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This is one of those films where it is easy to see how some people
wouldn't like it. My wife has never seen it, and when I just rewatched
it last night, I waited until after she went to bed. She might have
been amused by a couple small snippets, but I know she would have had
enough within ten minutes.
Head has nothing like a conventional story. The film is firmly mired in the psychedelic era. It could be seen as filmic surrealism in a nutshell, or as something of a postmodern acid trip through film genres. If you're not a big fan of those things--psychedelia, surrealism, postmodernism and the "acid trip aesthetic" (assuming there's a difference between them), you should probably stay away from this film. On the other hand if you are a fan of that stuff, you need to run out and buy Head now if you haven't already.
Oddly, the film has never received much respect. That probably has a lot to do with preconceptions. After all, it does star The Monkees--Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork--and The Monkees were a musical group of actors put together by producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider to be a kid-friendly, bubble-gummy Beatles for a television series. In their era, they had as much respect as, say, Menudo, New Kids on the Block, The Spice Girls, and so on. As a fellow IMDb reviewer rightly notes--"Perhaps people in 1968, thinking of the Monkees as a silly factory-made pop band rip-off of the Beatles, refused to see (Head)".
The Monkees and Head have never been quite able to shed that negative public perception. It's a shame, because there was a lot of talent, both musically and otherwise, in The Monkees. It's probably odder that Rafelson, who directs here and co-produces with Schneider, and Jack Nicholson (yes, _that_ Jack Nicholson), who wrote the script and also co-produces, decided to take The Monkees in this unusual direction. It's as if New Kids on the Block suddenly put out an album equivalent to Pink Floyd's Ummagumma (1969) or Atom Heart Mother (1970). In fact, the songs in Head, written by The Monkees and frequent collaborators such as Carole King and Harry Nilsson, have a Floyd-like quality, somewhere between the Syd Barrett era and the immediate post-Barrett era. This is much more prominent than any Beatles similarity. Some people have complained about the music in the film, but to me, all the songs are gems. For that matter, some people dislike Barrett era (or other) Floyd, which is just as difficult for me to empathize with.
But what _is_ Head about? The basic gist is just that The Monkees are taking a trip through various film genres--there are war scenes, adventure scenes, horror scenes, comedy scenes, drama scenes, western scenes, sci-fi scenes, romance scenes, and on and on. Except, in the film's reality, this turns out to be happening primarily (if not exclusively) on a studio lot. At root, we're watching The Monkees shoot a film. Of course all of the scenes in the various genres have something surreal and self-referential about them, and they, and individual shots within a scene, tend to lead to one another using dream logic not dissimilar to the Monty Python television show. As a dream, Head tends to vacillate between a good dream and a nightmare, while often being one that would cause you to laugh in your sleep (something that I frequently do, by the way).
Technically, Rafelson uses a wide variety of techniques to realize the above. There are scenes with extensive negative images, there are a lot of very fast cuts (including a great sequence that features Davy Jones and Tony Basil dancing alternately in a white and a black room, wearing a combination of white and black reversed in each, that occasionally toggles back and forth as quickly as two frames at a time), there are a lot of bizarre segues, there is an animated cow mouth, there are odd editing devices, and so on. For my money, I wish this stuff wasn't just a relic of the psychedelic era. This is the kind of artistic approach I relish. It seemed like a good idea back then and I still think it's a good idea. I'd like to see films like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou using (2004) using these types of extended techniques. Now that would make that film surreal.
