (on Google), but found almost nothing. I think books on Cammell or Anger would be the place to find more info. If there is any.

Ted Swedenburg said...

Btw, this is a great video on the MTV legacy of Lucifer Rising:

Anonymous said...

If this is really her, she's alive and living in Paris, apparently:


RedcoMusic said...

Myriam is a long-lost friend of mine! Long time, no see.