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The Committee Print E-mail

THE COMMITTEE

Film profile/review by David King

Director: Peter Sykes.
Producer: Max Steuer.
Screenplay by Max Steuer and Peter Sykes from 'Nightmare' by Max Steuer.
Director of Photography: Ian Wilson.
Editor: Peter Elliot.
Music: The Pink Floyd.
A Craytic Production. Distributed by Planet. British. Cert A.
Central Figure: Paul Jones. Victim: Tom Kempinski.
Director of The Committee: Robert Lloyd. Girl: Pauline Munro.
Boss: Jimmy Gardner, Arthur Brown.

The soundtrack to the film The Committee is arguably the most obscure music with which Pink Floyd is associated. Not only was the film never officially released, but also the music has only been available on bootleg (released in 1985). To make matters worse, the music on this bootleg is not in a 'pure' form, for it is taken straight from the film, complete with dialogue. Given the mystery of the film and its music, this article will discuss both.

UPDATE: The DVD (which is in NTSC format, with no region coding) is now (July 2005) available, and can be ordered using these special links: Amazon.com (USA/International), Amazon Canada, Amazon UK/Elsewhere, or Amazon Germany.

The Story

The plot is actually quite straightforward, which, considering the fact that the film is only 58 minutes long, is probably just as well. (The fact that the film is primarily a vehicle for the exploration of philosophical ideas also justifies the plot's simplicity.)

Briefly, a hitchhiking draughtsman (the 'central figure') accepts a lift from a Mercedes-driver. Perceiving the latter to be entirely vacuous - to be 'not really alive at all' - the hitchhiker seizes the opportunity, when the driver is looking under the hood of the car, of using the hood to behead him. After due reflection and contemplation, he sews the head back on, at which point the driver, slightly dazed, drives off. Back at work, the draughtsman receives a summons to a mysterious Committee, the function of which is to mediate with regard to the problems of the world. The draughtsman is taken by the Director on a nighttime stroll through the grounds of the institution, and it is at this point that philosophy - the raison d'être of the film - takes center stage. Issues discussed include alienation; the assumption that all faceless committees must be hostile; and the responsibility we have to our own future self. (The head which was removed then re-attached to the driver's body is a metaphor for the learning process - the sudden change in perspective we receive at various points in our lives.) The film ends with a wiser and more enlightened central figure, presumably able to profit from his encounter with the Committee.

The Music

The soundtrack to The Committee comprises some of the earliest music with which David Gilmour is associated, recorded in May 1968. Despite its earliness, the music is among the most 'intellectual' that Pink Floyd have produced. No doubt the intellectual quality was prompted by the film's overtly philosophical subject matter. There are no actual songs on the record, although there are two very melodious instrumentals. The total length of the music and unaccompanied dialogue on the bootleg is just over 17 minutes, and comprises nine pieces of varying length. (One piece - clearly the main theme song - is reprised at the end in a slightly different form.) The rest of the tracks are 'mood pieces', but none of them are as abstract or free-form as, for example, Nick's Boogie from Tonite Let's All Make Love in London. If a comparison is needed, perhaps Up The Khyber, from the soundtrack to More, most resembles the general style of the music on The Committee.

The Songs

Running at 58 seconds, the Main Theme is the second longest piece on the soundtrack that is uninterrupted by dialogue (although dialogue does begin right at the end). It has a very catchy tune, reminiscent of Bach's Chorale Prelude BWV 601 (if you will excuse the obscure reference!). The instrumentation is surprisingly sparse for Pink Floyd and sounds typical of a band from that period, except for Rick's organ-playing. The slightly wistful feeling of the piece, though, marks it as typically Floydian.

The next instrumental is roughly 1'10" in length with electric guitar dominating the piece. This track is the other 'melodious' tune on the soundtrack; its jagged, racy riffs remind me of Pan Am Shuffle from La Carrera Panamericana. In the movie, this song accompanies a discussion first of centaurs (there is the implication that the vacuous driver who had his head sewn back on is like a centaur in reverse: the body of a man with the head of a horse) and then of madness (specifically that of a woman known to the central figure). Presumably the raciness of the music is intended to complement the bold ideas addressed in the discussion. Certainly the jaggedness of the music complements the references to mental breakdowns, disorientation and frayed nerves.

The third piece is a typical Pink Floyd electronic doodle of the late 60s. An almost static wash of sound, it lasts barely 15 seconds and is not intruded upon by dialogue. The last few seconds are, however, interrupted by the tolling of a bell.

The next instrumental has a dark, ominous quality - a quality that is justified given that the central figure at this point appears to be in a corner, forced to defend his beheading of the driver. The following is typical of the central figure's utterances at this point:

    "I can tell you this. In that car there was nothing, see, nothing. Just talk. It's fair to say, isn't it, that a man like that doesn't think. He doesn't really feel. He goes through the motions of being human because nobody has told him different."
The music itself captures the kind of fragmentation being pointed to here. There is a sinuous, low-pitched melody (which reminds me of a section of Part 3 of The Narrow Way) punctuated by short, high-pitched, discordant electronic phrases. The track lasts 1'55".