Interpretationally, some folks who aren't so in tune with the acid trip aesthetic have complained that it's basically b.s. to offer meanings for something intended to not have any. I disagree with such a pessimistic/nihilistic view; Head was intended to have a lot of meaning(s), and it's not just films without conventional plots that have multiple interpretations. Nicholson, Rafelson and Schneider have a lot of interesting things to say about The Monkees--the film postmodernistically comments on their manufactured status; pop stardom--way before Pink Floyd, Head conflates pop stardom and violence, from images of war to images of fans cannibalistically dismantling their idols; and naïve U.S.-oriented ideas of international perceptions and respect--well-armed foreigners in a desert surrender to Micky Dolenz just because he's an American, then later they blow up a Coke machine (again in the desert) for him because he's thirsty and can't gain access. The film comments on many other topics--from big Industry to police, surveys, spectatorship (especially in relation to tragedies), and on and on. Head is full of ideas, appropriately enough, with intelligent, multifaceted things to say about them.
Head deserves to be considered a classic--it's basically shooting for the same vibe as The Beatles' Yellow Submarine. Both premiered in November of 1968, interestingly enough, and both were intended as something of a summation of the psychedelic aesthetic. Yellow Submarine wasn't quite successful. Head is everything Yellow Submarine should have been.
"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.
"Head" is one of those films you'll have a lot of trouble convincing your friends to see, but once they do they'll fall in love with it. I don't know how many times this has happened to me. This film is just so funny and bizarre, really a deconstruction of everything the Monkees had been up to this point in their career. A lot the credit goes to Bob Rafelson who pretty much ended the Monkee's career with this film. My guess is he wanted to get out of directing the TV show and get into features, which he did in a big way after this one. Micky Dolenz is absolutely hilarious. I can't believe he didn't have a second life as a comic actor after this film. This film has a lot of great cameos and a lot of wonderful psychedelic nonsense. I feel like the reputation of this film is continuing to build and it wouldn't surprise me if it eventually becomes a full on cult classic
You would really need to remember the Monkees and have a clear
understanding as to where and how they fitted into the second half of
the 1960s in order to fully appreciate this movie.
There is no plot as such. Basically, it's a crazy, mixed up pastiche of various, unrelated sequences. But, it IS interesting AND entertaining in its own peculiar way once you get onto its wavelength. In short, it was a classic, cleverly conceived and well crafted example of late '60s experimental cinema. It contains some good songs, some ultra-groovy cinematography and plenty of other worthwhile ideas in terms of film technique.
I give it 7 out of 10 for several reasons. First, it took a lot of courage to make such an unorthodox movie in the commercial mainstream where both its stars and its producers were firmly ensconced at the time (whether they liked it or not). It seems that almost everyone who was associated with the project (with the exception of Columbia who paid for it) knew that it was probably not going to be a big money maker. Their reasons for wanting to do it were as unorthodox as the film itself. Secondly, it was, for the most part, a creative success. And, finally, as already mentioned, it is, unquestionably, a classic of the genre and, as such, it is now historically important.
Unfortunately, "Head" came too late in the Monkees career. But, there again, they wouldn't have been allowed to make it earlier on because it was essentially a very pointed and cynical satire of their own image.
Clearly, the members of the group knew, only too well, that the whole Monkeemania thing had pretty well run its course when they started work on this movie. In a way, it was to be their swan song and they were determined to let it all hang out. They were tired of being treated like mere pawns in the high powered corporate game in which they had been manipulated and exploited over the preceding few years. In short, they "wanted out" and they were going to say a few things before they left.
History, however, has vindicated the band. Let the critics be damned. The Monkees, left behind some of the best, most polished and successful pop records of the decade. Yes, they had plenty of help. But at the end of the day, THEY stood in front of the studio mikes, THEY fronted the movie and TV cameras and THEY did the concerts. They were fun and just a little bit crazy. But, unlike some of their contemporaries, they were never threatening. You could safely introduce a Monkey to your elderly aunt.
"Head" probably borrows a bit too heavily from the Beatles "Hard Day's Night" but it's still worth another look for those who were around at the time or for younger retrophiles who have the ability to appreciate its significance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This all-but-ignored masterpiece is about the Monkees becoming aware
that they are fictional characters in a movie (Head), and that
everything they do or say had already been written in an (unseen)
script they seem to be following. Head was written by Jack Nicholson,
Rafelson, and Peter Tork during a three-day LSD trip in a suite at an
expensive Hollywood hotel. The other three Monkees only acted in it.
