God Told Me To Do It

Vague #7
September 1991 God Told Me To Do It – 23 Skidoo
Performance Donald Cammell interview – Twin Peaks
Steam-Punk William Gibson/Bruce Stirling – Hype
Defiant Pose/Richard Allen – Boredom

23 Skidoo (amended and continued)

1 The year of the first FA Cup final featuring the white horse was 1923. 2 The first Russian tank to enter Prague in 1968 was number 23. 3 Graham Greene experimented with Russian roulette in 1923. 4 The day between the assassinations of JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald was November 23. 5 Sacco and Vanzetti were executed on August 23. 6 Bonnie and Clyde were shot on May 23. 7 Twin Peaks started in the UK on October 23. The last entry in Laura Palmer’s diary was February 23. Dale Cooper joined the FBI aged 23. 8 Simon Morrissey wrote off his car at the A23 junction of the M23. 9 The cooker in my flat packed up on March 23. 10 23 people died in the first night’s bombing of Baghdad according to Iraq. 11 Manchester United hadn’t qualified for a European cup final for 23 years before 1991.

12 Vague 23 was completed 23 years to the day of the beginning of the May ’68 events in Paris. 13 The Nazis held their first rally and beer-hall putsch in 1923. 14 I moved to London on my 23rd birthday. 15 A pint of milk used to cost 23p. 16 2 divided by 3 equals 0.666. 17 There were 23 members present at the last meeting of Portobello Housing Co-op. 18 I’ve never lived at a number 23. 19 Our gas district is number 23. 20 There were 17 issues of Tony D’s Ripped & Torn fanzine and 6 of Kill Your Pet Puppy = 23. There were also 23 issues of Vale’s Search & Destroy fanzine and Re/Search. 21 The birthday of Roy Orbison and John Studholme of prag VEC is April 23. 22 John Dillinger robbed 26 banks, 3 for art and 23 for money. 23 The number 23 bus goes through Notting Hill past Finch’s.

The last manned lightship in the English Channel was number 23. There were 23,000 runners in the 1991 London marathon. ’23 injured as petrol bomb mob rampage.’ ’23 die as violence engulfs black townships.’ ’23 Hindus die in temple blast.’ ’23 killed by mall bombers.’ ’23 dead as Ivan heads for Jamaica.’ ’23 hurt at Tate art show.’ ’23 million are starving in the drought.’ 23/2/07 The Number 23 starring Jim Carrey: ‘First it takes hold of your mind. Then it takes over your life. Cinemas from today – Caesar was stabbed 23 times. Genome contains 23 pairs of chromosomes. 9.11.2001 = 23. Witches Sabbath is June 23. George Herbert Walker Bush contains 23 letters. Illuminati 1723. The Flight 800 explosion occurred in seats 23J and 23K. There are more UFO sightings on July 23 than any other day.’

23/2/07 Independent ’23 fascinating facts about the number 23’ compiled by Cahal Milmo and Tom Willetts (summary): 1 23 is one of the most commonly cited prime numbers. 2 The 1998 German film 23 and The Number 23 feature a main character obsessed with the number. 3 The economist John Forbes Nash played by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind was a 23 obsessive. 4 23rdians are a sect who subscribe to the mystical power of the number. 5 To Dischordians 23 is the holy number. 6 In Airport the bomber has seat 23. In The Life of Brian there are 23 crosses. 7 9 + 11 + 2 + 0 + 0 + 1 = 23. 8 To the ancient Chinese 23 was the most masculine number. 9 Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was published in 1859 – 1 + 8 + 5 + 9 = 23. The Hiroshima bomb was dropped at 8.15am – 8 + 15 = 23. 10 The basketball player Michael Jordan’s shirt number was 23, as was David Beckham’s at Real Madrid.

11 In the Bible, Adam and Eve are thought to have had 23 daughters. In the 23rd verse of the first chapter of Genesis the act of creation concluded. The 23rd chapter of the book of Genesis is about death. The most famous psalm is 23: ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.’ 12 Each parent contributes 23 chromosomes to the start of human life. 13 Julius Caesar was said to have been stabbed 23 times. 14 William Shakespeare was born and died on April 23. Kurt Cobain was born in 1967 and died in 1994, both years add up to 23. 15 In Star Wars Princess Leia escapes from detention block AA23. 16 The Knights Templar had 23 grand masters. 17 The first Morse code transmission was the Bible passage 23:23 “What hath God wrought?” In telegraphers’ code 23 means ‘break the line’. 18 23 is the smallest number of people where there will be a probability of more than 50% that 2 people will share the same birthday.

