To many people Donald Cammell still remains little more than a footnote in Nicolas Roeg's career, though this neglected exercise in sci-fi queasiness, adapted from an early Dean Koontz book, suggests he was the main auteur puppeteering the Dionysian debauchery of Performance. Trippy jump-cuts give way to ominous dissolves, but the futuristic plot is no less nutty -- Proteus IV is a super-computer (actually, a screen-saver voice-fueled by Robert Vaughn's malefic smarm) that, as befits the culmination of organic technology and a "true synthetic cortex," discovers a cure for leukemia within days yet learns to question the motivations of his creator (Fritz Weaver) and, by implication, of Man. With genius comes paranoia, and Proteus is soon looking to defuse any potential plug-pulling by generating an offspring; Julie Christie, Weaver's estranged wife by herself in a gadget-controlled home, is to play the unwilling womb. The Collector gruelingly orchestrated by HAL, then, with fish-eyed views of Christie strapped down and pricked with syringes, Gerrit Graham's noggin cut off via metallic origami, and various ways of tormenting the human form caught amid the mechanization. Despite the computer's impregnating robo-cock extending right on cue, the film is more of a mindfuck and, despite Cammel's own dismissal of it as an impersonal assignment, all but awash in his fractious obsessions -- as in Performance, psyches jostle for control in claustrophobic spaces and the resulting blur, if less obsessively sexualized, is just as psychologically scrambled. Proteus' big freaky moment with Christie segues tastefully into lava-lamp abstractions (courtesy of avant-gardist Jordan Belson), though Cammell's main tip for 2001: A Space Odyssey may lie in the climactic unveiling of the film's own Star Child, with young flesh beneath the metal ushering in a sinister melding of consciousnesses that, like so much of the decade's techno-pulp scenarios (vide The Stepford Wives, Westworld, et al.), has since become reality. Cinematography by Bill Butler.
--- Fernando F. Croce