They fight this every way they can by doing things not in the script. They deliberately flub their lines, walk off sets, tear up scenery, punch other actors for no reason; and ultimately, commit suicide by jumping off a bridge.
For instance, in the rapid flashes of a psychedelic party scene, if you watch frame-by-frame, you can see Rafelson sitting next to the camera and cameraman, very deliberately shooting into a mirror. He is revealing that the party is actually fake and is being shot in a studio with actors who suddenly drop out of character and walk away in the middle of a conversation when the Director yells "cut!"
The Monkees, however, never drop out of character because those characters are also who they really are. That ends up being the core of the Revelation soon to come.
At every turn, they realize their increasingly-bizarre actions were exactly what they were supposed to do in the scripted film they can't escape being in. You say they went crazy and walked through the sky (which turns out to be painted on paper and hung from the ceiling as the set's background)? No problem! Hey, hey, they're the Monkees, and those wacky guys just keep monkeying around!
In the end, even their deaths did not set them free. That was how the movie was supposed to end, and their motionless, waterlogged bodies are fished out of the river, put in another box, and stacked in a film studio warehouse until the characters are needed again for another studio production.
This is made all the more poignant by the fact that the Monkees really ARE fictional characters who forced themselves into the real world. They did it through the power of their music.
Ironically, near the end, Peter Tork has what he rightly sees as a hugely profound revelation that solves their problem, but unfortunately, no one listens.
Peter realizes: "It doesn't MATTER if we're in the box (the film)". He means that it doesn't matter if will is free or illusory, and that "the only important thing is that you just let the present moment occur and occur... You need to just let 'now' HAPPEN, as it happens", without analyzing or evaluating or judging whether the experience is "valid" by some abstract definition.
When you can't even tell the difference, will being free or not doesn't matter--tying to figure out if you are the "real" you is just a pointless waste of time.
I saw this film at a very important time in my life. I was trying to figure out how to escape being just "that geeky, creepy nerd girl" by thinking about it intensely instead of just having fun (i.e., sex) like everyone else did. But the revelation in Head broke my self-imposed recursive trap and helped me more than Rafelson or Nicholson or Tork will ever know.
For decades, I've watched "Head" and wished I could thank Pete.
Was this a good movie?
Uhh, how about, like...
==< YES >==
The cinema of the 60s was as much as time of revolution as the politics
and the music. Filmmakers were daring to make avant-garde films
discussing taboo subjects only permitted before in exploitation films.
Starting with both "Breathless" and underground American cinema (such
as Kenneth Anger), films became more and more experimental. All of this
accumulated when Hollywood realized they had mass commercial appeal
with "Easy Rider". One of the best (and most surprising) outputs of
this era was also one of the least successful initially. "Head" was
made when The Monkees career was seriously waning, which is what damned
one of the best psychedelic films ever made.
The plot? Well, there really isn't one, as many have said. It involves The Monkees going from one surreal scenario to the next one. However, these sequences are all obviously LSD-tinged and basically mock how The Monkees were sick of being confined to their light pre-fab reputation. Its a shame that the film found no audience. The teeny boppers who loved them had moved onto a new fad as they always do. The psychedelic / Haight-Ashbury crowd to whom the film was garnered would never be caught dead at a Monkees movie. Its all their loss. This film may be plot less, but it is certainly not without meaning and is very intelligently put together. The crew later made both "Easy Rider" and "Five Easy Pieces". The film was later revived at a 1973 Raybert retrospective and it gained a very positive response, which granted it the cult following it had deserved for a long time. Ironically, The Monkees would fall victim to the same commercialism they protested in this film with their later 80s reunion. (10/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Beatles had just done 'Magical Mystery Tour.' There was the general
feel that performance, peace and drugs went together naturally. In LA,
there was a film subculture that knew something was up. Nicholson was
in several of these gangs.