A very brief piece of eleven seconds follows. Its sound wavers in intensity and is reminiscent of rapidly brushed wind chimes. It creates a kind of 'ringing in the ears' effect, which seems justified, bearing in mind that it forms the background to the following exchange:

    Central Figure: I can hold my breath, but my blood flows regardless.
    Interlocutor: You can hold your breath for a little while, but if you stop the blood flowing, that's for good.
In many ways, the next piece is one of the most effective instrumentals on the soundtrack. It is 1'17" in length and starts with a sequence of low organ notes. Shortly after a guitar joins in. And for the rest of the song there is a dialogue between high-pitched and discordant guitar work and low-pitched organ notes. The instrumental is effective because it mirrors particularly well the subject matter of the film. Specifically, at the beginning of the instrumental the subject matter is 'oneness', the state an embryo experiences prior to being born. Later in the song, the subject matter is the embryo's realization that there are other objects in the universe. Thus the solo organ arguably captures the oneness of the embryo, whereas the organ plus guitar capture the duality of embryo plus the rest of the universe. (It may be thought that I'm 'reading too much' into the music here, and that Pink Floyd may not have consciously intended any such artiness at all. Perhaps. On the other hand, composing a soundtrack to a film must require a certain amount of self-conscious discipline, a certain amount of intellectual weighing-up of precisely what material would suit each scene and why.)

The next instrumental represents a clever development of the one just discussed; for whereas the prior piece features a dialogue between guitar and organ, the one following it comprises a dialogue between guitar and a heartbeat rhythm - suggesting that while the 'otherness' of the embryo's world remains, the embryo itself has become a human being. In fact, the instrumental has three sections: the first, which I just described, lasts 1'25"; the second, which comprises guitar only, lasts 25 seconds (the piece finishes with a loud, reverberating guitar phrase); and the third, which is a return to the organ notes from the beginning of the previous song, lasts 30 seconds. The track provides the music to one of the most dramatic turning points of the film: the moment when the central figure tells his interlocutor that he knows his identity. (The moment corresponds to the change from heartbeat/guitar dialogue to guitar phrases by themselves.)

An early version of Careful With That Axe Eugene follows. At 2'26", it is the second longest piece on the soundtrack. Unlike other versions, it doesn't really reach a dramatic climax, such as the usual scream. Careful With That Axe Eugene is obviously an ominous-sounding piece, and as a result, it forms the background music to a discussion of the possibility that the whole world is mad.

    Central Figure: I think the whole world is a madhouse. An extended madhouse.
    Director: Isn't that a way of saying that you are mad?
    Central Figure: As long as the dialogue goes on there's a chance of rationality.
    Director: Not everyone would agree with that.
At 3'15", the Main Theme (reprise) is not only the longest track, but is also the longest piece uninterrupted by dialogue (although there is one small bit: a girl asks, obviously for symbolic reasons, whether the central figure plays bridge). It differs from the first version in that the drums are far less obtrusive, as is the organ. In fact, guitar sound predominates, together with that oboe-ish sounding electronic instrument that features so much in Pink Floyd's music of the late 60s. In summary, the film and music end almost as they began: itself an intellectual statement.

Conclusion

At the beginning of this article I mentioned that the music to The Committee is the most obscure with which Pink Floyd is associated. I hope the foregoing has shown that that obscurity is undeserved. Not only does it feature two instrumentals that can be enjoyed purely on their own merits, but it also provides rare insights into the intellectual side of Pink Floyd. Is there any hope that both the film and music will be made available to the public? Probably not. Though the film is unlikely to be considered a masterpiece, the synopsis provided here should certainly demonstrate that The Committee is a very unusual and original film. In the final analysis, the quality of the film is irrelevant, for both film and soundtrack, were they to be released, would be bought solely as a result of their association with Pink Floyd. There seems little more to say, except that we can only hope that someone will come along who is willing to track down the people involved in the film, resolve any contractual difficulties, and release both film and soundtrack to us, the fans.

UPDATE: The DVD (in NTSC format, with no region coding), HAS now been released and can be ordered using these special links: Amazon.com (USA/International), Amazon Canada, Amazon UK/Elsewhere, or Amazon Germany.


EDITOR'S NOTE: David King is a successful Australian novelist whose works include Vexil Excelsior, and more recently, Ore (a collection of his published works). Of particular interest is the latter, which includes, among many others, three short stories entitled More, Obscured by Clouds and Relics. His work has also appeared in countless journals and periodicals. A huge fan of Pink Floyd and a subscriber of Brain Damage, Mr. King has graciously submitted analytical articles covering each of the movies for which Pink Floyd recorded soundtracks.

This article originally appeared in Brain Damage Magazine issue 39

 
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