Head [1968]

7/10 | 1.Sep.12

DIRECTOR: Bob Rafelson | WRITERS: Bob Rafelson, Jack Nicholson | CAST: Peter Tork, David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith | USA

That the Monkees were a totally manufactured pop “sensation” that managed, despite their inauthenticity, to have actual hit records and to attract and keep fans was never a secret to anyone. Certainly the odor of cynical manipulation was manifestly evident at the time, even to me and my middle class suburban Los Angeles elementary school friends who positively loathed the Monkees and everything they stood for. But after hit records and a television show, Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, the creators of the Monkees, clearly felt that their pop creation needed its own A Hard Day’s Night and so they gave us Head which unfortunately was released after the Monkees had played themselves out and so it consequently bombed at the box office.

It’s understandable that the movie flopped, but it’s a pity it did because it isn’t as bad as it could have been. The Monkees let the audience know that they’re in on the joke at the very beginning when they chant “Hey hey, we are the Monkees / You know we aim to please / A manufactured image / With no philosophies” under a grid of scenes from the movie we’re about to see: they tell us explicitly that they’ll give us anything we ask for. But the movie doesn’t go far enough to explode the whole concept of 1960s pop music stars. (For an almost Brechtian example of that, see Peter Watkins’ superb Privilege from 1967.) The screenplay that Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson (yes, that one) devised is loosely about the Monkees, playing themselves, making a movie, but the scenes don’t follow a narrative progression. Instead, they’re connected associatively and so it proceeds by blackout sketches, genre pastiche, clips from old movies (Bela Lugosi, Rita Hayworth), local LA television commercials (Ralph Williams Ford in Encino, for God’s sake), the war in Vietnam as seen on television, proto-music videos, Godardian/Warholian scenes where people wander in and out speaking non sequiturs or spouting ill-digested Eastern philosophies, and so on. With the exception of the songs themselves which suck, these scenes individually can be lots of fun, particularly because of the cameo appearances by the likes of Victor Mature, Annette Funicello, Sonny Liston, Frank Zappa, and the fabulous T.C. Jones doing his Bette Davis impression as a studio commissary waitress.

If Rafelson had been more daring and used the fact that the Monkees individually and collectively are vague and uninteresting and their music the most instantly forgettable of forgettable pop tunes, Head might have made for a fantastic meta-critique. As it is, though, it’s an extremely enjoyable piece of fluff with some inspired bits and some longueurs.



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