Head

HeadSynopsis: “A Hard Days Night on acid” best describes this outrageous movie within a movie starring recording superstars The Monkees. The first in a long line of films for collaborators Jack Nicholoson and the director Bob Rafelson – Five Easy Pieces, The Postman Always Rings Twice – Head’s unconventional, dreamlike style showcases The Monkees’ musical and comedic talents honed on their popular television series. A stream-of-consciousness script lands our fab four in a WWII foxhole dodging an excitable football player, then later they are caught in a giant vacuum cleaner after being sucked out of Victor Matures hair as flecks of dandruff, and on and on from one wild situation to another. Head is unpredictable, filled with great music, and undeniably hilarious!

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Head 7.5

eyelights: its superb construction. its stream-of-consciousness quality. its surrealist quality.
eyesores: its sketch comedy syndrome. its lack of narrative.

“Monkees is da cwaziest people!” – Frank Zappa’s cow.

‘Head’ is an absurdist stream-of-consciousness comedy by Bob Rafelson and co-written by Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack!) in conjunction with TV celebrities and pop group The Monkees. Released in November of 1968, after a three-month delay, it was virtually ignored by the public and reviled by critics. It made so little money at the box office that “flop” understates its failure.

Jack Nicholson was actually quite proud of the film, and claimed to have seen it “like, 158 million times, man. I loved it!”. Of the film’s reputation for having scuttled The Monkees’ career, Michael Nesmith, defends the picture as being their swan song, stating without reserve that the band was already unpopular by then. It was the movie they wanted to make at the time. That’s all.

The picture is essentially an acid trip featuring The Monkees as leads. It has no narrative whatsoever: instead, it’s a pastiche of skits cut with videos cut with trippy images cut with concert footage cut with b+w news footage, …etc., all together in a stream-of-consciousness format with absurd and mildly slapstick humour. It was written on pot and structured on LSD. For real.

Interestingly, as surrealistic as it is, ‘Head’ is actually quite coherent: the pieces that flow into one another make sense in a strange way; the picture doesn’t at all feel like a mish-mash of bits thrown into a blender. Clearly, there was a certain amount of thought put into making ‘Head’; there’s evident method to the madness at work here, even if the end result is nonsensical to a large degree.

For example, the opening salvo:

A mayor is trying to dedicate a bridge but is delayed by technical difficulties. Before he can cut the ribbon, The Monkeys come running through and Micky goes jumping off the bridge, in slow motion. He lands in the water to a psychedelic tune and all sorts of crazy effects. He’s sinking but mermaids arrive to rescue him. The next shot is through an aquarium, of a blonde making out with Peter.

And then on to the next bit and the next bit and so forth.

For all its clever continuity, the film does have some technical weaknesses, one of which take place in the aforementioned sequence: as the mermaids rescue Micky, we can clearly see the strings that pull them through the water. There are also some discrepancies in the footage that is edited together, with some cuts being from different quality stock. Perhaps it’s meant to be part of the film’s charm.

Look, I’m no great fan of The Monkees. Much like the Beach Boys, I was never really interested in knowing anything about them. But I am aware of their reputation and I liked that they poked fun at their image here, admitting in song that they’re manufactured and that they don’t have a message – on to then  tackle sociopolitical issues head on with graphic war and news footage.

Well played, boys.

I also really enjoyed the psychedelic aspect of the picture. Even though I don’t and never have taken drugs, I really enjoy these types of mind benders. Not only is the structure surrealistic, but the filmmakers used a variety of effects to achieve a “far out” quality with ‘Head’. Frankly, I found it immensely fascinating to watch such a trippy motion picture fly by before my eyes.

Unfortunately, it suffers from the sketch comedy film syndrome, wherein the audience eventually loses interest after 40-50 minutes; a non-narrative film can’t seem to be sustained past that point without losing steam. So the movie gradually became a bit tired by the halfway mark. And it’s a shame, because until then I was really having a blast. I’ll simply watch it in two parts next time.

I have no idea what fans of The Monkees think of this film. I suspect that it didn’t compare to the silly show that they had on TV, which had nothing of this drug-fueled haze. The performances were pretty decent, though, for this type of comedy, and the music was well-produced, even if I didn’t find any of the songs especially gripping (let’s just say I won’t be buying the soundtrack).

In the end, I enjoyed it far more than expected. I know I will watch it again, and will no doubt recommend it to friends who like this sort of thing. Granted, it’s a product of its time, but it’s without a doubt one of the better picture of the genre; unlike its peers, at least it’s smart and well-crafted. It won’t appeal to everyone, that’s a given, but anyone who likes a good trip should get ‘Head’.

It’s a great way to blow 90 minutes.

Date of viewing: April 13, 2015

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