EDIT NEWS: The Monkees - Head - Press - Page 5
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The Monkees - Head - Press - Other
Time Out
27 June 1980
Page 47

Essential Cinema Club 76 Wardour St, W1 (439 3657). (Piccadilly Circus/Leicester Sq tubes). M'ship 25p per year. Seats £1.50.
  • Tue at 9.15:
    'Head' (Bob Rafelson, 1968, US)
    The Monkees, Annette Funicello, Victor Mature.
    Made when Monkee mania had all but died, 'Head' proved too experimental for the diminishing weenybop audience who had lapped up their ingenious TV series. It flopped dismally in the US and never received commercial release here. Despite obviously dated aspects like clumsy psychedelic effects and some turgid slapstick sequences, the film is still remarkably vital and entertaining. Director Rafelson (who helped create the band) together with Jack Nicholson (co-writer and producer) increased the TV show's picaresque tempo while also adding more adult, sardonic touches. the calculated manipulation behind the phenomenon is exposed at the start when the Monkees metaphorically commit suicide. The typical zany humour is intercut with harsher political footage and satire on established genres of the American cinema.

    [Note: The following evening the Essential ran Easy Rider.]

  • The Hollywood Reporter
    8 January 1987
    Page 38

    RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video
    86 minutes, Hi-Fi mono, $69.95


    It was 20 years ago that in the highest American tradition of greed and commercialism the Monkees were formed - a home-country answer to those madcap Englishmen, the Beatles. The Monkees were a totally synthetic product, formed by television executives from an open audition. The results brought together four diverse people; two were actors, with no music experience (Mickey [sic] Dolenz, Davy Jones) and two were musicians with no acting experience (Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork). With songs written and performed for them, the Monkees took TV by storm for two years, mixing comedy with chart-topping music.

    Today, some 17 years since the Monkees last recorded together before disbanding in 1970, Monkeemania has returned to America, thanks in general to a 1960s revival, and specifically to a 22-hour Monkee marathon of television shows shown on MTV last winter. The results have lead to a Monkees reunion and recent concert tour, the release to home video of their television shows, and this curious tape, "Head," the only full-length movie the group ever made. While the TV show relied heavily on one liners, non-sequiturs and outrageous sight gags, all occurring at a fast pace, "Head" is an aberration that will only disappoint most Monkees fans.

    The film - written and produced by Monkees creator Bob Rafelson and actor Jack Nicholson, who appears briefly - is actually a series of vignettes, strung very loosely together: the boys appear in a scene from a Western (with a young Teri Garr); Davy Jones takes on boxer Sonny Liston; the group gets stuck in a World War I battle trench; they are picked up by cannibals. With the exception of a few amusing moments, the film is stillborn; even the music is uninspired. "Head" is simply a curio that may amuse diehard Monkee watchers, but for the rest of us it is more a dated example of psychedelic filmmaking that wasn't very good when first released, and creaks with age now.

    The Listener
    8 October 1987
    Page 27

    Films On TV

    [Long piece about Monte Hellman movie showings on BBC2's Film Club. Culminating in...]

    Back in the sixties, there's Head (1968, Saturday C4 1-2.35am) which sums up everything about the era that Hellman films are not. It's a wild, wacky, psychedelic piece of fluff, about ersatz pop group The Monkees, who scamper through a series of movie jokes, surrealistic jokes and jokes at their own expense. This is the first feature of director Bob Rafelson, who helped to 'invent' the group for their TV show, and who has proved a hardier survivor of the era than Hellman. It may be his most insubstantial film, but it carries its lightness well.

    Richard Combs

    June 2002

    Changes...DASturb...finally "Head".

    "WHAT IS HEAD? HEAD IS THE most extraordinary adventure Western comedy love story mystery drama musical documentary ever filmed. And that's putting it mildly."

    So boasted the 1968 theatrical trailer for The Monkees' only big screen venture. It would later be celebrated in film lore as the project that first teamed writer-director and Monkees co-creator Bob Rafelson with a fledgling writer/B-movie actor named Jack Nicholson, beginning a relationship that led to Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and beyond. Head would also later be celebrated in certain camps as a psychedelic masterpiece - a '60s artefact that holds up better than many countercultural statements of the era. But in 1968, Head was generally reviled.

