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Head Rag Hop (1970)


Main image of Head Rag Hop (1970)
16mm, 3 min, colour
DirectorPeter Turner
Production CompanyPeter Turner
SponsorBFI Production Board
ProducerPeter Turner
ScriptPeter Turner
MusicRomeo Nelson

An abstract accompaniment to Romeo Nelson's jazz classic.

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Head Rag Hop is bright, colourful, fun and, despite its references to old-time America, a thoroughgoing evocation of the time it was made. It cuts flash frames and stylised, cartoonish text to a risqué 1929 boogie woogie number of the same title by Romeo Nelson (with vocals by bluesman Tampa Red and vaudeville singer and sometime female impersonator Frankie Jaxon), its speed matching the frivolity and celebratory nature of the song.

The lyrics of the song are punched out in vividly-coloured hand-drawn text, which reflects a 1960s fascination with typography, while the word 'it' is written in the style of the British counter-culture's house magazine, the International Times, further emphasising the film's cultural allegiances. Its use of cut-outs, camera zooms and image manipulation is similarly evocative of the period. The use of collage and photography to reframe found images and text was common in all manner of media at this time, most notably in pop art and the work of Bob Godfrey and Monty Python's Terry Gilliam, both of whom were strongly influenced by the Polish animator, Walerian Borowczyk.

The images used in Head Rag Hop depict various early blues, jazz and big band musicians, among them Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charlie Patten, Duke Ellington and, especially, Nelson himself. Much of the popular culture of the late 1960s looked back to the 'authenticity' of the blues and raided the iconography of the recent past. The Rolling Stones best typify the attempt of the new generation to approximate the 'primitive' sounds of early blues; elsewhere, references to Victorian and Edwardian Britain and the decline of the British Empire abounded, as on the sleeve and overall concept of the Beatles 1967 album, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Head Rag Hop, with its speed and garishness contrasting with its photography evoking hard times in the American South, looks to the past and the lasting impact of particular moments on the modern cultural imagination.

William Fowler

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Video Clips
Complete film (2:47)
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