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Titular Head: diving into the history behind Saturday’s salute to film and alcohol

Titular Head will rear its intoxicated, jeering head for the 33rd time this Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. in Harris. Though everybody knows both what Titular Head is and the appropriate amount of alcohol to consume before it, less is known about the origins of this epic evening and how its well-established traditions evolved.
In an attempt to uncover these little-known truths, current Titular Head organizers Dan Neely ’09 and Mark Sullivan ’10, Titular Head XXXI host Liz Ward ’07, Titular Head XXV and XXVI Organizer Chris Rathjen ’02, and Titular Head celebrity Lyle Bauman were all asked several questions about what makes Titular Head so popular.

Why is Titular Head called Titular Head?

Sullivan: Apparently Relays and Titular Head used to be linked together [in the 1970s]. I think Titular Head was the last event … the winner of relays would be called the “Titular Head” and would lead this march to Harris. Then they would have a skit show … I’m sure some of them were just made up on the spot because people were wasted.
Rathjen: Originally there was a talent show in the ’70s and ’80s. I think the winner of the talent show was the Titular Head and they got to sit on a float. Then Relays died out and a couple years later some students brought back the film fest part of it. The name just kind of migrated on, but was by and large divorced from its original meaning.

How is the host selected?
Ward: I think they just pick someone that could handle a crowd and that they think is funny. Apparently they also pick someone that can project because I didn’t have a microphone for the first half of Tit Head.
Neely: [This year’s host] Rachel Fields [’09] is hilarious and she knows how to play a crowd well. Mark and I thought she’d be a good candidate. It’s nice to give a senior the host position—kinda fun to go out in a bang.

How is the panel of judges selected?
Sullivan: Traditionally it’s been SGA cabinet, [both] incoming and outgoing, and then we have four students at large. So this year we have Fonz Jenkins [10, ]Kat York [’09,] [who] has never gone [to Titular Head] … and then Erik Simpson [English] and Doug Cutchins. Simpson was apparently a judge his first year, loved it, and was never invited back.
Bauman: I think maybe it’s because that I’m pretty open minded to the whole thing. I don’t think it’s because of my movie knowledge at all.

When and/or why is there a tradition of being raucously drunk for Titular Head?

Sullivan: I think it just has to be that way. When I describe it to people I like to say that it’s like a Roman amphitheatre. It’s definitely not a film festival.
Ward: Unless someone was submitting something they really thought was their magnum opus and suffered psychological trauma from the heckling it received … I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. It added to the atmosphere and the notoriety.

What makes a film successful/unsuccessful?

Neely: I think really good films incorporate a lot of different people on campus and incorporate a quirk about us. I really like the fact that it’s a celebration of oddities in our weird eccentric community. It’s like we know that we’re being a bunch of dorks and we know that [we’re] geeking out over kind of silly stuff.
Ward: Brevity is essential. I think that featuring prominent Grinnell traditions or landmarks or people or characters are all essential to a successful film. I think a film that takes itself seriously at all is bound to fail. Or one that’s long. Or boring. Or cliché.

What is your favorite Titular Head film?

Sullivan: I’m going to go old school here. I really like “Handjob at HyVee.” It’s really old, I think [from] 1993. It’s just a guy eating a cream filled doughnut at HyVee and there are cuts to carrots and people’s fingers touching carrots and the produce aisle at HyVee and he finishes it and licks his fingers off and that’s the end of the movie.
Neely: One that really captures a more recent Grinnell attitude is “Bare Aspiration,” the one about a streaker. But interestingly enough the main character in that film didn’t even go to Grinnell.
Bauman: “Racquetball [Tunak Tunak Tun]” was pretty good. That’s going to be around for many years.

How do you think that YouTube and increasingly advanced technology has influenced Titular Head?
Neely: In general I think YouTube has geared people toward what is funny in film. It’s increasing expectations and also increasing quality.
Ward: I worry that it will influence films to their detriment if somebody gets it in their head that it’d be funny to imitate some YouTube film that’ll be long gone and forgotten in a couple of months … I have more faith in the intelligence of Grinnell students.
Rathjen: The switchover to digital was while I was [at Grinnell] so the production value just skyrocketed. It lowers the barrier for entry so if you have an idea, it’s easier to get it on screen.

What, if anything, would you change about Titular Head, or where do you see it going in the future?
Sullivan: I’m worried about Tit Head becoming too institutionalized and rational in terms of the way the committee is run. [This is] the first year we have an email account, which is great, but half of me feels like, Titular Head doesn’t need an email account. I kind of like that it’s this inbred, weird, completely nepotistic structure. And it’s like a lot of people don’t understand how it works and I like that. I like that it’s not democratic. Fuck that shit.
Ward: I don’t know if I would change anything … I never saw any flaws.

What is your advice to future Titular Head filmmakers?
Sullivan: I like Kellogg’s Corn Flakes because if the audience eats enough of them and gets drunk enough they will throw them up in the Harris bathroom … and filmmakers will hopefully film it for a film next year.
Ward: Be ambitious and don’t make a film that’s easy to make or that anyone can make. And try and be funny, just for your sake. It’ll save any film.
Rathjen: So many people have ideas … you hear a hundred great ideas that could result in a hundred great films and people just never get around to doing it. My advice would be, make that film.
Bauman: Hire it out. Get Steven Spielberg to do it. No, try to be on the lighter side, relax, have a good time doing it. Don’t try to get real serious. Let the movie have a lighter side and not such a dark side.

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