    Not that there wasn't a smidgen of truth in that '68 trailer's bold claim. Head defied classification. In addition to Westerns, Head also mimicked and lampooned such Hollywood genres as war, horror, sci-fi, '40s boxing sagas, '60s spy flicks, desert epics, the new psychedelic mentality (Nicholson had recently scripted the Peter Fonda vehicle The Trip for director Roger Corman), and (of course) rock'n'roll movies. But when Head opened nationally in six US cities on November 20, 1968 - only weeks after Richard Nixon had won the presidency, ushering in a new era of American paranoia (which astute critics have suggested is the state-of-mind Head often reflects) - the average person probably didn't even know Head was a Monkees movie. Newspaper ads simply portrayed a balding man with glasses, a slight goatee and the question: "What is Head all about? Only John Brockman's shrink knows for sure!"

    Late-night television commercials also featured the visage of Brockman (a media expert Rafelson and his partner/co-Monkees creator Bert Schneider hired to handle the film's promotional campaign) and just the title word -Head. The average person wasn't even certain that Head was a movie.

    "The ad was originally supposed to have a picture of me on it," Rafelson recalls today, "but John Brockman was a Marshall McLuhan scholar, and said: 'It doesn't matter whose picture is on it. We're not going to say it's The Monkees. We're just going to get people to say, 'What's Head?' and 'Whose Head?' and basically enquire people into the theatre.' He was afraid this picture was too radical for The Monkees' audience, so let's allow people to discover it as an individual movie. That was the philosophy.

    "Jack and I got nervous because we'd agreed to premiere the movie in a Spanish-speaking cinema in New York City called El Studio. It was the first English language picture there. We went around New York saying, 'Say, I hear there's a wonderful movie at El Studio Cinema called Head,' trying to create word-of-mouth. We ended up pasting little 'Head' stickers wherever we could. Jack tried to slip one onto the helmet of a police officer ticketing a chestnut salesman on Fifth Avenue. He put the sticker on the helmet just as the guy's head turned. The cop got the sticker on his face. We were thrown up against the wall and both of us were handcuffed - but it was Jack who went to jail." He laughs. "I called every newspaper, every radio station, and said, The makers of Head have been busted! Of course, nobody paid any attention: 'The producers of a famous Hollywood movie opening where? El Studio Cinema?! What the fuck? They must be out of their minds!'"

    "In some ways they wanted it to tank," says Peter Tork, who recently ceased touring with The Monkees to devote full attention to his LA band, Shoe Suede Blues. "Publicity for the TV show had been perfect, but the Head campaign couldn't have been better designed to ensure the movie would flop."

    Of course, the group's core teenybop audience - dwindling following the cancellation of their Emmy-winning series earlier that year - knew that Head was a Monkees film. In 16 magazine's '68 "Summer Spec" issue, the teen bible ran photos from the film, using an imaginary storyline with an editorial disclaimer: "Any similarity between the story we have told here and the story you will see in The Monkees' movie is just not possible! Since The Monkees are keeping the story a deep, dark secret. You just gotta go see it and find out for yourself how Davy, Micky, Peter and Mike save themselves from the (ugh!) mad scientist!"

    16 couldn't have had any idea at the time how prophetic their use of the words "deep" and "dark" would actually be. "I don't think Head is cynical," erstwhile Monkee Mike Nesmith said in a 1997 interview. "[But] there was a darkness to the piece that dealt with the death of a phenomenon." Head was the first time the infamous shot of a Vietcong prisoner being shot in the head was used in a work of art. (Executive producer Schneider used the shot again in his 1974 Oscar-winning documentary Hearts And Minds, praised as a cultural catalyst in the ending of the war.)

    Then there was the title. The word "head" was already known in the main-stream as having drug connotations - and surely a few parents must have picked up on the sexual reference.

    "We called it three different things at three different times," recalls Rafelson. "The first title, Changes, seemed best because changes meant something at that time - to do with hallucinations, and the cliche that the only thing you could rely on is change. And, of course, this picture was constantly changing throughout. Then we called it DASturb for a while. Today, everybody misspells words, but it was very new at the time. The third title was Head. Why? First of all, it took place in somebody's head, in Victor Mature's hair. The Monkees were dandruff. A lot of head imagery. Secondly, we knew the next movie we were making was Easy Rider. We wanted to bill that as 'From the producers who gave you Head!' Unfortunately, nobody saw Head so we couldn't use that line."

