DIRECTED BY: Pat Tremblay
FEATURING: Neil Napier, and amateurs who answered a newspaper ad
PLOT: Pharmaceutical molecules visualized as alien beings travel inside the mind of a
man afflicted with dissociative identity disorder and collect various “personalities,” who are examined as they perform monologues in front of surreal computer generated backgrounds.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not released. But even if it were released, it’s too uneven to qualify for a list of the 366 Best Weird Movies, although it would definitely have a shot at a list of the weirdest movies ever made regardless of quality.
COMMENTS: Before beginning the description of Heads of Control, I must explain why it earns a “beware” rating. Normally, I reserve the “beware” badge for movies that are badly done, or even, in some cases, movies that are morally bad. Heads of Control, however, meets neither of those criteria; although it’s cheap and uneven, it is quite competently mounted and the experimental impulse behind it is admirable. Here, the rating is given due to the simple fact that this movie is so far out, so much like a performance art piece, that will only appeal to a very small slice of the most dedicated avant-gardists, or to those looking for the ultimate micro-budget drug trip film. This experiment requires work on the viewers part to watch, and anyone looking for something remotely resembling a normal narrative movie is going to be hugely disappointed.
With that intriguing warning out of the way, just what is Heads of Control? It begins with the protagonist, Max, being attacked by river zombies; it quickly appears that this is a hallucination, as we see Max in a mental institution being shot up with drugs. Soon, we are inside Max’s diseased brain, watching a pair of hooded creatures. The subordinate journeys into the patient’s psychedelically appointed neurons to fetch various two-dimensional rectangles from his tangled neural networks, which the superior creature places into a floating computer monitor. The pair then watch the results, which consist
of people who answered the director’s newspaper ad improvising in front of a green screen. Surrealistic computer-generated artwork is projected on the screen, and visual and auditory trickery is layered on to mangle the results. Among the performers are a man who recites “Jabberwocky” while slapping himself with two dead fish; another who gives a long, rambling, incoherent lecture on the basics of communication; a mad-eyed martial artist who appears to be on a methamphetamine binge as he discusses his career and his anger management problems; and two depressed women, one middle aged and one a teenager, whose separate despairing monologues are cleverly intercut. That’s not all, either. Other weird sequences occur, spliced in at random. In one, a man asks a seated figure a series of maddeningly generic questions, only to be answered by another man seated at a slide projector with a series of arbitrary images. An interlude where various cutout figures hop around a jumbled collage landscape is reminiscent of a more unhinged, less witty segment Terry Gilliam might have composed for Monty Python. There’s also a disturbed heavy metal music video thrown in for good measure. After the samples have all been collected by the mysterious beings, another, more malevolent entity appears, and the two sides wage battle via a lot of cheap effects, like laser beams painted directly on the film. This showdown sequence looks like something that might have come from a failed 1970s children show pilot. And the madness is still not over; we return to the “real” world and watch as Max is released from the asylum. Going by the scenes in the outside world, which are scarcely less deranged than what goes on inside Max’s twisted synapses, it seems that a cure for his disorder has not been found.
More than mere acidheaded noodling, director Pat Tremblay clearly understands the classical theories of surrealism; the slideshow sequence is as good an example of juxtaposition as you’re likely to find. There also seems to me to be a strong Pop art influence to the film, with its collages, bold bright colors, simple shapes, and cheesy effects. But the methodology for creating the film—non-actors (some obviously considering themselves performance artists) answering newspaper ads promising to allow them to do whatever they wanted in front of a green screen—pretty much guaranteed uneven results. (The abstract sequences added by Tremblay were almost always more interesting than the “featured” performers). The interwoven scene with two depressed women, separated by decades but united by despair, was moving, bordering on brilliant, but other contributions try the patience. Although I see the irony, I was less than enthralled with the man who stammered and stuttered in subtitled French about the value of communication. No amount of visual manipulation could makes these incoherent ramblings tolerable for more than a few minutes, yet this footage was reused multiple times in the film. Another complaint is that the audio distortion applied to the voices of the two robotic creatures—visually correlated by the column of disembodied lips mouthing the same dialogue—frequently made it a struggle to understand the complex techno-psychobabble they were trying to impart. It added to the confusing nature of the film, but not in a pleasant way. Finally, there were too many false endings—the movie continued on, adding more and more, even after it seemed to have found the perfect place to stop.
Overall, the movie reminded me of something computer-age Kuchar brothers might make, if they were temporarily possessed by the spirit of Jean Cocteau. Qualms aside, you have to admire Tremblay’s insistence to always go 110% weird. I’m half convinced that, when LSD wants to blow its mind, it takes a hit of Heads of Control.
After four years, this special film of very limited appeal has not yet found a distributor, and has only screened at a couple of film festivals. For more information you can try the official site or director Pat Tremblay’s personal site. A 5 minute clip from the film is also available on the IMDB. Heads of Control: The Gorul Baheu Brain Expedition may be too weird and experimental to ever gain a huge cult following, but it still deserves to be seen. Dedicated cinephiles who make it a point of honor to track down the weirdest, most obscure works will want to take note of Heads of Control. We’ll let you know in this space if it ever gets officially released.
Thanks to Mr. Tremblay for providing us with a screener copy of this unique work.