I must admit I'm a big fan of 60s culture and its films--from the spy genre (Sean Connery as James Bond, Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, James Coburn as Derek Flint), to the blend of light-hearted comedy, romance, and thriller, (How to Steal a Million with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'toole, Charade with Cary Grant, The Thomas Crown Affair with Steve McQueen), to the counter-culture films of the latter part of the decade (Easy Rider, Blow-Up, The Trip, Head). Yes, that's right. Head starring The Monkees.
When Head was first released in 1968, it was largely panned by the critics and ignored by movie goers. By this time, The Monkees' TV series had been canceled and their record sales were dropping. Years later, Head was described as having a cult following and even praised by some critics as well-worth seeing and a good counter-culture movie of the time.
Some backstory. After acquiring a stereotyped image of "the pre-fabricated four", a carbon copy of The Beatles but without their talent, The Monkees, along with the TV show's creator, Bob Rafeson, set out to deconstruct their image. Added to this was the scandal that had broken out that The Monkees were not playing their own instruments on their first two albums. The truth was that The Monkees were not allowed to play any instruments according to the contract. By the third album, Headquarters, The Monkees had fought against Don Kirchner's dictatorial control and won the right to play their instruments.
Another element of the story that borders on both surreal and paradoxical is that the show itself was about four out-of-work musicians in Marx-Brothers like scenarios that seemed to also emulate the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night. Full of zany illogic and humor, the show was apolitical and appealed to a strong teeny bopper base of screaming girls, wild for Davey Jones or the lovable dummy played by Peter Tork.
But the four actors hired to play The Monkees had to become The Monkees in real life. The studio wanted them to tour at concerts. In 1967, they had outsold more albums than both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined. They were expected to maintain their personas as four fun-loving and harmless guys who loved to play music. The problem was that they couldn't shed their image as Beatles-wannabes and move on to being viewed as serious musicians and singers and songwriters. They wanted to be respected by more than just the teeny boppers. They were tired of being told by Don Kirchner which songs they must play.
Head, with a script written by a Jack Nicholson on acid, with input from The Monkees, directed by none other than Bob Rafeson, helped to deliver the final blow to that fabricated image. The movie was not an extension of the TV series.
Although the movie is made up of skits, rather than a continuous narrative, (much like A Hard Day's Night), and although many of the skits, satirizing different genres of movies or referencing various film characters, is overall--a dark film. In a kind of over obvious way, the film's motif is how The Monkees were trapped, both literally and figuratively, in a black box. Trapped into being . . . well . . . The Monkees.
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