    The few lobby posters that actually featured The Monkees on them also prominently displayed the warnings "A movie for a turned-on audience" and "Not suitable for children". ("We didn't shoot the movie on acid," says Rafelson. "But Jack did structure the movie in his mind on an acid trip.")

    The kids who did see it couldn't help but be bewildered. The non- linear film was channel-surfing on hallucinogenics. Micky Dolenz jumps from a bridge, is rescued by mermaids, and re-emerges in The Monkees' pad. The group pop in and out of various movies - Vietnam images, and a David Lean-like desert adventure concludes with Micky blowing up a Coke machine. Dolenz, arrows in his chest, decides he's done with Westerns, rips down the cowboy backdrop and enters a boxing drama. Things continue in this insane manner, jumping from evil factories to spiritual saunas. Certain characters keep showing up, including legendary Kubrick "nutcase" Timothy Carey, and a giant Victor Mature as The Big Victor (RCA Victor was the group's parent label). Both Dolenz and Rafelson say there was talk of sending the reels out to theatres in no particular order. In other words, one has to see Head to make any sense of it.

    "A lot of Monkees fans didn't get it at all," says Dolenz. "I remember I was at a car wash in the Valley and this teenage girl came up to me and said, 'I saw Head.' I was, like, That's nice. And she said, 'How could you support the war like that?' She'd read that whole war sequence - a totally anti-war statement - as being pro-Vietnam. I was stunned. But that showed that our fans didn't get it, [that] the movie was so far removed from the sensibilities of a Monkees episode. People didn't understand it. I'm not sure I do to this day!

    "I'm not even sure Jack and Bob knew what the film was about. It was certainly a deconstruction of The Monkees and the whole Hollywood myth. And about us as individuals getting stuck in this black box, which was a metaphor for The Monkees. We used to talk about being in a black box all the time. When we were on tour, especially - but even being on the TV set. We couldn't leave a room or hotel. We were shuffled around from limo to hotel room to limo to the back entrance of a concert arena into a dressing room. It was even a little black box on-stage because we used to jump out of these fake Vox amps. So for more than two years, we lived - literally - in a little black box. But aside from that, the movie was just symptomatic of the times."

    Reviews were mostly scathing, including a particularly vicious screed by Pauline Kael in the New Yorker that put the final nails in the avant-garde coffin. Opening two months after the cancellation of the TV series, Head grossed just $16,111 in box office receipts, nowhere near the $790,000 Columbia Pictures had invested. Head would not commercially debut in London until March 1977.

    The soundtrack album, assembled by Nicholson using dialogue and music from the film, was the first Monkees album to miss Billboard's Top 10, peaking at 45. A guilty pleasure among hipsters at the time, featuring players like Neil Young, Ry Cooder, Earl Palmer and Buffalo Springfield drummer Dewey Martin, the album showcased two of Tork's best tracks ('Can You Dig It' and 'Do I Have To Do This All Over Again'), a Nesmith gem ('Circle Sky'), a Nilsson cover ('Daddy's Song'), and the Goffin-King psychedelic treasure, 'Porpoise Song', which later became a cult classic. But, issued as a single in October '68, it peaked at Number 62. The end was near.

    "The Monkees were going off the air about the time Head was being wrapped up," recalls Tork. "So we didn't do anything in the public eye for months - we toured Japan and that was it - and the public forgot about us. The Monkees were a TV-driven group. TV is a medium for short attention spans, and if you don't keep them fed, they're gone. By the time Head came out, nobody was interested in The Monkees, especially the avant-garde. And the kids weren't interested in a psychedelic movie. So, The Monkees tanked in a massive way. I left right after, I had things I wanted to do. They went on without me for a while - touring Mexico City and so on. But they would've had a hard road to regenerate The Monkees."

