1960s, Bob Rafelson, concert film, Davy Jones, experimental, Frank Zappa, Hard Day's Night, Head, Jack Nicholson, Jean-Luc Godard, Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Max, Peter Tork, physchedelic, pop culture, satire, The Monkees, TV
Written by: Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson
Directed by: Bob Rafelson
Starring: The Monkees
At first glance, Head hardly seems like the logical big-screen debut for The Monkees to make, and initial response suggests that fans of The Monkees felt the same way. But, like everything they were featured in, Head was hardly created by The Monkees. Part- Hard Day’s Night, Part-Godardian daydream, Head is Monkees creator Bob Rafelson’s deconstruction of Hollywood, pop-culture, and The Monkees themselves.
Spoon-fed on Old Hollywood and overstuffed with TV, Head feels like watching television while someone is mashing the buttons on the remote. There are times when this is a concert film, and times when it is a war film (or anti-war film?), there are times when the characters are lost in their surroundings and there are times when the whole film is informed by the “real world.” When Jack Nicholson wanders across the screen, he’s Jack Nicholson but when Frank Zappa shows up he’s… who is he? At moments, the film droops into Peter Max-like physchedilia and at other moments the film falls apart and crew members wander on set, Rafelson wanders through the background and the on-screen waitress removes her wig to reveal she is a balding man. Head fluctuates, it freaks out and it plays with its food but at the center of all its mania are The Monkees.
Head hardly feels like a Monkees movie, but more like a movie that uses The Monkees as a metaphor for the production of culture en masse. Rafelson takes his own creation and holds it up to the light, cuts it open and picks through its innards. A dessert-stranded Micky Dolenz blows up a malfunctioning Coke machine with a tank, and in a later Civil War scene he gets shot with arrows which he brushes away, annoyed, and kicks a hole in the otherwise-convincing backdrop. The Monkees tour some sort of factory where they’re quickly ushered into a room where all of a sudden they’re being forced to act as dandruff in a shampoo commercial. The music in the film is a perversion of the usual schlock The Monkees are known for, including a warped version of their TV theme song that includes lyrics such as
Hey, hey, we’re The Monkees
You know we love to please
A manufactured image
With no philosophies.
Rafelson is taking the piss out of manufactured, nutritionless pop culture and what better way to do it than by deconstructing The Monkees, the made-for-TV rock band, consisting of members chosen for their looks and likability and who sport very specifically designed personalities. The film is bloated with pop culture iconoclasm and bold-faced criticism of the Monkees themselves. At one point, during a concert, fans rush the stage and tear the band limb from limb, though they have turned to mannequins. Rafelson re-creates numerous types of film and television only to shatter the fourth wall and have the scenes destroyed or left dangling. The band themselves, who were growing tired of having little control over their own enterprise, seem to enjoy shattering the illusion of themselves and are no doubt in on the joke.
In its day, Head was a commercial and critical flop but has since become a cult cinema standard. It’s clear that the film, along with many of those involved, were harbingers of the New Hollywood. Wildly experimental and driven by an anti-everything attitude, Head blew the lid off the restraints of cinema and offered a sharp, unflinching view of the ghost of pop culture yet to come; in hind sight The Monkees are pretty great compared to the ringtone rapper, Apple commercial, reality-TV, TMZ state of pop culture today.