19 William Burroughs became obsessed with the number 23 after the captain of the ferry between Spain and Morocco called Clark told him he had sailed the route for 23 years. On the same day the ferry sank and the captain died. Soon after Burroughs heard on the radio that Flight 23 between New York and Miami had crashed and the captain was also called Clark. 20 Psychic TV released 23 albums on the 23rd day of 23 consecutive months. The KLF used to be called the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu – which has 23 letters – from the Illuminati novels of Robert Anton Wilson. 21 The 23rd letter of the Latin alphabet is W. 22 The term ’23 skidoo’ is thought to be an early 20th century American catchphrase meaning to make a sharp exit. In another theory the term originated from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens in which the old woman by the guillotine shouts “23” as the hero is executed. ’23 Skidoo’ is also the title of a poem by Aleister Crowley and the name of an 80s industrial funk group. 23 The average human biorhythm is 23 days.

Performance: Donald Cammell interview by Jon Savage 8/84

Savage: “Was Performance your first film?” Cammell: “It was. It wasn’t the first script. I wrote a script and sold it to an American company and it was made into a film… it was re-written and called Duffy. I met James Fox when I was working on that. I was an artist at the time, a retired artist that is, I’d given up painting. And writing that script was the end result of becoming interested in movies and meeting James and seeing a really great actor work. And working with him at that time I learned a great deal I think quite quickly. The next thing I wrote was Performance and that was put together quite speedily… I went to live in America when I was in my early 20s and then I was living in France after that. I was living in France when I made Performance, just came here, I wrote the story in France…

“I don’t know if I’m any good at observing reality but I think that is probably quite important in trying to make the sort of movies that interest me, that I think I would be best at. Accurate observation has to be the start of it, before you fuck around with it. And I have a good ear for dialogue, because I could write London dialogue as if it was a foreign language, and I write American dialogue in the same way and I know that in fact their veracity is quite high, not their quality necessarily. But it’s a different thing, isn’t it? Truthful dialogue which accurately mirrors human speech is a beginning, it’s a tool, in movies you’ve got to have that, then you make it terse.”

Savage: “I watched Performance again recently and it seemed you somehow instinctively got it right, because it still has enormous resonances as an historical piece, also as a film it’s still very relevant and has lots of interesting ideas. And the thing that struck me was how much a reflection now it seems of the various 60s obsessions – like the criminal. You had the two pinnacle 60s obsessions, the criminal and the pop star together, from the time when criminals were pop stars.”

Cammell: “They still are. In America they always have been, and everywhere in the world the bandit has been the star of the poor working stiff. And the poor period have always seen him as the ultimate – have seen the gangster as being the star, both a revolutionary figure and a star, they both are seen in a political sense. Gangsters are seen – anything that’s anti-establishment represents a heroic figure for those who have nothing, and that’s obvious. But to see them that way and then also to see them as being – you have to control them. I don’t think I can theorise about a view of the social world because I don’t think I have a coherent one. I think it can emerge in a piece like Performance, or something else I might attempt. But I do see highly anti-social figures as being part of reality – I’m a little bit of a neo-Darwinist – and that one has to respect them and deal with them as part of reality, you can’t wish them away.”

Savage: “You were mentioned in a recent book about the Rolling Stones as being one of the people who was around when the Stones suddenly became taken up by high society in about ’64, ’65, is that right?” Cammell: “I suppose I was, just about around then. But I was living a very sort of marginal existence to society at the time, because I was living in Paris and I was not involved with the pop society at all. I was involved with some artists and people, and I was also pursuing a girl a lot of the time, going through a very romantic period in ’64 and ’65, I remember. And I met the Stones, not in a pop society, I met them by accident. Brian, through – because he fell in love with a girlfriend of mine called Anita Pallenberg, a marvellous girl. He showed up in Paris and spent a lot of time at my – I had a little studio over there in Montparnasse. But then we went to Morocco, Brian and me, and Brion Gysin was there and Bill Burroughs, people whom I’d met. And as you know Brian became completely lost in that world for a while and brought it back into the music eventually, to his own – probably part of the problem – musical problem.

“He was a very instinctive musician, you know – an artist – and he was always very romantic. Even when he was just, you know, a sort of very pale, perpetually fatigued kid, always seemed to be living on the edge of his own adventure which he created – created that strange impression of magic and it was consistent with him all the time. He used to dress up in the most extraordinary way, he’d a great deal of visual imagination. The way he saw himself was extremely original in those days. I suppose he was probably derivative of some other, I don’t know, some other musicians of that time may have influenced him but I don’t know any. He seemed to be an original. He was certainly in the way – the eclectic side of him, where he would go for anything that interested him. He was totally unconfined by any rock’n’roll rules, and he would be very much outside any formal norms today in music if he was around, but it may have hurt him as a rock’n’roller.”