    BUT LIKE MANY POP ARTEFACTS, THERE'S BEEN MUCH critical revisionism over the past three decades. Following a 1973 revival screening, LA Times chief film critic Charles Champlin wrote: "You wonder how critics and early audiences could have missed the film's fierce energy and...tart, iconoclastic point of view." It was that point of view, with The Monkees both acknowledging and attacking their manufactured image, that endeared Head to the irony-inclined punk and post-punk generations. When it was first released on video in 1987, John Kordosh summed up a growing Zeitgeist when he wrote in Creem: "Head reveals some bitter truths about rock stardom. It's a dark movie and - ultimately - a remarkably accurate assessment (and forecast) of what this rock business was becoming...Head is anti-rock and anti-fame [and] so self-mocking that it borders on tragedy."

    Interestingly, in a rare comment about the film - to Rex Reed of the New York Times in 1970 - Nicholson used one of those same labels. "Nobody ever saw that, man," he said of Head, "but I saw it 158 million times. I loved it. Filmatically, it's the best rock'n'roll movie ever made. It's anti-rock."

    Today, there are literally dozens of websites that explore the hidden meanings of Head and extol its retrospective virtues as one of the great '60s rock films. It's been heralded as a direct influence on everything from MTV to Monty Python's Flying Circus and episodic, Dadaist comedy classics like Kentucky Fried Movie, Airplane! and Blazing Saddles.

    "To this day, I get letters from all kinds of people asking if they can see a print of Head," says Rafelson. "I've just been asked to re- release it on DVD, with a director's commentary. Which I doubt I'll do because I've never done it. I've never seen any movie I've made. But through the years this has turned into the anthem movie of rock'n'roll. That's shocking because The Monkees were hardly rock'n'roll anthem-bearers. But rock bands identify with it. Mick Jagger called, like, 20 years ago and said, 'I remember you asking if you could see Cocksucker Blues when no one else had seen it. And I sent you a print. So now let me see Head.' One critic wrote that if you could take one film from the '60s, put it in a time capsule and bring it up 100 years from now, Head is the movie."

    In fact, The Monkees going all experimental with Head shouldn't have come as a surprise to those who watched the second and final season of the TV show. It has often been documented how they were a manufactured group that evolved into a real rock'n'roll band. How Nesmith put his fist through a hotel wall, threatening then-music supervisor Don Kirshner with: "That could have been your face." How that led to The Monkees taking artistic control of their third - and arguably best - album, Headquarters, a respectable effort in any rock era. And how the group was pretty good live for a band who supposedly "couldn't play their instruments" - take it from someone who saw them (Detroit's Olympia Stadium, January 14, 1967). Head's stunning 'Circle Sky' concert scene - filmed in Salt Lake City on the final day of shooting, May 21,1968 - is definitive proof.

    But after playing rock stars on the road and introducing American concert audiences to Jimi Hendrix, The Monkees were becoming increasingly disinterested in the TV show (even if hipsters like Timothy Leary were singing its praises). "I was getting a little bored with doing the same show every week - even after only two years," says Dolenz. "We'd met The Beatles. We'd been around the world. To come back to doing a half-hour TV show seemed like a bit of a letdown. In retrospect, I think we probably should have kept doing the TV show. But the idea came along to do this movie."

    The second season found the foursome taking more chances. Dolenz and Tork directed episodes. The final show, broadcast May 25,1968, ended with a little-known folk singer named Tim Buckley performing 'Song To The Siren'. The second-to-last episode - Monkees Blow Their Minds - featured special guest Frank Zappa reversing personas with Nesmith in an opening vignette that concluded with Nesmith-as-Zappa sledge- hammering a car to the strains of Zappa's 'Mother People'. Thus, Zappa's appearance in Head shouldn't have come as that big of a surprise.

    "Zappa was a fan," say Dolenz. "Mike met him, and he saw what we were doing, and wanted to be part of it." Zappa subsequently told an interviewer that he thought The Monkees were better than 90 per cent of the music coming from San Francisco. "He asked me to drum for The Mothers Of Invention after The Monkees were finished," continues Dolenz. "Sometimes I wish I had, but I couldn't because I was still under contract."

