Hey, hey, with The Monkees

My Rating:

Like watching a 90-minute episode of the television show with even less cohesion.

Bitable Bytes:
"The sexiest!"
"Contemporary youth sentiment!"
"Showy and shallow!"
"Cameos galore!"

What to do while watching:
If you are over 30, reminisce about the television show. If you're under 30, turn your other television to Nick At Nite and tune in simultaneously to the original adventures of Mickey, Davy, Peter, and Mike.

What to eat while watching:
Ms. Worsted recommends pizza because it, too, is full of cheese.

First a tip of the hat to my cousin Ryan, who suggested this film. For those who have been with me for years, you may recall Ryan as the man who suggested The Naked Prey, a review that caught a few readers' attentions. Now I'll borrow a device from Douglas Coupland, author of Generation X, et. al. to help fill in Ryan's reasons for choosing this film. Ryan's dream Jeopardy categories are: Films before Carter, Music before Punk, Macs before G3, The 60's, Potpourri, and Miscellaneous Facts.

So what about Head, the Monkees' first and last feature-length film?

Ryan says it's about the M's trying to broaden their audience beyond teeny bops, but I don't know if this is true since that crowd was probably into psychedelia and the attendant drugs. To me it seems more about cinema's increased freedom over television to portray sex and drugs and rock and roll. Not that this film really avails itself of all the possibilities, to my mind. The sexiest is an all-clothed belly-dance scene in a harem; the druggiest are the pretty color effects; and the rock-and-rolliest is, well, the Monkees.

Head opens with a bridge-opening ceremony. The mayor prepares to cut the ribbon, just as Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, Davy Jones, and Michael Nesmith run through that very ribbon. We assume the squares are confounded, but the camera follows the four, Mickey in the lead, as they run, run, run. Mickey climbs the railing of the bridge, looks back once, and jumps-right into a music number, the psychedelic Dolphin Song. Ryan points out that this song was written by Carole King, of all people.

We must assume that much of the rest of the film is flashback, as the ending of the movie winds up at this very "jumping off point." Meantime, there is not much plot to speak of. Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, writers/directors/producers, don't want any of their broadly stated parrotings of contemporary youth sentiment to be diluted in a story of any kind. We see some anti-war sentiment as the Monkees spend some time in a foxhole. We also get some social commentary in the fact that they share the trench with a maniacal quarterback, a point that seems to me to have been pretty well made, maybe even by the 1968 production date of this film. At any rate, it's plenty weary now, so unless you're rather clueless about this idea of war and competition being mainly fruitless pursuits, you won't get much enlightenment here. Militaristic jarheads may wish to take a lesson, however.

I will not suggest that all of the Monkees social commentary is obvious. Some is downright murky, such as their quick cuts between the four tousle-heads hustling out to the battlefield in full army regalia, and hustling out to the stage for a live musical number. Now, I get that both atmospheres are loud-one with explosions, the other with teen girls screaming-but please. The deeper antiwar sentiment clearly does not find its parallel in any sort of aversion to live performance on the part of these stay-at-homes, in spite of the fact that effigies of them are torn limb from limb by the screaming girly-girls. To Nicholson it must seem that drawing enough surface parallels will somehow generate a deeper parallel, but going to war and playing music on stage for screaming fans remain two irrevocably opposite events.

In Head, you'll also find comments on our mechanized society when the boys take a tour of a factory and Peter Tork watches employees get accidentally killed while the tour guide blithely carries on. The Monkees are also forced to experience the silly side of commercialism: they star as dandruff flakes in a shampoo commercial.

It's all rather ridiculous as the story leaps from the inside of a vacuum cleaner to the haunted mansion, occasionally stopping to give one of the four free reign to ooze personality. Truly these were about the worst of the film. You get a craw-full of Michael Nesmith's bratty folksiness and a hefty dose of Mickey Dolenz' unremitting shallowness. The worst of the worst was Peter Tork's lip service to transcendental meditation, delivered as the four sit trapped in a black box. Short as his spiel was, it was far too long, and you can read Nicholson's direction to look fascinated all over Dolenz' face which strains to stay focussed on the dribble coming out of Tork.

Davy Jones' has a nearly transcendent song and dance routine around separation issues stemming from his father's real or fictional abandonment of him (or the songwriter, probably not Jones) as a child. This number is entirely kitsch, maybe even then, but I call it nearly transcendent because I'm stunned by the influence it has obviously had on Mike Myer's Austin Powers. Myers picks up the style to a tea.

This scene is followed almost immediately by the film's high-point in this fan-boy's opinion: a great cameo by Frank Zappa who tells Jones to get more serious about his music and quit wasting his time on song-and-dance routines. The mythical Zappa, among the most accomplished and uncompromising of rock and roll musicians, calls the bluff of the Monkee veneer.

In fact, the Monkees are painfully aware of their shallowness, and are perhaps trying to get around it. In the opening "rap" they themselves say "The money's in: we're made of tin. We'd love to give you more." In context, they suggest that they are well aware of their slim grasp on significance. But though this may be an attempt to smash through the foil for some deeper stuff, their inability to muster any subtlety renders their attempt every bit as showy and shallow as the rest of their work.

But this flick could hardly be more commercial if it tried. Oops, they did it again. Easy messages that reflect youth culture are recited back with self-conscious, given limply. Basically this film gives four twenty-somethings a chance to goof around. Jack Nicholson makes a cameo, by the way. Actually, there are cameos galore including Victor Mature, Terry Garr (who I love, though not necessarily here), Annette Funacello (however one spells it),Tony Basil (Hey, Micky!), and Sonny Liston just before Cassius Clay/Ali put the kibosh on his championship.

If I've neglected to talk much about the music of the Monkees, it's because these songs are especially negligible.

Want to share a happy story with Gooden?

Gooden loves to share!

For your collection: Head.

Gooden's listening to: Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage musically sophisticated with a cohesive but silly story, rife with social commentary on many levels.

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