Savage: “Was in any way the character of Turner, not based but did you think of Brian when you were writing that character?” Cammell: “Yes.” Savage: “Certainly Mick Jagger seemed to take on some of the persona.” Cammell: “Well, he did because it was necessary to the role and the point came where Mick really tried to become that character, partly because I helped him or bullied him and partly, well let me put it this way, he certainly was a little unenthusiastic about the essential part of that character. He was a little scared of it because it was about a guy who had gone over the top and taken a great fall. And Mick, you know, emotionally likes to take a very dominant view of things and it was a bit risky. I think the fact that he did it made for it being a very good performance…

“It was hard for James because he was going through a sort of, I guess you would call it, he would call it, a spiritual crisis at the time. And dealing with the role of playing somebody who is an inexorably villainous character, almost a sort of emblem of everything that is glamorous about wickedness and the art forms of violence, was for him a – it was both very exciting and very frightening. He’s a gifted actor, he still is I’m sure. He told me quite recently that he didn’t want to grapple with that kind of role again, and in fact would never try and do it again. He wants, I think James feels that his energies should be channelled, you know, in a way that sort of makes sense to him now…

“I had to re-edit it before they would release it, and I re-edited it 2 or 3 times and I was on my own in Los Angeles and I’d been more or less instructed – ordered to remove a good 15 minutes of the first 40 minutes of the picture, or nearly half. It contained some of the most, maybe some of the most interesting scenes between the villains, between Chas – but re-editing it made it more of a movie to me. I became engrossed in getting the main point across as, I guess, what movie makers call a montage. And so I came to the – my original interest in the film was visual because I’d been a painter and given up painting, that became my favourite part of the film. Well, what remains after the editing; after the editing, the re-structuring of it.

“I would not attempt to make a commercial film at this time that is so non-linear as that first 2 or 3 reels of Performance. But having done it, I think I was very pleased that it happened. But of course Nic Roeg hated it like that, and there’s an argument that in its original form it may or may not have been better. Certainly Nic preferred it as a straight-forward story at the beginning. Later on that non-linear form became – you see it now being used, certain techniques, you can see that being used. Certain compression styles are now becoming part of the promo vernacular. Well, Eisenstein was doing some pretty hot cutting many years ago, and I wouldn’t claim to have originated anything but I certainly developed it to a point. I know I developed it to quite a sharp point in 1970 to ’71.”

Savage: “The thing with Performance now is that people tend to think of it, because of his subsequent career, as Nic Roeg’s film. A lot of people I’ve talked to, I’ve said I’m going to talk to Don Cammell and they say didn’t he write Performance? People don’t realise that you co-directed it because everybody thinks it’s one of Nic Roeg’s oeuvre.” Cammell: “I’m sure that’s understandable, because I think it formed Nic’s style, to a certain extent, that he has repeated – whether consciously or not – certain movie manoeuvres that were originated in Performance. Of course, I would say that they were part of the original plan for Performance and I can certainly understand that the fact that I haven’t made any movies and Nic has made a number that have stylistic resemblances to parts of Performance might give rise to that misapprehension that you mention.”

Savage: “One of the things I noticed very much in Performance was sudden close-ups, but very specific close-ups. There’s a wonderful bit where the eel pops out of the tank or there’s a bit where there’s a close-up on Anita Pallenberg putting some mushrooms in very delicately or taking some mushrooms out, and little short, very short but very acute close-ups.” Cammell: “Well, they’re little moving pictures. If I’d been able to do it painting I would have but I couldn’t, so there they are. I’m very pleased you noticed it. Actually the film in a larger sense is also a collection of pictures that are very disparate and were often criticised as being incoherent both in style and in form, but I think people looking at it now would see that it is coherent. I was responsible for the incoherence, it was not Nic’s fault that it was incoherent…

“Anita had a lot of influence on the way that I saw Performance, and she’s not often credited with it, because I have not done many interviews about it, both by choice and circumstances. But in fact I became fascinated by some things that she was already deeply involved in, like Artaud theatre, Theatre of Cruelty, like she’d worked before with Schlondorff on her first picture. So I give her full credit. And I was a great enthusiast then and now for South American literature, like a lot of people, you know, come along and enjoy it, then I was into Borges, there were various translations coming out then. I put a little snapshot of him in.”


Tom Vague
(Vague Publishing, 1991)

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