The Top Of His Head
Canada / 1989 / 110 minutes
The Top Of His Head is the story of Gus Victor, a satellite dish salesman whose ordered world is turned upside down by a radical and alluring performance artist. A cryptic note 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, his self has altered.
From the gifted lens of director-cinematographer Peter Mettler, The Top Of His Head is a genuinely mind-altering experience. Overlooked when it was released, it is an "avant-garde" fairy tale years ahead of its time, whose ultimate subject is nothing less than new ways of seeing.
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 feature film, Mettler worked, for the first time, with the film industry. This forced him to combine his open, associative method with a 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 its underlying theme: an examination of the tension between intuition and intellect.
“One of the most visually stunning films ever made in Canada.” – Amnon Buchbinder, Vancouver International Film Festival
“The flow of Mettler’s vision is uncommon, indeed it is extraordinary.” – Dennis Seguin, Metropolis
“A film full of radical, haunting imagery… Astonishing, terrible beauty.” – John Griffin, The Montreal Gazette
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, Joey Hardin
Shooting Locations: Toronto, Niagara Ontario, Buffalo, New York, Gaspe Peninsula
AWARDS AND DISTRIBUTION
Nominated for three Genie Awards, Academy of Canadian Cinema.
Silver Plate Award at Figuera da Foz Festival.
Most Popular Film (Runner-Up), Vancouver International Film Festival.
World premiere in International Competition at Locarno Film Festival.
Played at numerous international film festivals including Toronto, Edinburgh and Vancouver. Special screenings throughout North America and Europe including Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris) and Tempodrome (Berlin).
General release and TV Broadcast.
“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 Seguin, Metropolis
“The Top of His Head depicts the human-made world as one where ‘keeping in touch’ has come to mean being the passive recipient of information. Gus’s journey takes him from this monologue world, in which life is one long sales pitch, into a world ‘where east meets west’, where ‘everything outside is also inside’, a world where self-knowledge is possible. This transformation finally consists simply of noticing details he always took for granted, and discovering the beauty with which even the most mundane objects are imbued. What is exception about The Top of His Head is that it does not simply depict Gus’s transformation, it plunges us into the experience, beyond rationality, beyond description. 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, Vancouver International Film Festival
“The Top of His Head goes to the head of the class. With radical-chic pomp in bizarre circumstances, Toronto’s Peter Mettler joins the likes of Atom Egoyan, Patricia Rozema, and Jean-Claude Lauzon as Canada’s New Wave directors for the 90’s… A post-apocalyptic fairy tale… An extraordinarily fresh, disturbing and utterly absorbing point of view… 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… 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. And, in the end, the message is deceptively simple – be better, be yourself.” – Bruce Kirkland, The Toronto Sun
“If this film is a suggestion of things to come from this talented Torontonian, he will soon join Denys Arcand, David Cronenberg, and his friend Atom Egoyan at the forefront of this nation’s burgeoning film scene… Don’t miss the opportunity to be intellectually challenged by this wonderfully thoughtful film. A remarkably subtle performance from Stephen Ouimette. Be wowed by MacFayden’s lyrical moments as Lucy… This film does not use words to preach about the dehumanizing effect of invasive technology or the tragic damage caused to our wondrously and complex beautiful planet by a self-absorbed human race. Mettler avoids all the trite phrases and platitudes which so often fill attempts to deal with this issue and prevent the exploration or exposition of the very nature of the problem. He stands aside… and allows us to observe the battle between Gus’s facts and figures and Lucy’s world, where every element of nature is, in and of itself, significan, despite its resistance to interpretation or trivialization. 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. One can only hope that Mettler will receive enough financial and spiritual support from his peers to allow him to wow us again and again.” – Jason Brent, The Gargoyle
“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… Astonishing, terrible beauty… Anyone raised with McLuhan and their finger on the remote button of the family satellite TV dish can figure out what’s going down… the heightened awareness of Mettler’s camera make The Top of His Head worth the trip.” – John Griffin, Montreal Gazette
“A satisfying potpourri of ideas about the nature of social and political control in today’s complex web of electronic communications. A voyage of dreams, self-discovery and psychic adventure carried off with imagination, economy and intimate good humor. Watching this film is often like eating visual ice cream.” – Ken Eisner, The Georgia Straight
“Peter Mettler may be the most daring filmmaker of the Ontario-based group that is rapidly making waves in the ranks of world cinema. Beautifully composed and shot… one of the best looking and sounding Canadian films ever.” – Shlomo Schwartzberg, Vancouver Mirror
“A stunning audio-visual experience… A film to be watched frame by frame. 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.” – Martin Siberok, Montreal Mirror
“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
“A genuinely mind-altering experience… Offers nothing less than new ways of seeing.” – Geoff Pevere
“One of the best conceptualized films of the year." – Marke Andrews, The Vancouver Sun
“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
“Opens for the viewer new dimensions of thinking and feeling, leading to new realities which go far beyond the story of the film.” – Guido Munzel, Berner Zeitung