The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night inspired the creation of The Monkees, a television series/band whose Beatles-inspired, critics-divined nickname, the Pre-Fab Four, ultimately inspired The Monkees’ first and only foray into film: Head. Follow that? Everything The Beatles were, The Monkees were considered not, despite their later efforts to take what they were given and turn it from a Hollywood façade into something legitimate. How do you do that? The Monkees, through the collaboration with director Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson, decided to systematically deconstruct the image and try to come through the other end revised and reinvented.
Head plays like a 90-minute episode of their television show, but through the looking glass. The revised theme song,
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 rejoicein never being free. Hey, hey we are The Monkees/We’ve said it all before. The money’s in, we’re made of tin/We’re here to give you more!
makes no bones about the purpose of what the viewer is about to see. It’s rumored that the film got its name because if there was a sequel, the producers could use the tagline “From the people who gave you Head…” What?! A overtly sexual reference from The Monkees? Combine this with the scene after the opening credits (an acid-induced Mickey Dolenz floating in the ocean to a great song [the Carole King penned “Porpoise Song”]) where a woman goes from Monkee to Monkee and engages each with a sensual kiss. Head is what it must have been like to find your soda pop was spiked with some mild LSD. This film may actually be the electric kool-aid Tom Wolfe was talking about. Seemingly non-sensical, sometimes connected/sometimes not scenes flow or bump together, bridged by musical numbers that diverge from the standard Monkees pop music sound we’re used to hearing on the television show (“Daydream Believer” is clearly the furthest thing they wanted from the set of this film).
Mostly self-reflexive, sometimes straight-out discussion of the “characters” they portray, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, Davey Jones and Mike Nesmith clearly hoped that Head would shift their audience from teenage girls to the free-thinking, music-embracing audience that The Beatles had. And it pretty much didn’t work. While you can admire the attempt and the effort, there are great scenes and the film wears its heart on its sleeve, you almost get the sense that Nicholson and company were more in it for the ride and joy of breaking this thing apart than they were with the rebuilding. And that’s probably the biggest flaw of the film: because makes its purpose so well known and spends almost no time putting the pieces back together, Head feels more like a final nail in the coffin than a reconstructed/revisioned troupe. The final telling piece? The Monkees received no writing credit for the film. Even in their attempt to take control they had no control.
Head is worth the watch; it’s not a great film, but it’s interesting and the musical numbers are actually really good (the film’s biggest strength). For all of its psychedelic, undergrad-level philosophical musings, The Monkees took a chance and that earnestness comes through, even if the film is ultimately unsuccessful in its grand attempt to rebirth the Pre-Fab Four. Head is The Monkees’ fascinating cry for Help!