Film Treatment: Orpheus Inc

By Whitehead, Peter | Framework, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Film Treatment: Orpheus Inc


Whitehead, Peter, Framework


Orpheus Inc. was a project that Peter Whitehead developed and proposed as a fi lm vehicle for Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull. Written between 1967 and 1968, the treatment gained support from producer Sam Spiegel who, after seeing Tonite Let's All Make Love in London at the Academy cinema in 1967, was keen to involve Whitehead in feature fi lm production. The intended fi lm is a reinvention of the Orpheus myth focused on the contemporary sound recording industry. As well as highlighting Whitehead's abiding interest in ancient myth, it also expresses an additional motif central to much of his work; the tension between mediated and "authentic" communication. In terms of plot and tone, Orpheus Inc. evokes the paranoia and technocracy of Godard's Alphaville (1965), the ontological breakdown depicted in Antonioni's Blow- Up (IT/UK, 1967), and the restriction of cultural consumption seen in Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 (UK, 1966). With its pre sen ta tion of a dystopian atmosphere and music fetishism, it also looks forward to elements of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (US/UK, 1971).

Orpheus Incorporated is an American corporation with a large organisation in En gland. Its concern is profi t from the mass media, which involves power over the mass media. Thus it has many off- shoots: agencies for actors and singers and musicians, sound recording and fi lm and advertising companies, tele vi sion production and printing and press concerns, and particularly a musical publishing and recording venture named Young Orpheus Inc.

The controller of Orpheus Incorporated, who is referred to by everyone as Mr. Orpheus, is never seen. His distorted voice is heard over the telephone, Dictaphone, telex, radio and all other methods of communication.

MICK is a fast- rising executive in Young Orpheus Inc. who calls his boss the Supreme Sound Mixer. He has an intuitive knack for feeling the pulse of the culture of the young and for creating the sound, words and images that quicken the beat of that pulse. He manages the affairs, recordings, happenings and fi nances of music and sound groups, having chosen early on the Management side instead of developing his own talents. He is fascinated by the mechanics of the trade, the machines for amplifying, recording, distorting the sound, the ways of fi xing audiences, doing the deals, and manipulating the charts.

MICK's love for creating the sound of the young people is quite genuine, although the resulting music is becoming less and less human. Composers are replaced by scientists- voices and lyrics are used less and less in favour of total sound. Highly sophisticated computer research carried on by Orpheus Inc. dictates the electronic noises, the harmonics and programmed emotions which will infallibly satisfy the young audience, as well as make them pay for the rec ords to go to the top of the charts.

MICK has the usual trappings of the rich executive, the Rolls coupé, the luxurious apartment, the expensive girl STELLA- all of which at fi rst he seems to take for granted and enjoy. STELLA also works for Orpheus Inc. and claims to know Mr. Orpheus personally, although her descriptions of him are contradictory. He seems not so much a person as the aggregate of all those people representing themselves on his behalf, sent out by him on innumerable missions, always obscuring his real identity.

MICK starts to get restless and grows more and more dissatisfi ed with his work and his private life. His old friends accuse him of selling out, always acting as if he was himself a machine- man within Orpheus Inc., so he starts to treat them according to their expectations of him. Yet he takes reactionary steps in private to prove to himself that he is still a simple being at heart. He still yearns for the chance when he will fulfi ll his lost ambitions to be creative himself. He quietly and secretly takes up playing his guitar again, improvising some tunes. He decides to write and sing a gentle, lyrical ballad which is uncluttered by all the trappings and special effects of Orpheus Inc. …

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