Committee, The (1968)

UK / 55 minutes / bw / Craytic, Planet Dir: Peter Sykes Pr: Max Steuer Scr: Max Steuer, Peter Sykes Cine: Ian Wilson Cast: Paul Jones, Tom Kempinski, Robert Lloyd, Pauline Munro, Jimmy Gardner, Arthur Brown.

Committee 1968 - 0 opener

After a Driver (Kempinski) pulls off the road to tinker with his car engine, the Hitchhiker (Jones) with whom he’s been traveling murders him by crunching the car’s hood down on his neck, decapitating him; the sole motive seems to be that the Driver was a monumental bore—he even, singing as he drove, managed to mangle a version of The Animals’ “We Gotta Get out of This Place.” You can’t get more boring than that.

All is not lost for the Driver, though; luckily the Hitchhiker is able to stitch the man’s head back on. The Driver’s a bit wobbly on his feet after the repair job, and seemingly somewhat miffed that the Hitchhiker doesn’t want to ride any further, but apart from that there appears to be little lasting damage.

Committee 1968 - 2 Sew a head back on Q Nae bother

Sewing a head back on? It’s no problem at all if you know how.

We cut, via a short sequence that’s reminiscent of the opening credits to a ’60s TV crime series, to something rather like an academic institution. A man later identified as the Director (Lloyd) announces the formation of some new Committees, their purpose unspecified. Says the Director at one point, “I think my position has been consistent with the evidence of the past four hundred years.” Clearly these Committees, whatever they are, have been molding British society for a long time. At any minute now, we expect, Anne Rice will pop out of a nearby vault with a supportive conspiracy theory.

Committee 1968 - 1 Jones smokes with noirish intensity thruout

Paul Jones’s character smokes with noirish single-mindedness throughout.

Back with the Hitchhiker, we witness him at his dreary draftsman job in one of those drearily anonymous open-plan offices that were so à la mode in the ’60s. All a bit dreary, man. He goes to see his Boss (Gardner) to tell him that he’s been summoned to join a Committee, for reasons he doesn’t understand. The Boss knows something of Committees, however: “I was on one. Years ago. Consisted of eight men. We were asked to decide which of five oranges we thought was the roundest.” He also seems puzzled that the Hitchhiker doesn’t realize the important function the Committees have in keeping everything going, like maintenance men.

The Committee that the Hitchhiker joins, in a mansion—The Lodge—somewhere in the country, is several hundred strong; another of its members is the Driver, although the latter apparently doesn’t recognize the Hitchhiker. “Are your teeth bothering you?” the Hitchhiker asks when they meet on the stairs. The Driver looks perplexed.

Committee 1968 - 3 The director, long on smugitude

The puckish director (Robert Lloyd), long on smugitude.

The Hitchhiker meets someone who appears to be an old friend (uncredited) and explains that he thinks the purpose of this Committee is to GET HIM for the murder he committed, reparation (well, stitching back on) be damned. The two resolve to escape from the country retreat that night, after the party.

There are some nice surrealistic observations of party dialogue. Party dialogue can be pretty surrealistic anyway, especially after the second glass of wine, but here we’re confronted by gems like “Actually, I’m not particularly fond of fireworks, but I think I know a good one when I see one” and this splendid Deepity-packed exchange:

“Do you think Spiritualism—you know, communication with the dead—is the same thing as ESP?”
“That depends. If the dead are there, it is. But if they’re not . . . it’s something quite different.”

The highlight of the party is a performance by a masked Arthur Brown of one of his greatest hits, “Nightmare” (other goodies from Brown were “I Put a Spell on You” and especially “Fire”). Brown seems to be a largely forgotten figure of pop history these days, which is a shame. He and his band, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, combined a fair amount of musical inventiveness and wit with OTT showmanship reminiscent of, say, Alice Cooper. Like most ’60s hits today, “Nightmare” seems to be about half the length it ought to be—over before it properly gets started, as it were—and the bw filming doesn’t help, yet the song and its performance are still a highlight.

Committee 1968 - 4 Arthur Brown, who else

Arthur Brown, who else?

