“Quite frankly, there was a bit of acid involved.”–Bob Rafelson on the genesis of Head
FEATURING: Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork, Victor Mature
PLOT: An official is cutting a ribbon on a bridge when the ceremony is interrupted by four young men (the Monkees) who leap off the bridge and into the water. We then see a number of sketches that find the Monkees in the trenches fighting a war, performing live concerts, enjoying hookahs in a harem, fighting boxer Sonny Liston in the ring, trapped in a giant metal box, and acting out other absurd vignettes that blend into each other. Throughout the film they find themselves pursued by a giant man played by Victor Mature, and the movie ends where it began as the entire cast is seen chasing the Monkees onto the same bridge, off which they once again leap.
- The Monkees were formed in 1965 for a TV sitcom about a band “that wanted to be the Beatles.” Although Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork were cast for their acting abilities and presumed appeal to teenage girls rather than their musical chops, they developed into a tight band and had several hits. Their self-titled debut album reached #1 on the Billboard charts.
- Despite the band’s financial success, the actors were dissatisfied with the goofy television scripts, which featured stories like the band spending a night in a haunted house. “The Monkees” TV series lasted for only two seasons before cancellation.
- Head was the feature directing debut of Bob Rafelson, who had originally pitched the concept for the TV show and directed several episodes.
- The script was co-written by in his “acid” period. (One source says Nicholson directed at least one scene, uncredited). Nicholson also produced the soundtrack album, including assembling the sound collages.
- The Monkees themselves contributed to the original brainstorming sessions, but were denied screen writing credits; they staged a mini-protest, but were placated when the producers offered more money.
- With its surreal imagery and drug references, Head seems to be intended to destroy the Monkees wholesome image. The ad campaigns avoided mentioning the Monkees altogether.
- Head‘s notable cameos and bit parts include Rafelson, Nicholson, ,
- Rafelson’s next project as director was Five Easy Pieces (1970), starring Nicholson as an underachieving piano prodigy. It was nominated for four Oscars.
- Tork left the band soon after Head was released, and Nesmith resigned soon thereafter. The Monkees broke up by 1970, although Dolenz and Jones later recorded under the name with substitute musicians.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Monkees posing as dandruff in “the Big Victor”‘s hair. (In fact, a surprising number of Head‘s most memorable images involve the giant version of Victor Mature, especially if we assume that oversized eyeball Davy Jones finds staring at him from out of the medicine cabinet also belongs to Vic).
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Psychedelic mermaids; eye in a cabinet; “the Big Victor”
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It is tempting to describe Head as what might happen if a young Jack Nicholson were hired to write a treatment for a bubblegum boy band, then dropped acid and wrote a script that reimagined the boys as psychedelic tricksters wandering through a surreal series of cynical, self-aware scenarios set everywhere from the old West to a dandruff commercial, sprinkling in the most bizarrely eclectic assortment of pop-culture cameos imaginable. Actually, that’s pretty much the true story of how Head came to be, meaning reality scoops metaphor once again.