Such was the first screening for Hollywood executives of the British film "Performance", starring Mick Jagger, Rolling Stones muse and super-groupie Anita Pallenberg, and Michele Breton, an androgynous 17-year-old French "actress" who'd been spotted on a beach by the director.

Intended to capture a Swinging London vibe that would do brilliantly at the box office, just like The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night", it proved a step too far even in the liberal Sixties.

When senior Warner Bros boss Ken Hyman led a team of studio executives to visit the set, they were so appalled he ordered filming to stop immediately.

"[Hyman] said it was the dirtiest movie he'd ever seen... " the director Donald Cammell later recalled. After that initial test screening in Los Angeles, it would take Warner Bros another 18 months to gather up the courage to release the film, in 1970.

Jagger has never been far from scandal – only recently actress Rae Dawn Chong claimed she had an affair with him when she was 15 and he 33 – but "Performance" proved especially jaw-dropping. The film now has cult status but critics loathed it at the time, one of them monstering its debauchery, flat acting and pretentious self-indulgence under the headline: "Is this the most loathsome film of all?".

If only they'd known the half of it. As Simon Wells' new biography of Pallenberg reveals, what went on behind the scenes was far more shocking than anything that made it on to celluloid.

The film not only introduced the blonde, leggy German-Italian model to the heroin addiction that cast a pall over much of her life, it also sparked a strongly rumoured affair with Jagger that devastated her then-lover and Jagger's creative soulmate, Keith Richards. Indeed, Pallenberg became the woman accused of almost breaking up the Rolling Stones.

Clothed or unclothed, Pallenberg stole the show in "Performance". According to Wells, she rather stole the show with the Stones for a time, too.

In "She's A Rainbow", Wells insists she was far more than the drug-addled groupie she has been portrayed. He describes her as an "unrepentant feminist" who had an "extraordinary influence on popular culture".

That may be over-egging her importance, but the stylish, intelligent and notoriously surly Pallenberg had some influence over the Stones' music, such as on the 1968 album "Beggar's Banquet".

And she certainly revolutionised their wardrobe, persuading the leading band members to dress in an overtly feminine way. However, the fact remains that until her death in 2017, aged 75, she remained defined by her romantic involvement with them.

The Stones never shied from sharing girlfriends and Pallenberg was well-travelled in the band's affections. She started out as the lover of founding member Brian Jones, then took up with Keith, had a fling with Mick – before going back to Keith.

Vogue once described Pallenberg as "the quintessential rock star girlfriend", and she certainly never looked back after wrangling her way backstage at a Stones concert in Munich in 1965, where she supplied drugs and comfort to Jones.

She soon established herself as his girlfriend and they became the era's most stylish couple, a reputation enhanced by the quirk that they were often mistaken for twins.

However, their relationship was volatile – they regularly exchanged blows, while Pallenberg also destroyed his precious Scalextric set and, a black magic enthusiast, stuck needles into a wax effigy.

It reached a nadir when she refused to join Jones and two prostitutes for a foursome during a 1967 sojourn in Morocco. Jones beat her up so badly that she finally fled to Richards (with whom she'd already had a fling).

She was pregnant by Richards when Scottish screenwriter Donald Cammell, an old friend and possibly lover, asked her to appear in his first film, "Performance", playing the strong-willed girlfriend of washed-up rock star Turner (Jagger).

Pallenberg, then 26, had previously had supporting parts in a few films and hoped "Performance" would propel her to movie stardom. Indeed, she had an abortion rather than lose the role. (Jagger's girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, had also been approached for the role but she, too, was pregnant and refused. However, she later had a miscarriage.)

Keith Richards found the three-way love plot in "Performance" hilarious – until he discovered it would mean his girlfriend indulging in graphic sexual scenes with Jagger, whose womanising he knew only too well.

He begged Pallenberg not to make the film, even offering to match what she was getting paid.

When that failed, he enlisted two of his associates, one of them the film's unofficial drug dealer, to send him reports of what was happening on the set. He even went himself, parking his Bentley outside the mansion in London's Powis Square when he knew Mick and Anita were filming.

Richards didn't trust Cammell either, later describing the director as manipulative, "utterly predatory" and the "most destructive little turd I've ever met". Perhaps he had a point. Cammell had met Michele Breton on a French beach and, although she looked barely pubescent, decided she should play the third member of the love triangle with Jagger and Pallenberg.

The 17-year-old was "dangerously promiscuous for her tender years", writes Wells, and Cammell had "mentally bookmarked several exotic moments for her" in the film.

Pallenberg and Richards, who were living in West Sussex, decided to stay in London for the duration of filming with a notoriously druggy friend. He introduced them to heroin. "The heavy drugs didn't help," Pallenberg later acknowledged. "In that period, drugs seemed to be the biggest happening."

