Cult Film Club: Wild Side

A ranting Christopher Walken, Joan Chen getting it on with Anne Heche - what's not to like about Donald 'Performance' Cammell's final film?
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A ranting Christopher Walken, Joan Chen getting it on with Anne Heche - what's not to like about Donald 'Performance' Cammell's final film?

Walken on the Wild Side

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Donald Cammell was the co-director of the mighty Performance. His collaborator was Nic Roeg, who went on to have a remarkable career in motion pictures - he directed such essential films as Don't Look Now, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Bad Timing and Castaway. Cammell was significantly less successful. Relocating to America, the Scotsman made a good living from rewriting gigs and script options. But despite - or perhaps because of - befriending Marlon Brando, he had a hard time securing directing gigs. Indeed, in the 26 years between the release of Performance and his untimely death, Donald Cammell made just three further films.

Cammell being Cammell, all of these pictures have something to recommend them. Even Demon Seed, in which the exquisite Julie Christie is raped by a super computer, has its merits. For many critics, Cammell's best post-Performance picture is White Of The Eye, the unnerving tale of a loving wife (Raging Bull's Cathy Moriarty) who realises her husband (An Officer And A Gentleman's David Keith) has become a serial murderer. Wild Side, however, is also very good, featuring as it does an astonishing powerhouse performance from Christopher Walken.

Written by Cammell and his partner China Kong, Wild Side centres on Bruno Buckingham (Walken), an international money launderer with a thing for kimonos. Bruno is married to Virginia (the fantastically beautiful Joan Chen) but this doesn't prevent him from tom-catting around. One night he enjoys the company of Alex Lee, who's both a successful banker and a high class hooker. Alex is brought over to Bruno's by his driver/bodyguard Tony (Scarface's Steven Bauer). But like his passenger, Tony is also living a double life: he's an FBI agent out to use Alex to bring down the Buckingham empire. Oh, and did I mention that Alex and Virginia fall for one another? Well, that happens too.

With its twisted power games and skewed sexual relationships, Wild Side (released in the UK by Palisades Tartan) makes a superb companion piece to Performance. One only wishes Donald Cammell was still around to further our understanding of there brilliant if somewhat incomprehensible films. Less then a year after the film came out, Cammell - depressed over the studio's handling of the picture and the demise of his relationship with Kong - put a gun to his head. According to his friend Drew Hammond, while Cammell lay dying, he asked "Can you see the picture of Borges yet?", a call-back to the finale of Performance in which a bullet buries its ways into Mick Jagger's brain to reveal an image of the inflectional Argentine author.

Donald Cammell - a remarkable artist, right up to the bitterest of ends.

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