Thursday, November 15, 2007

Movie Review: Head

Well, I guess anyone could make any movie they wanted to back in the 60's.

This is the "protest" movie made by the Monkees shortly after the television show ended, with a writing assist from Jack Nicholson. What were the Monkees protesting? Well, what've ya got? There's one part vague war protest, one part conformity protest (several scenes show the band trying, ultimately unsuccessfully, to break out of a giant metal box they keep getting trapped in), and several parts Monkees image protest. There's a bunch of deconstruction of the "pre-fab four" image of the band going on here, from a scene where Peter Tork knocks out a woman and then asks if the kids will forgive him, to the songs which are a lot more on the psychodelic pop side than their more familiar hits up to that point.

There's also a bit of the structure that Monty Python would perfect in their show (which was still a year or two in the future). The movie is a series of vaguely-connected sketches, most of which would end without any real resolution. Often, the band members would simply wander off the set onto the backlot, eventually landing in some other scenario with no explanation. While the whole thing doesn't make a lot of sense (beyond the general "don't be a conformist" theme), several of the individual sketches are at least interesting to watch.

There seems to be a lot of focus on Micky Dolenz, especially at the start - a lot of manic energy across several different sketches. Peter Tork really doesn't get much to do anywhere - the one sketch where he gets to be the lead has him mimicing some typically-60's Maharishi-type nonsense he heard earlier as the band struggles to understand the box they're trapped in - it says something that Davy promptly calls him on the bullshit and forcibly breaks out of the box and into an extended fight sequence. This sort of "meta-commentary" happens a few times - a surprise rave-up birthday party for Mike Nesmith (another standard 60's theme) is abruptly shut down as Mike complains about how he doesn't like surprises or parties. Mike's laconic, above-it-all vibe works well in a bunch of other skits where he is a supporting character, as well.

I hadn't heard too many of the songs featured here - the opening "Porpoise Song", Mike's "Circle Sky" and the eastern "Can You Dig It" are all good songs, and not at all like the usual Monkees fare. Davy's Broadway-esque song-and-dance number in the middle could have been excised without much loss - but again, the movie helps us out here by having Frank Zappa show up and complain that the song was "pretty white."

Things kind of fall apart at the end, as the movie fast-forwards its way through a bunch of the previously-seen sets, and all of the other characters they've annoyed along the way (and a giant Victor Mature!) chase after them. It gets a little too frantic, even for this film. I'm not sure what Monkees fans would have thought about this at the time, but after almost forty years, it ends up as a pretty interesting little experiment. Three stars.

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