Inside the Monkee’s “Head”

I enjoy the exploitive films of the 60’s and 70’s; in particular I enjoy the earliest works of actors like Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Andy Warhol.  

Recently, I watched the movie Head: The Monkees.  I was a small child in the mid-1960s when the Monkees were at their peak, and saw my share of that TV show in elementary school.  I thought of them as a cute, funny rock band.  I even had them on vinyl at around age 5. (More of the Monkees was second only to the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour as the number 1 selling album of 1967).  I always thought that Michael Nesmith was the coolest.

I lost interest in their music by the rock-precocious age of 9 and had probably seen all of their TV shows at least twice by then.  I moved on young, and somehow, this film escaped my entire youth and even my college years.

I came across this film while browsing, and took a closer look at the contents.  It was made in 1968 after the popular music/comedy TV show had been canceled after only a year of airing.  The tunes were in fact so popular by this band that extensive touring took place to maximize profits from the music.

Oddly enough, the Jimi Hendrix Experience was even booked to warm up for the Monkees in July of 1967.  Jimi’s dates were cut short a week into the tour after protesting occurred from The Daughters of the American Revolution.  Certainly Jimi realized immediately that he had been mis-paired and soon came forward to resign from the gigs.  I’m guessing it was a sad experience for all concerned.

The Monkees were the actual musicians for the TV show and the albums, and naturally when they learned that they could compete with the Beatles in sales, they requested more control over the creative process.  They also probably wanted more money than they were getting.  They were denied this kind of control and things quickly dissolved from there for the band.  The movie was made in protest of the harsh treatment of the band and much of its humor was a poke at Hollywood and its business practices.  

The film was directed by the Bob Rafelson (who directed the TV show as well) and co-written and co-produced by Jack Nicholson.  Cameos are included from Jack, Dennis Hopper, Frank Zappa, and Terry Garr and even Annette Funicello.

The cinematography itself was of course a pop psychedelic style – everything you would expect from Jack and Dennis’s freak squad for that time period.  In fact, there are parts of the photography that are so reminiscent of Easy Rider it’s ridiculous.

I did find myself laughing throughout, if not at the jokes, for sure at the scenery and acting.  I loved seeing a very brief speaking part by Frank Zappa (who rode into the scene on a cow).  It’s an hour and a half long and between the jokes and the music, a solid slice of campy American entertainment. 

Oddly enough, I thought that the soundtrack for the film stood the test of time.  It must have been the creative direction that the band tried to take the music when Hollywood had decided the TV series was over, but I heard what seemed to be a Zappa influence in the music and learned later that it was actually compiled and arranged by Jack Nicholson himself.

I think anyone who likes Jack Nicholson (or The Monkees) would enjoy seeing this odd film project that never quite made it to the big time.