Before he decided to seriously become an actor, before 'Easy Rider,' before 'Pink Flamingos,' before 'Day for Night,' there were several experiments with what to do about this. An important one is 'Saragossa Manuscript.' This is another.
Jack writes. He plays with circular narrative, self-reference, film reference, performance self-loathing, the pain of creation, all on the outskirts of safe kiddiepop. You must see this, if only to know something about Jack.
Certain actors act by digging into themselves. It is a common technique. Some dig deep, but after a while, they become boring because they are incredibly shallow people. There isn't just enough stuff in there to sustain a career. Think of DeNiro and Hackman.
Others are pretty interesting people, who seem to become more interesting over time. When they dig into the barrel, they put stuff back in because of the pain of the digging. Think Sean Penn and Jack. At the bottom of Jack's barrel, at the end of the thread he spins, as the base of every character is this experimental, risky writer/filmmaker.
Who cares if it is a bad movie? It is bad because it took risks. Watch when a tear is wiped from Annette's cheek by the director. It is a loving goof on the whole Brando thing, something that I heard Marlon laughed about. That is one of the richest moments in Hollywood film history.
There's another reason to watch this. Music in film is has a strong root in dance. Revolution in film often relies on music. Whole cultures are thus swept along.
An unsung giantess in inventing how billions now dance is Toni Basil. She was as influential in pop choreography as the Beatles were in music. She was already well into her career when called upon to work on this. But this is one of her earliest screen appearances. You can see her work throughout and she herself in the pretty cool 'Daddy's Girl' segment, over one of Nilsson's better songs. (Followed by the Frank Zappa cameo.) McCartney would reference this scene in his TeeVee special years later.
A third reason to watch is early (about 6 1/2 minutes) in the film: a character named 'Lady Pleasure' kisses each Monkey in a long continuous shot and then dismissively departs. She is credited as I. J. Jefferson but is really Mimi Manchu, Nicholson's lover at the time and LSD partner. Red hair, psychedelic demeanor. Lovely. That scene says it all for me, about how Jack feels about the boys.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
I will admit, I had the opportunity in the past to watch this film, and
after about 5 - 10 minutes into it, I felt like many did. I was
expecting a Monkey movie that was similar to the television show, but
instead I was given... well, I didn't know what I was given to be
However, after finally watching this film, I realized that not only had I had a closed mind to the brilliance it depicts, I also found myself watching it over and over again. It's the one movie that never ceases to interest me, simply because it keeps me alert, as I try to attempt to decipher it's meanings. And just when I think I've figured out something in the film, it's answer is destroyed once I watch the film again. Brilliance indeed.
It seems that most people who disliked this film are wanting to watch a film with primarily a clear plot. They want everything explained and all questions answered in the finale. Well sorry, if that's what you're wanting, this is not the movie for you. But if you liked movies like The Matrix (and better yet, their sequels) I think you'll appreciate the thought provoking, mindblowing experience this film will give you.
Think of the film being like a dream. In our dreams, things make no sense, things we expect to happen don't, people places and things don't speak, act or function in the same way they do in reality. To complain about "Head" is like complaining about a dream you've had that you felt you could not understand. The mind is a complex system, and being that a film titled "Head" is just as complex, is it that difficult to relate the two?
The music (and musical numbers) really stand out, especially Peter Tork's two compositions, which remain the best tracks in the film, "Can You Dig It?" and "Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?"
This film proves that The Monkees were much more than just four zanny guys in a 'pre-fab' group (as their critics called them) on a television show, but that they are actually much more intelligent and talented than the world would give them credit for. There's so many messages that can be derived from the film, both in regards to The Monkees and to the 'entertainment industry' in general, that it stands as a masterpiece of film-making that was far ahead of it's time.