During filming, the long periods of inactivity challenged her "fraught attention span". Pallenberg would rage at the number of takes perfectionist co-director Nicolas Roeg demanded, retreating with her cast-mates to a mattress in a gloomy basement to get stoned.

The production crew were astonished by the drug consumption. "You took one breath and you were stoned," recalled art director John Clark. Cannabis joints were "coming out of your ear holes", said another crew member.

James Fox of the famous Fox acting dynasty played Chas, a mobster whose sexuality is subverted by Jagger and Pallenberg's characters. His character has to take hallucinogenic drugs in the film and Fox was genuinely worried Pallenberg – who had a reputation for such pranks – might surreptitiously slip him real ones.

Occasionally, she pretended she had put LSD in his coffee, fueling his paranoia as she sought to punish him for daring to stay sober during filming. "He'd be sitting there with the script every morning, studying it," she said. "We'd walk around smoking joints just to annoy him."

Rumours persist that she did indeed secretly drug Fox during filming. He has certainly claimed that his memories of making "Performance" are hazy.

As for French teenager Michele Breton, she spent the entire shoot high on drugs and started to believe Pallenberg and Jagger were plotting against her. A doctor was brought in to keep her going with regular injections of Valium.

The sex scenes involving the trio have long attracted the most controversy in "Performance" because of persistent rumours that they did it for real under the covers. Recently recovered outtakes that were cut in an attempt to avoid an X certificate certainly suggest they weren't always acting.

"It was like a porno shoot and Donald [Cammell] loved it," Pallenberg said later. "There was all kinds of sex going on. But I put it down to method acting. I knew the Stones from another angle, so it was quite uncomfortable for me to do this kind of thing with Jagger. And Keith wasn't pleased either."

Cammell didn't help matters, poking a hand-held camera under the bed covers. Even Roeg lost his normal reserve, on one occasion exclaiming "Sod this, you're having all the fun", and diving under the bedclothes himself.

Pallenberg later insisted she didn't have an affair with Jagger while making "Performance", but others begged to differ. "Jagger simply took Anita [to the basement] for sex," said Cammell.

"Keith would come on the set looking for hanky-panky, not realising that he was standing about three feet above the action!"

James Fox has also claimed his co-stars were having an affair. "As I was basically the straight guy and sticking to the script, they liked to shock me," he said.

Marianne Faithfull, who famously said Pallenberg had an "evil glamour", is in no doubt they were lovers. Richards was deeply attached to Pallenberg, she said, "which is why Anita and Mick's betrayal during ‘Performance' was so devastating to him". (Jagger has described all the torrid rumours about the making of "Performance" as simply too wonderful to deny.)

There were even rumours that Pallenberg was also having an affair with Cammell, although she remembered him as "a real prima donna – going into fits of fury, screaming, shouting and trying to put all of these deviant, perverted sexual scenarios into the movie".

The finished film met with immediate trouble after staff working on it at the processing lab said it breached decency laws and the boss insisted on destroying the processed film. The directors had, however, held on to the negatives and were able to find a more liberally minded lab.

When Warner Bros demanded substantial cuts, Cammell and Jagger wrote to the studio proclaiming: "This film is about the perverted love affair between Homo sapiens and Lady Violence ... to make such a film means accepting the subject is loaded with every taboo in the book."

Few who were involved emerged from "Performance" unchanged. Fox took a long break from acting and became an evangelical Christian (although he would deny it was linked to the film); Breton became a helpless heroin addict; Cammell shot himself in the head in 1996 and, as he lay dying, discussed with his wife a similar scene from the film.

As for Pallenberg, she says she was "heavily into drugs" – by which she meant heroin – by the end of filming. "Performance" was an "experience she would find hard to shake for the rest of her life", says her biographer, and she never got another big film role again.

Her rumoured affair with Jagger cast a cloud over her relationship with Richards, although they stayed together for another ten years and had three children. She and Richards battled heroin addiction and Pallenberg also became an alcoholic.

Once detached from the Stones, her star faded rapidly. When she died aged 75 in 2017, Richards provided the best epitaph: "Long may she not rest in peace, because she hates peace."

Simon Wells has written on film and music for numerous magazines and newspapers including the Guardian, The Times and The Independent. He is a regular contributor to Record Collector, Hotdog, TV Zone, Watch and Total Film. In addition to his writing credits, Wells has researched numerous projects for the likes of the BBC, Channel Four and Virgin, as well as broadcasting live on LBC (Leading Britain's Conversation), ITN (Independent Television News) and BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) on film and music. The above article appeared in the Daily Mail.


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