    "With the possible exception of Victor Mature," Rafelson says of the unique guest stars in the film, "everyone else was sort of a loser, a bad guy, someone who'd been condemned. Whether it was The Mothers Of Invention or Sonny Liston, the bad, bad heavyweight who'd been knocked out by Cassius Clay. Annette Funicello, who was considered a bit of a joke because she was a Mickey Mouse Club girl. T.C. Jones, the first famous female impersonator. Or Carol Doda, the woman with the large tits who gets knocked out in the ring - she was the first stripper of that age, the first woman to dance topless and create a sensation. All these people represented what The Monkees were in some way, shape, or form: people had condemned them and yet they were heroes in other ways."

    Most of the movie's strange special guest stars are now dead or indisposed. June Fairchild, the starlet who's seen early in the film soul-kissing each Monkee - and later threatens to jump from a building (a girlfriend of Three Dog Night's Danny Hutton, she's credited with naming that band) - is now homeless, living on skid row in downtown LA. Then there's the cliche that if you remember the '60s, you really didn't experience them. The memories of the various principals who made Head are often conflicting and selective at best. All parties agree that a weekend trip to an Ojai, California resort in late '67 was the genesis, though only Davy Jones - who likes to ramble on stream-of-consciousness these days, jumping from meeting Debbie Reynolds in an airport, to details of his race-horses, to how almost everyone in showbiz is a "shithead" - still adds that the retreat included "smoking, like, a ton of pot".

    Dolenz: "There was just the four of us plus Bob, Bert, and Jack. We just talked for two days. It seemed to be more about what we didn't want to make. A basic rambling about everything. Jack was trying to get a sense of who we were. Now that I see the movie, it's clear they were looking to make a deconstruction of The Monkees [and] a deconstruction of Hollywood as well."

    "To a degree I was parodying Hollywood," says Rafelson. "But I was also saying, I'll probably never get the chance to make a movie again, so I'm going to make every movie this time out. Ojai was sort of a group therapy session. But Jack was dumbfounded to think The Monkees would say things like, 'We're better actors than Marlon Brando.' Jack said, 'Jesus, who are these guys? They're out of their minds.' I said, Just be patient, Jack. They all have their virtues, they'll do everything quite well."

    Jones: "The Head experience has always baffled me. I never understood it. I didn't understand why we didn't get a writing credit. I was paid a thousand dollars for it And we co-wrote it."

    Dolenz: "I think it was Mike who said, 'What's going to happen when we make this movie? What are the credits going to be?' Jack or Bob or somebody said, 'Jack Nicholson is going to write this movie.' Mike said, 'We should get some credit because we've been instrumental in constructing this movie.' There was a huge battle about this. Mike Nesmith took the tapes [of the weekend's conversations] from the portable recorder and put them in the trunk of his car and wouldn't give them up! He did eventually surrender the tapes. And, indeed, we didn't write the screenplay. Jack did. I've often felt we should've received some sort of credit because all of us did have a lot to do with the content and spirit of that film. At the very least, it was about us. Not just The Monkees [but] us as individuals and people."

    Rafelson: "They wanted everything. They were kids. They didn't know anything about movies. Yeah, they wanted writing credit - but, my goodness, Mr Nicholson was dumbfounded as to why. Now, their recollection is probably different because they think they invented themselves. From a certain point of view, as I was inspired to make a movie about The Monkees, they may have thought they deserved it. But there was little I learned in Ojai that I didn't already know."

    Tork: "Nowadays I'm of the opinion that the people who did the hard work deserved the credit. Essentially, ideas are worth nothing. We had ideas and we contributed them. But we didn't write. So we don't deserve writing credit. That's all there is to it."

    The first day of shooting was scheduled for February 11, 1968 - but there was another snag before Rafelson could begin filming.

    "Mike was the shop steward of The Monkees during that whole period," explains Dolenz. "He introduced us to an agent called Jerry Perenchio, now one of the most successful men in the business. He said, 'You guys are really getting ripped off.' So he encouraged us to strike. Peter, unfortunately, didn't agree. He was the scab, so to speak. That took the wind out of the sails of our opportunity."

    Tork: "I felt it was another power play by Mike. It was strange, because I was raised a labour progressive. If ever there was a guy who understood the dynamics of labour organising, it was me. What Mike meant was, 'Let me be the boss.' The other three did stay out for the first day of shooting, and, basically Bert allowed a little trade-off and gave them a face-saving concession. But I got paid nothing for Head. I was given a piece of the action and it died. I'm not bitter. So Davy got $1,000 more than I did!"