I feel, had this film been released as an independent piece at this point and time, it would actually garner the respect and admiration it deserves.
And one finale note:
One could compare this to The Beatles "Magical Mystery Tour" film, since The Beatles film appeared to be just as strange and bizarre. However, in my opinion, "Head" stands far above anything The Beatles put on celluloid.
I can't believe this isn't a huge cult hit. Perhaps people in 1968, thinking of the Monkees as a silly factory-made pop band rip-off of the Beatles, refused to see it. That cynicism probably covered it from sight ever since. Don't make this mistake. _Head_ is an amazing film that most open minded people will appreciate. It is very funny and very intelligent (and very trippy).
Forget Easy Rider - Head is THE film about the 1960s.
Almost laugh: as the Monkees reduce their entire career to a one-minute TV commercial about dandruff! See: the 50 foot Victor Mature try to figure out what the heck he's doing in this film! Hear: Frank Zappa (with his pet cow on leash) tell Davey Jones "Your music is awfully white"! Experience: the Monkees' only live performance as a real rock band play the honest-to-gosh first-ever real punk-rock song (Circle Sky)! Listen: as Davey Jones sings a Harry Nielsen song about having a transsexual father! Be confused: be very confused, as confused as Terri Garr is when Mickey Dolenz makes sexual innuendos about her in her film debut! Witness: futile protests against the Vietnam War leap out of nowhere and just as quickly disappear! Watch: Mike Nesmith spit on Christmas while wearing a velvet Victorian smoking jacket in a cobwebbed Gothic horror-movie sound-stage! Let yourself drift: into the karmic bliss inspired by a comic-book version of Indian mysticism delivered by a hammy white character-actor in black-face, while Peter Tork pretends that he knows how to play a guitar! Discover: Academy Award winning director Bob Rafelson's first feature length film, as written by Academy Award winning actor Jack Nicholson! Pretend it's not happening: when the Monkees commit group suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge! Take drugs - take a lot of drugs: take as many drugs as the cast and crew evidently did while making this film!
With Head, the Monkees revealed themselves as the angriest, snottiest entertainers in Hollywood history, bar none. It is bewildering to discover that they blamed the failure of this film on bad promo. To be sure, the promotion was virtually non-existent; but did they not recognize how angry, how down-right depressing, how self-destructive this film actually is?! I mean, this film is a trip - on bad acid - to the suicide ward of a mental hospital. The only film I know to be this depressing is Terry Gilliam's Brazil; and like Brazil, this film reveals why life in the later 20th Century was almost unbearable - if you were lucky. It's not simply that Western culture was suffering from serious information-overload, but the information itself was just bad, bad, more bad, and dismal. In fact, it was the overload effect itself that kept people going, since this allowed people to keep distracting themselves with one crisis or another - if news from Vietnam became too much to bear, they could turn the channel and watch a documentary on the rising unemployment rate.
The "positive" response to the reality revealed in Head was Woodstock - three days of peace and love and nudity and mud and bugs and bad food and dirty drink and poop and pee and bad acid and Peter Townsend almost killing Abbie Hoffman. All taking place behind a steel fence, under the lovingly watchful eyes of a veritable army of NY State Troopers - meaning that the "freedom" of Woodstock Nation was as illusory as the song John Sebastion thought he was singing while so strung out he could barely speak. "500,000 assholes too stupid to come in out of the rain," was one critic's judgment on Woodstock (I think it was Andy Warhol).
The one good thing occurring there was Jimi Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner. Two years previously, the Jimi Hendrix Experience had gone on their first National tour of America, as the warm-up band opening for - the Monkees.
See, it's all connected somehow.
You owe it to yourself - nay, you owe it to your unborn children - to see the real 1960s, only to be found on film in this bizarre, miraculous, and utterly absurd tribute to one of the more interesting capitalist scams of the later 20th Century.
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