Thursday, July 25, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Head (1968) ****

G, 86 min.
Director: Bob Rafelson
Writers: Bob Rafelson, Jack Nicholson
Starring: Peter Tork, David Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Victor Mature, Annette Funicello, Timothy Carey, Logan Ramsey

“Head” is a tough film to write a recommendation for. Some people may not “get” it. It’s so outside the box and strange and psychedelic, but those are all the things it’s trying to be. For those who are into that, this movie is a must see. It doesn’t matter if you never liked the Monkees. I never really did, but I love this movie.

Bob Rafelson’s and Jack Nicholson’s screenplay (yes, that Nicholson) is like a freeform acid trip that sees this strange musical group doing what they did in their television show, but in a much less packaged format. They set forth on an adventure of sorts where they just do whatever, but the “whatever” here seems much more drug influenced than anything they ever did on their TV show. They’re swimming with mermaids, fighting tanks in the desert, blowing up Coca-Cola product placements (the vending machine in the desert sequence is one of my favorites), getting sucked up into vacuum cleaners, running from policemen, experiencing paranoid delusion, contemplating the meaning of it all, and pretty much everything else you can experience on a good acid trip. And, this is a family film.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s no actual drug use in the movie. That was obviously done before the cameras started to roll. It’s more like a “Fantasia” for the late 60s music scene, where we get to see what the lives inside the minds of these sudden superstars are like, as opposed to the surface promotionally driven machine that we usually get to see in our celebrity icons. It’s quite fascinating and a great precursor to the MTV generation.

Like any of these movies starring music icons of that time, like The Beatles’ “A Hard Days Night”, the Rolling Stones’ “Rock and Roll Circus”, the Who’s “Tommy”, or Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, “Head” operates primarily as an extension of the music created by these bands. Although The Monkees weren’t known to operate on the same level as those iconic bands in terms of the music they created, this film certainly functions on a comparable level to those films. The music produced by the band for this film is also the finest of their career. It was with “Head” that the Monkees actually proved they were more than just a sum of their parts. I don’t think there is much coincidence to the fact that the band’s apparent leader in this film (although they were a band that never really seemed to chose one face above the others), Michael Nesmith, went on to be involved in the production of two independent classics, the 1988 film “Tapeheads” and as a producer on the cult favorite “Repo Man” (a personal favorite of mine).

“Head” is not the movie you’d expect from a band that was formed for a television show. It seems to be the artistic product of a group that has spent their lives together and have decided to rebel against all previous impressions of themselves to form a critical and funny look at the industry they embraced rather than one that literally spawned them. It belongs up there with any great rock-based musical and makes you think twice about this band that was initially just a Beatles rip off designed to capitalize off that band’s success in the U.S.

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