    Rafelson: "I got into a fist-fight with Perenchio over this. Threw him down a flight of stairs, and said, You win. Take The Monkees! They're not going to be in the movie. We'll cancel it. I'd been waiting all my life to make a movie, but I said, I will not let my partner negotiate under a gun. This guy was trying to hold up the movie."

    All this animosity guaranteed that the paranoia depicted in the film was inherent on the set, though Toni Basil - who choreographed Head's musical numbers and would later appear in Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces - remembers the environment as anything but tense. "It was a wonderful experience, just the opposite of paranoia," she recalls. "Bob gave everyone a lot of creative control."

    Nevertheless, Tork has frequently said Rafelson was "uncharitable" during filming. Nicholson biographer Patrick McGilligan reported that the director would do derisive things like play Buffalo Springfield on set and taunt the group with: "That's real rock'n'roll, man!"

    "Well, he never did that to me," says Tork. "But my personal belief is that Bob is an evil-minded man. He likes to bring people down. Bob was often unsupportive as a human being and distinctly negative - and I was on the short end of that. There's one example [in the film] - where Ray Nitschke, the football player, keeps hitting me. He was a Hall of Famer for the Green Bay Packers. He's doing his best to hit me but not to give it all he's got because if he does, I'm a squashed bug. So this guy's one of the toughest men in football, he's coming at me and I'm scared [but] figure it's good to be scared because that's what an actor should do. But Bob goes: 'Ha, ha! Look at Peter! He's scared! Ha, ha!' I was just about to kick him in the balls. It was like, For fuck's sake, Rafelson! You're making fun of me 'cos I'm scared? How do you think that's going to affect the quality of your movie, pal? I was so angry! That's the style in which he damaged what could have been a fulfilling quality experience."

    "In a way, it was my farewell to The Monkees," says Rafelson. "I mean, the movie begins and ends with them committing a kind of symbolic suicide. I was trying to expose the myth [of] the TV show. The movie portrays them with not so much sweetness and brightness. It's a much heavier and far-out thinking group. I wouldn't call it uncharitable. I thought it was expanding my sense of who they were. There's a boxing scene in which Micky says, 'Take this, you dummy' Suddenly the music changes and Peter appears in the corner, Christ-like, and says, 'Micky, I'm the dummy. I'm always the dummy.' The point was that he was always asked to be the dummy, so here he's acknowledging it. But he's also the one who's given the longest speech in the movie about spiritual evolution, which he's learned from the guru in the steam room. I was trying to give him a chance to be himself, but in a symbolic way. He is that way today, by the way. In other words, The Monkees became what they really were."

    "I was as anxious to get away from that whole squeaky-clean, bubblegum image as anybody else," says Dolenz. "I didn't want to quit, but I'm still proud of Head because we got to do something that wasn't so controlled and censored. There were political statements. Even the sexual references were great. I was 23 or 24 and still talking and relating to girls - Monkees fans - who were 12 or 14! Which was pretty weird! So there was that, if nothing else."

    "I've seen it dozens of times," says Tork. "I have some mixed feelings about it. There are some good bits in it, but, as an overall movie, I don't know how good I think it is."

    Jones: "I only began to understand it in the last few years. I've since recommended it to many people - not for my performance, because I was still playing 'Davy'. But I have much more admiration for it now that I'm a more aware of what it takes to make a film. Those guys did great and wrote great material. I wrote a lot of it, they wrote a lot, and we all shared the success. I was glad to be part of it."

    "Jack loves Head," says Rafelson. "He still quotes lines from the film to me on a daily basis. 'Howzabout some more steam?' Or 'Everybody's where they want to be.'

    "What I personally find rewarding about Head is that people still care about it. That the movie has somehow recovered from the bad reception it originally received and is now regarded as something unique, special, even something that led the way. I've seen myself referred to as 'the godfather of MTV'. It's always nice to have a revisionist opinion. I'm sure there'll be another one sooner or later where it'll be condemned, if I live long enough.

    "I've never seen any of my movies. The only one of them that I could see on TV if it came on - and I could watch five minutes of it - would be Head. Because who can remember how and what the fuck comes next in that movie?"

    Bill Holdship

    The Monkees - Head - 'Press'

    © Various authors 1968 - present