[29 September 2005]
The Committee‘s marketers had two options in how to sell this strange ‘60s curio, now released on DVD for the first time. First, they could have hailed it as a lost art film classic, a bizarre collaboration between a budding commercial director and a noted professor of economics that embarks on a nuanced take on the morality of rebellion. They also could have marketed as a perfect reflection of ‘60s London, complete with a leading role for Manfred Mann’s Paul Jones, an intense live performance courtesy of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, and, oh yeah, a score by Pink Floyd which has never been officially released. Clearly the marketers chose the second option, seeing that ‘60s fetishists and Pink Floyd fans far outnumber the obscure art film freaks, but The Committee really has to be approached, both positively and negatively, as the elliptical morality play it was intended to be rather than a unique reflection of the psychedelic era.
The Committee is a movie in three distinct sections. The movie starts with a driver (Kempinski) attempting to engage in friendly banter with an unresponsive hitchhiker (Jones). When the driver pulls over to fix a car, the hitchhiker casually smashes his head off. After going off into woods to think a moment, staring at some impossibly beautiful black and white shots of the sun shining through the trees, he goes over and reattaches the driver’s head. He slaps the driver awake and says that he’s through hitchhiking. The dazed driver, seemingly unaware of his murder and subsequent resurrection, drives away leaving behind the already confused viewer.
This surreal turn of events is then seemingly forgotten by the film, which instead focuses on the Generic Metaphorical Any-Bureaucracy that is The Committee. The Committee Director (Lloyd) arranges a huge committee that includes the former hitchhiker who is not a wild rebel as the first scene suggested, but rather a midlevel corporate lackey. It turns out that this particular Committee is basically like a weekend long party at a country club, leading to a number of quick in-and-out absurdist non-jokes that suggest what would have happened if Eugene Ionesco ever wrote for Laugh In. The hitchhiker however, upon seeing the dazed driver, realizes that the Committee is merely a ruse for “them” to find him and capture him for his crime.
This is all set up for the heart of the film, where our protagonist and the Committee Director discussing the morality of what has taken place. The protagonist defends himself by saying that he reattached his head, and after all, the hopelessly square driver “wasn’t really living anyways”. The Committee Director chides him for not being able to see himself in other people. Seemingly, the omnipresent Committee wins its symbolic fight with the radical, but it is left unclear whether which presence has the moral authority, the controlling government that encourages consideration, or the individual who shakes things up but is ultimately kind of heartless.
The battle between the two ideals, in essence the central debate between the Establishment and the Revolutionaries in the late ‘60s, is also reflected in the long interviews with director Peter Sykes and writer Max Steuer. The interviews between the two creators are spliced against each other, and, at times, reflect the conversation between the protagonist and the Committee Director. Sykes seems to see the film more of a satiric description of a “nanny state”, while Steuer sees it more of a correction of the protagonist whose admirable individualism is offset by “a certain type of arrogance” that doesn’t allow him to except the humanity of those he believes are tools of the establishment. It is the tension between the two creators’ vision of the film, the interviews make clear, that transform the movie into a sort of open-ended debate rather than a closed piece.
But enough of that, if you’re interested in owning this DVD, you’re primarily interested in the trio of ‘60s figures that contribute to it. For his part, Jones puts up a pretty decent performance as the numbed mod in the center of the story, a performance that is especially notable considering his character isn’t given any sort of personality and no motivation (he never really explains why he murders the driver, or why he then decides to reattach his head). The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, performing during the obligatory ‘60s party scene, performs a, well, crazed number decked out with an Eyes Wide Shut get out and his trademark helmet on fire.
Of course, the real selling point is the music by the Pink Floyd, performing some of their first music after Syd Barrett’s ouster. Consumers should not get their hopes up, as most of the movie works without background music. Pink Floyd’s music only appears during a handful of scenes. There’s a brief experimental blurp in the opening credits that sounds like an “Interstellar Overdrive” outtake. Then, when the sterile confines of the Committee Room, they play a peppy little number that sounds like a psychedelic parody of the peppy music used in those pro-industry short films that were parodied on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Towards the end credits, there’s a softer guitar-driven vamp used to segue the film’s abrupt ending into its end credits. I’ve dubbed it “Love Theme to The Committee” because of its deliberately ironic upbeat feel. Ultimately, the only piece of music that is really worthwhile is the long space rock number that slowly builds underneath the long conversation towards the end, a dramatic piece that twists and turns musically along with the twists and turns in the debate. It’s the sound of a band starting to find its voice after losing its leader, it’s a softer and more thoughtful piece, reminiscent of an embryonic “A Saucerful of Secrets”, that is very different from the upbeat, but generic, psychedelia featured on the rest of the soundtrack. Still, if you get The Committee simply for the Pink Floyd material, you will probably be disappointed, but you might just find yourself enthralled by a unique, and thought provoking, little movie.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/committee-1968-dvd/