Made at the height of the Psychedelic Sixties, cinematographer Nicholas Roeg’s extraordinary directorial debut, co-helmed by Donald Cammell, is a wild, hallucinatory psychological melodrama that ranks among the most complex and compelling visual mosaics of the decade. Mick Jagger (in his film-acting debut) stars as Turner, an androgynous, fading rock star living in decadent semi-seclusion with two young women (Anita Pallenberg and Michèle Breton) with absolutely no inhibitions.
James Fox is Chas, a violent and sadistic London gangster who takes refuge in Turner’s domain after committing a murder. A bizarre interchange of identities, fueled by massive amounts of psychoactive drugs, develops between the two men. Influenced by the decadent atmosphere, Chas is freed not only of his clothing but also of his heteronormative prejudices, while Turner and his two hippie compatriots resolve to split the mobster’s ever-fragmenting personae with the help of crazed mind games and psilocybin mushrooms, leading to an extravagant trip hovering between reality and fantasy, filled with sex, violence and rock ‘n’ roll – with a musical highlight being Sir Mick’s mind-blowingly serpentine performance of the bluesy “Memo from Turner,” a Jagger solo single featuring slide guitar by Ry Cooder that later appeared on several Rolling Stones compilations. Hysterical, madly innovative and instantly notorious, Roeg and Cammell’s mutual directorial debut shocked and appalled critics and audiences alike, and Warner Brothers, apparently expecting a fun Stones version of A Hard Day’s Night, was not prepared for all the sex and strangeness, shelving the film for two years before giving it a release. Performance has since become a modern movie legend, and has been re-evaluated as one of the most influential and stunning British films of its era.