WFMU Ichiban, Rock and Soul with Debbie D

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Mid-Week Movie Break: Head




What needs to be said, really. 

The Monkees hit like gangbusters when the television series appeared in 1966, a formulated situation comedy playing off of the success of Beatlemania and A Hard Day’s Night. The records flew off the shelves, lunch boxes were manufactured, disturbing hand puppets were fabricated! Then the public learned that The Monkees weren’t actually a thing beyond the marketing department of NBC, and that aside from contributing vocals, Peter Tork’s occasional fretwork, and Mike Nesmith composing and producing a few songs, the records were largely the product of Los Angeles studio musicians, not the ragtag Marx Brothers-esque Beatles wannabes on the picture box. And the backlash was hard.

Disturbing hand puppet.


Even after the band started recording their own albums, playing their own instruments, the public opinion had already set and was as hard as concrete. The Monkees television series had become played out as it rolled into its second season and would end on March 25th of that year. So the boys got together with Jack Nicholson and some cannabis and devised a swan song send off, or middle finger, really, to the world. Head was released in November of 1968, eight months after the show had run its initial course (though has lived on in syndication for decades since). It fared poorly at the box office, hardly resembling the goofy antics of the television character personas that the public had come to establish with the foursome. It was picked apart by critics for being nonsensical and having no plot, but if watched carefully, it actually does have fairly obvious agenda. We start with Micky Dolenz jumping off of a bridge; as dark as it may be, the ultimate form of release. From there things spiral outward and inward, cycling around through various vignettes that play off the group’s image, the band’s response to the public perception of the group’s image, and spotlights each band member in their own solo skit, only to have the group repeatedly end up confined in some literal box or another. It plays directly off of the retooled “(Theme From) The Monkees” chanted as a mantra in the film, backed with tinkling barroom piano: Hey, hey, we are The Monkees /You know we love to please / A manufactured image / With no philosophies …You say we’re manufactured / To that we all agree / So make your choice / And we’ll rejoice / In never being free

"He'll never make it through this intense bombardment. Nobody could."
Michael Nesmith warning the viewers what they're in for in Head.


We then end with the knowledge that not even jumping off a bridge could free Dolenz, as the ocean wasn’t what it had appeared to be either, and part with an image of the boys being carted away in a large aquarium on the back of a studio lot truck.

The question often asked to suss out which side of the line someone stands on when it comes to classic rock from the 1960s seems to be "Beatles or The Stones." I for one prefer The Monkees over either, and with the Memorial Day weekend coming up, maybe take some time to visit (or re-visit) Head.

Watch the trailer here.

2 Comments:

Lupine Assassin said...

Awesome review of one of my favorite films. FYI: the link to the trailer is missing.

secretbasementlab said...

Thanks for catching that! Link fixed!

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