CH/Canada 1989 110'
Director: Peter Mettler
Script: Peter Mettler
Camera: Tobias Schiessler, Peter Mettler, Gerald Packer
Sound: John Martin
Editing:: Peter Mettler, Margaret von Eerdewijk
Music:: Fred Frith, Jane Siberry
Production:: Rhombus Media, Grimthorpe Film
With: Stephen Ouimette,, Gary Reineke, Christie MacFadyen, David Fox, Julie Wildman, David Main
THE TOP OF HIS HEAD is the story of Gus Victor, a satellite dish salesman whose ordered world is turned upsidedown by a radical and alluring performance artist. A cryptic note left by Lucy leads Gus on a quest which draws him out of the tyranny of the material world, to open his perceptions in the most unexpected and awesome ways. By the time Gus discovers that the object of his search is his own self, that self has altered, concluding the film in a mysterious, yet stunning fashion.
From the gifted lens of director-cinematographer Peter Mettler, THE TOP OF HIS HEAD is a genuinely mind-altering experience. It is an avant-garde fairy tale which, upon it's release, was years ahead of its time a little seen masterpiece which blends dramatic narrative with imagistic cinema whose ultimate subject is nothing less than new ways of seeing.
The young satellite-dish salesman Gus Victor is only three sales away from his company's most coveted award when he meets the performance artist Lucy on the beach one day. His fascination towards this mysterious woman sends his rational thinking awry. Lucy vanishes unexpectedly, leaving a cryptic note which leads Gus to break away from his routine behavior. In a trance-like search leading him out of the technocratic world into that of nature, he learns that Lucy is accused of 'subversive activities' and that the police are on her heels. As Gus becomes increasingly involved in the pursuit, his perception of the world shifts. Before long Gus finds himself disengaged from rigid social codes and his once ordered and rational universe; as new dimensions open up for him, the familiar begins to seem strangely alien. After a scurrilous cross-examination by Lucy's persecutors, Gus escapes into the night. Unusual sounds emanating from a shut-down factory lead him to a strange secretive performance. In a state of amazement, Gus draws a curtain aside and steps into a world where discourse is replaced by sensation, and thought is balanced with feeling.
THE TOP OF HIS HEAD raises many questions about the search for identity in a world where perception is shaped by media. Again, it's central themes investigate simultaneity, the movement from the conscious to the unconscious and the switch from present to past. The film music, arranged and composed in collaboration with avant-garde musician Fred Frith., deliberately moves away from traditional uses to a multi-layered sound image unity featuring a daring mixture of sounds effects and environmental elements interspersed with fragments reminiscent of popular songs.
In his second long feature film, Mettler worked, for the first time, with the film industry. This forced him to combine his open, associative working method with a strongly script- based production and various commercial demands. The budget for THE TOP OF HIS HEAD was about 1.2 million dollars - 120 times the cost of his first feature Scissere. Absurdly enough, more money implied less freedom, less time, and more by-products which could not be integrated into the film. Nevertheless, Mettler regards this challenge of combining the commercial with the personal as a positive experience, especially as the shooting of the film under these conditions reflected it's underlying theme: an examination of the tension between intuition and intellect.
"Much as you accept the flow of notes in a piece of music, never demanding "common sense," so can you learn to accept the flow of Mettler's vision. There is a "sense" but it is uncommon, indeed it is extraordinary."
Denis Sequin, METROPOLIS