Before the party’s over and before the Hitchhiker and his pal can make a run for it, the Hitchhiker is taken away by the Director for a conversation of such ’60s profundity that, in the original cinema run, there must have been many a tub of popcorn spilled:

Hitchhiker: Do you want to know why I cut his head off . . . and put it back on?
Director: Yes.
Hitchhiker: I didn’t mean to do him any permanent harm. I wanted to take his head and play a joke with it, like putting it on a wall and frightening people as they walked by. But the joke got lost and in the end I put his head back on.

The meeting continues after an odd cut to what seems to be some kind of folly, and so does the Chopralexity. The Director explains what’s going on, and it really isn’t stupid at all, honest:

In the womb, the baby thinks that it’s the universe. And when the baby is born there is a glimmer of light. “I was there, but now I am here. So there are two things: me and the universe. The universe . . . and me.”

Oops. Dropped my popcorn again.

There’s more, quite a lot more, and the pretentiousness level doesn’t dwindle by much—”It’s obvious that my contract with society was not . . . total”—especially during a belltower sequence that seems to be unsure if it’s referring to VERTIGO (1958) or The STRANGER (1946). The later stages reminded me a bit of the movie Mindwalk (1990), in which likewise a strong, reticence-challenged personality leads another (in the later movie, others) on a walk while impressing them with the didactic force of unadulterated bollocks. The climax of the philosophical frenzy is the realization by the Hitchhiker that it wasn’t the Driver’s head that he cut off but his own . . .

Committee 1968 - 5 Posed for profundity

The Director (Robert Lloyd) and The Hitchhiker (Paul Jones), posing themselves for profundity.

And then there’s the chess motif that, however hard I tried to concentrate on it, seemed to go nowhere. To be fair, all of these deepitudes probably sounded a whole lot better back in the ’60s, especially if one chose one’s cinema with care.

For fans of ’60s rock/pop, there’s obviously a lot here, and not just the Arthur Brown cameo. Paul Jones had made his name as lead singer for the Manfred Mann band before going solo in 1966; he was, at least for UK dolly girls, a public heartthrob. His solo musical career was not quite a damp squib, but it was certainly far damper than he must have expected after he left the Manns. His acting skills, alas, tended to fall somewhere between elm and mahogany. The soundtrack is by Pink Floyd (credited as The Pink Floyd), but completists should be warned that it lasts, in total, just a few minutes, that it belongs to that period in the band’s history where it didn’t really know where it was going after the expulsion of Syd Barrett, and that it sounds like something the band threw together in the studio in an hour or two—if that!—over a couple of, um, handrolled cigarettes.

Despite its absurdities The Committee does have some merits and it does hold the attention . . . just. This latter is probably largely because of Wilson’s cinematography which, while never obtrusive, manages through sly angles and occasional pieces of arresting observation—not to mention the clever little shell game with faces in the opening credits—to give interest to material that might otherwise seem a bit thin. I’m sure I’d have liked the movie myself had I seen it back then—this was, after all, an era when Herostratus (1967) was seen as great art. As an introduction to—or reminder of—the ’60s, The Committee is certainly worth watching.

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On Amazon.com: The Committee

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5 thoughts on “Committee, The (1968)

  1. I fear I started giggling at the decapitation, and the reattachment didn’t make things any better, so even as a historical document I think I’ll avoid this one! Thanks for the warning, and the hugely enjoyable review! 🙂

    • Thanks for the kind words! The reattachment had me giggling too. I was reminded of that old Incredible String Band song “Douglas Traherne Harding” — one of the few of theirs that I really detest — and its opening line: “When I was born I had no head.” I do understand the roots of the statement in Zen (or whatever) ideas, but nonetheless it’s always made me either burst out laughing or cringe in embarrassment.

  2. Wow, sounds like some pretty sordid stuff here John! But you make quite a persuasive case in what must be considered one of your true Hall of Fame submissions. At fifty-five minutes this sounds like it would fit well into the hour-long season of The Twilight Zone, or even the Outer Limits. And a marriage of different genres too as you well established. I’m interested.

  3. Wow, sounds like some pretty sordid stuff here John! But you make quite a persuasive case in what must be considered one of your true Hall of Fame submissions. At fifty-five minutes this sounds like it would fit well into the hour-long season of The Twilight Zone, or even the Outer Limits. And a marriage of different genres too as you well established. I’m interested.

    • Thanks for dropping by and for the kind words!

      It’s worth watching as a curio or as a reminder of a past zeitgeist, Sam, but I wouldn’t say more than that.

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