29 January 2011

A shot in the (Monkees') "Head": A film review

Last night I watched The Monkees' movie Head (1968), directed by Bob Rafelson (and co-written by Rafelson, the creator of the Monkees' television show, and Jack Nicholson).

Wow.  I am so glad I didn't go and see it when it was released (despite my being a HUGE Monkees fan at the time) because it certainly wasn't just a longer version of the tv show.  Indeed, as I've read in various places, it plays like a conscious attempt by Rafelson to kill off the group he had created --- as the image of the four of them jumping off a bridge at film's end would certainly seem to support.

Throughout the film there is the theme (expressed in a variety of fashions) of the Monkees' being trapped (in a big black box, no less), of their being plastic (dismembered Monkees mannequins abound), of their being acutely aware of their being watched (the big eye behind the restroom mirror!) and manipulated and...

The film is purposely disjointed -- psychedelic in many ways -- and plays with any number of film genres (the western, war, horror, sci fi...).  It is, however, much darker than the G rating would seem to suggest.  After all, one doesn't usually associate Mickey, Davey, Mike, and Peter with the famous '68 footage of the execution of Vietcong guerrilla, but we see it at least three times during the movie, along with other images of the Vietnam war.

The film surprises since it's supposedly a vehicle for the Monkees, but it makes a whole lot more sense when one realizes that Rafelson's and Nicholson's next collaboration would be Easy Rider (with Dennis Hopper who makes a cameo here, along with Frank Zappa, Annette Funicello, Sonny Liston, Victor Mature, the aforementioned writers, Toni Basil, and Packer great Ray Nitschke!).  The film's creators, in short, like "the young generation" in the Monkees theme song, had "something to say," and they weren't going to let the fact that the fan base of the Monkees were what later would be called 'tweens stand in their way.  And the foursome were, for the most part, willing co-conspirators because they were, in fact, feeling trapped too.  (Remember: it was the group who asked Jimi Hendrix to open for them on tour -- and he wasn't exactly what their fans expected or wanted as a warm-up act!)

If this film starred anyone but the Monkees, I think it would have had an impact at its release and would be better known today.  (The perverse trailer for the film, which shows just the headshot of an anonymous man staring at the camera, certainly would have offered no incentive to see the film.)  That Rafelson and Nicholson would go on to influence American cinema in any number of important ways would seem to me to make this film a must-see.

So see it. 

And tell me the diner scene in Head isn't a direct precursor to Jack's ordering scene in Five Easy Pieces!

1 comment:

  1. This is a fantastic film that needs to be seen many times to fully digest. I loved it when I first saw it years ago, and it is a film that stands the test of time.