THE TOP OF HIS HEAD, 1989, 110 minutes
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.
Original version: Colour, 35mm, 110 min
Director, Script: Peter Mettler
Camera: Tobias Schliessler, Peter Mettler, Gerald Packer
Sound Recording: John Martin
Picture Editing; Peter Mettler, Margaret v.Eerdewijk
Sound Editing: Patricia Tassinari, Catherine Van Der Donckt, Bruno Degazio, Peter Mettler
Original Music: Fred Frith, Jane Siberry
Sound Mix: Hans-Peter Strobl, Adrian Croll
Producer: Niv Fishman
Production: Rhombus Media and Grimthorpe Film Inc. With the participation of Telefilm Canada, Ontario Film Development Corporation, Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council, National Film Board of Canada,
Cast: Stephen Ouimette ( Gus Victor), Gary Reineke ( Berge), Christie MacFadyen ( Lucy Ripley), David Fox ( Uncle Hugo), Julie Wildman ( Mrs. Victor), David Main ( Mr. Victor), Diana Barrington
(Jolanda), John Paul Young ( Car Salesman), Julian Richings ( Robert, henchman), Joey Hardin (Joey, henchman) et al
Shooting Locations: Toronto, Niagara Ontario, Buffalo, New York, Gaspe Peninsula; with images from other assorted locations
“A film like The Top Of His Head is the beginning of the Canadian New Wave in the next decade.”
– Vancouver International Film Festival
“The Top Of His Head is certainly one of the best looking and sounding Canadian films ever.”
– The Mirror, Vancouver
"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.
"Writer-director Peter Mettler is better known as one of this country's finest cinematographers, and THE TOP OF HIS HEAD is certainly one of the most visually stunning films ever made in Canada. It is also one of the most remarkable films of the year -- from any country."
– Amnon Buchbinder, Programmer, THE VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
"THE TOP OF HIS HEAD goes to the head of the class...by telling a post-apocalyptic fairy tale...The images are dazzling. Forced telephoto perspectives on industrial wastelands jar the eye. Extreme close-ups turn a drop of water into a micro-universe. People are molded like sculptures through the juxtaposition of surprising objects. Other flourishes turn the film into a work of visual genius...Even more boldly Mettler lets fleeting glimpses of parallel and past realities intercut into present time, suggesting fragmented memories. That technique has often been used in films -- but rarely, if ever, this effectively, this fluidly...This is not just a pop-culture divertissement. Mettler shakes viewers up with his compelling tale. THE TOP OF HIS HEAD has a purpose to its passion."
– Bruce Kirkland, THE TORONTO SUN
"From a purely technical point of view, THE TOP OF HIS HEAD, with its whirling images is a visually powerful film, but upon closer examination, this film says far more visually than it would be possible to say verbally without sinking into a numbing diatribe."
– Jason Brent, THE GARGOYLE
"Weaving sequences of exhilarating images -- from abstract lichen patterns to satellites spinning in space -- into its narrative fabric, THE TOP OF HIS HEAD stitches them together with the chopped logic of right-brain thinking or multi-channel TV."
– Cameron Bailey, NOW MAGAZINE.
"...The film mirrors the many-layered complexities of the present and confronts the structured and organized westerner with the intuitive, mediative and organic consciousness of the East."
– Fred Zaugg, DER BUND.
"...Mettler's film opens for the viewer new dimensions of thinking and feeling, leading them to new realities which go far beyond the story of the film."
– Guido Munzel, BERNER ZEITUNG
"A genuinely mind-altering experience...nothing less than new ways of seeing."
– Geoff Pevere, former programmer FESTIVAL OF FESTIVALS
"THE TOP OF HIS HEAD is not an easy movie, nor are the questions it posits. Like most hallucinatory explorations, it stimulates and perplexes as it delves into the realm beyond the rational. The experience can be disorientating, as the familiar becomes alien and the unknown clearer."
– Martin Siberok, MONTREAL MIRROR
"THE TOP OF HIS HEAD is one of the best conceptualized films of the year."
– Marke Andrews, THE VANCOUVER SUN
"In one of the more visually ravishing cinematic rides of recent years, Mettler's avant-garde movie...is a film full of radical, haunting imagery. A film where rationale and linear narrative move to the back of the bus, where image and intuition take the wheel."
– John Griffen, THE GAZETTE
Distribution Notes: Played at many international festivals including Toronto, Edinburgh and Vancouver. Premiered in Locarno's Official Competition. Prize winner at Figuera da Foz. Special screenings throughout North America and Europe including Centre Georges Pompidou and Berlin Tempodrome, Mettler Retrospectives in Rome and Paris. General release and TV Broadcast.
Articles/Reviews - English