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Running in from seemingly nowhere, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith & Peter Tork - better known collectively as The Monkees - disrupt a bridge opening ceremony. From where and why did they come to disrupt the proceedings? They were filming a series of vignettes in several different genres, including a wild west sequence, a desert war sequence, a Confederate war sequence, and a science fiction sequence. They disagree with much of what is happening around them, and try to figure out how to escape the oppression they feel - symbolized by a big black box in which they are seemingly imprisoned - by the forces around. That oppression is often shown in the form of "The Big Victor Mature". Written by
"I am ... proud of 'Head'," Mike Nesmith has said. He should be, because this film, which either has been derided by many of us or studied and scrutinized by film professors, works on many levels.
Yes, it's unconventional. To many, frustrating. It's almost as if the producers hand you the film and tempt: "You figure it out."
You probably already know that The Monkees TV show was a runaway marketing success that depended upon business acumen and no small serving of public deception. TV shows are about selling soap and toothpaste first, than to entertain. That The Monkees broke out of the box for a short time to make "Head" is a testament to the group's popularity and importance in pop culture, despite where your head's at. Get one thing straight: "Head" is not The Monkees TV show.
So what we have here is a "psychedelic documentary" about Western pop culture from a source that has authority on the subject. "Head" is a movie that could only come from those "inside the box". By 1968, The Monkees' cast and crew were seasoned and weary professionals who had seen their share of promise and disappointment. The movie was a deliberate attempt at market repositioning. So, it did three things: Make a film the way The Monkees envisioned. Most importantly, reinvent the group to one not subservient to it's old bosses - and yas, hipper than before. Make a film that exposed American attitudes of information dissemination.
"Head", therefore, really is about media manipulation and its net result: deception. The mass media is supposed to inform, educate us on the happenings in the world at large, and ultimately asks us to form opinions of these events that can shape thought into positive action. Thus we assume the information we absorb to be complete and unbiased - otherwise, how can one establish a valued conclusion on any one idea presented by a book, newspaper or TV show? In one of the street interviews in "Head", a guy admits, "I haven't looked at a newspaper or TV in years." Is he lesser or better the man? Even the drug parallels are a soft veiling of "Things are not as they seem." Remember the old joke, "Everything you know is wrong"? The screenplay starts with The Monkees' public admission of it's own "manufactured image" and runs with the football - literally. Is the football scene in the movie a visual manifestation of the whole idea behind "Head"? Is the film a stream-of-consciousness exercise? Is the film the culmination of pot smoking marathons? There are too many coincidences that occur in the film that suggest otherwise. My guess is that "Head" is the culmination of motivations somewhere between intended and unintended.
Largely, the insiders responsible for "Head" seem to enjoy themselves in the revelries that take place in the film, but there is anger - anger at the chaos that characterized the late '60s and anger at the way the media, television especially, had changed culture in negative ways. Drugs and violence were strong negative forces in the late '60s and still are, but the producers of "Head" want you to know that poor "information" is a far greater danger.
Wars have been attributed to hoaxes and lies. What perfect way to spread disinformation than through TV? Repeatedly, the mysterious black box is seen as an obstacle to The Monkees and seemingly, all of us as well. In one scene, Peter is sullenly sitting in a saloon holding a melting ice cream cone, and is asked by a fellow Monkey, "What's wrong?" "I bought this ice cream cone and I don't want it." The movie suggests that the first purpose of the media is NOT to inform, but to sell en mass blindly. "Head" goes further: put any idea into someone's head, and merrily goes he.
The filmmakers know this, and the danger is real. "Head" is either a movie that creates itself "as we go along", or is a deliberate statement. Perhaps, perhaps not. Maybe it is just "Pot meets advertising", as critics scathed in 1968. The jokes are on The Monkees and us. Be careful what you ask for, you may get it.
Cheers: A true guilty pleasure. Very funny. Intelligent. Will please the fans. Find the substance, it's there. Unabashedly weird. Bizarre collection of characters. Good tunage. Length is appropriate. Lots of great one liners, including my all time prophetic favorite: "The tragedy of your times, my young friends, is that you may get exactly what you want."
Caveats: Dated. Drugs. No plot. No linear delivery of any thought in particular. At least twenty-five stories that interweave in stop-and- go fashion. So, may easily frustrate. May seem pretentious to some. People who can't stand The Monkees need not watch, though that in itself is no reason to avoid it. The psychedelic special effects may kill your ailing picture tube or your acid burnt- out eyeballs.
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