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Film / Head

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"Hey, hey, we are The Monkees
you know we love to please
A manufactured image

with no philosophies"
— From "Ditty Diego - War Chant"

Head is a film released in 1968, starring the TV rock group The Monkees, and distributed by Columbia Pictures. It was written and produced by Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack Nicholson, before he was a multi-Oscar winning actor), and directed by Rafelson.

Head begins at the dedication of a bridge; The Monkees suddenly interrupt the ceremony by running through the assembled officials, to the sound of various horns and sirens. The rest of the film has no overriding plot. There are several short vignettes that consist of a conflict and resolution, but the film is essentially metaphors for how the group felt about different aspects of their fame. It's composed of seemingly stream of consciousness stringing-together of musical numbers, satire of various film genres, elements of psychedelia, and references to topical issues such as The Vietnam War.

The film was a flop, only earning back a fraction of its $750,000 budget, and was one of the factors that led to the band's demise. Audience and critical reception were both poor; it was too trippy to appeal to established fans of the band, its actual target audience being the same people who hated their TV show. Through the years, however, it was Vindicated by History, along with the band itself, and became a Cult Classic, standing as an example of pure weirdness matched by very few films of the era. Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright are just two of the many cinéastes who've expressed their love for this crazy film.

"But the porpoise is troping good-bye, good-bye":

  • All There in the Script: Very few of the guest characters' names are mentioned onscreen. They can be gleaned from the end credits, but if you don't know the actors involved, you won't know who is who. For instance, do you know which character Lord High 'N' Low is?note 
  • Arc Words: Appropriately enough, "head". There's Micky and Peter musing about getting shot in the head in the war sequence, Davy referring to his own noggin as a "million-dollar head" in the boxing sequence, and Micky talking about how "Our universes only start from the inside of our head" in the final channel-flipping scene.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: One of the vignettes is a commercial where the Monkees play dandruff flakes on Victor Mature's head. Later, a giant Mature is among those chasing the boys at the end.
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Inverted Trope. Head was (and remains) rated G, probably because it was released when the MPAA rating system was brand new and the G rating didn't yet mean "for little kids only". Given the film's trippy atmospherenote  and occasional violence, it would almost certainly get a PG or PG-13 today.
  • Belly Dancer: Featured in the "Can You Dig It?" sequence.
  • Berserk Button: Mike really, really doesn't like surprises. And that includes Christmas.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: Frank Zappa 's cow says: "Monkees is the craziest peoples!" This is a direct reference to an old catch phrase from radio and film comedian Lew Lehr.
  • Borrowing the Beatles: Peter briefly whistles "Strawberry Fields Forever", a character asks Micky "Are you still paying tribute to Ringo Starr?", and Peter listens to a lecture from a swami who's a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In a deleted scene, the wind blows a poster of John Lennon onto Davy's face.
  • The Boxing Episode: The sequence where Davy gives up playing the violin to fight in a fixed match against Sonny Liston, which is a parody of the classic Broadway play/film Golden Boy. It's also a subtle allusion to the TV series example of this, "The Monkees in the Ring", with Davy even wearing the same "Dynamite Davy Jones" robe.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Almost constantly, even more so than the TV series, and a lot more cynically or dramatically. You really see the frustration each member has with the limits of the show and the public backlash.
    • Some are in-jokes, like the big Black Box on the set they find themselves in.
    • Perhaps the only known instance of Breaking The Second Wall: Micky, in the frontier scene with Teri Garr, gets fed up with the farce that is acting and tears a hole in the scenic backdrop to leave.
    • In the same scene, Teri Garr's character (in a character) dies, whom Micky revives by kicking and saying "Come on lady, you're not even dead." Inverted: Garr's character is confused that she's actually alive.
    • The end of the diner scene when Peter storms off and the crew start milling into the shot (and we see Nicholson and Hopper).
  • The Cameo: Several: Annette Funicello, Frank Zappa, Dennis Hopper, Sonny Liston, Toni ("Mickey") Basil, Ray Nitschke, a young Teri Garr, Victor Mature, Carol Doda and even Jack Nicholson himself. Although Nicholson and Hopper are cases of invoked Retroactive Recognition as they were only producers of the movie and weren't yet famous actors.
  • Close on Title: There are no opening credits at all at the beginning, not even a studio logo. The film just opens on an extreme close-up of the ribbon for the bridge dedication ceremony. The title shows up at the very end of the film, followed by the credits.
  • Credits Gag: One section of the credits is printed backwards, ending with "Frodis", a Call-Back to the TV show.
  • Cult Soundtrack: Since the soundtrack album was more easily available than the film for a long time, it could be considered this. The extensive use of soundbites from the film was very innovative for its era, and "Porpoise Song" has acquired a life outside of the film, with several cover versions, and featured in Vanilla Sky and Mad Men too.
  • Dada Ad/What Were They Selling Again?: One reason that Head may have failed at the box office was its bizarre television ads which consisted solely of a continuous shot of advertising consultant John Brockman’s face with the word "Head" superimposed on it at the end. The spots never mentioned that it starred the Monkees... or even that Head was a movie.
    • This can be credited almost exclusively to Executive Meddling, though. Even the Monkees themselves didn't understand the marketing strategy. Peter Tork later criticized "those two-minute commercials for Head that were so avant-garde as to be positively repulsive."
    • The spots were a parody of Andy Warhol's experimental film Blow Job, which would still be well outside the scope of public familiarity.
  • Darker and Edgier: Don't expect the film to be as comical and over the top as the series, especially during the second half of the film.
  • Destroy the Product Placement: Micky blasts a Coke machine in the middle of the desert with a tank gun.
  • Erudite Stoner: Peter, especially during his philosophical and psychedelic monologue.
  • Giant Eye of Doom: Davy is spooked by a giant eye inside a medicine cabinet.
  • Hammerspace: Davy's cannon at the climax of the film.
  • Happy Birthday to You!: Sung by the other Monkees to Mike.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: Preceding the "Happy Birthday"/"Long Title" sequence.
  • Here We Go Again!: They did some of the major bits twice (i.e. the boxing scene, the factory tour, the bridge ceremony, the "Porpoise Song" sequence, and stuff).
  • How We Got Here: The Monkees running and interrupting the bridge-opening ceremony is explained later.
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: Rumor has it that Head was titled as such so that when Rafelson and Nicholson released their next film Easy Rider, it could be promoted as being "from the guys who gave you Head". Also an obvious drug reference. "Head" is also a technical term for the start of a scene or a roll of film.
  • Involuntary Group Split: One by one, each Monkee is separated from the group and has a solo vignette before rejoining the others.
    • Davy performs a Broadway number and then meets Frank Zappa, counterculture legend. Frank tells Davy that it's fine to have a mainstream style as long as he's expressing his own, unique voice.
    • Peter is tired of always playing the dummy of the group, and brings the others back a lesson in enlightenment from a swami he met in a sauna.
    • Mike is irritated with being ambushed by strangers on his time off, even for well-meaning reasons like a surprise birthday party.
    • Micky is dying of thirst in the desert and finds a Coke machine, but can't get a drink. An Italian army platoon comes by and surrenders to him, eager to give up their tank and guns even though he's defenseless. Micky happily uses the tank to blow up the Coke machine. This one's more abstract, but the Coke machine might represent frustration with US commercialization in the studio. In real life, Micky found creative freedom producing and directing overseas in England.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Inverted. Peter recites his highly intelligent philosophical monologue (as passed down by his Old Master, the Swami), and literally forces the other Monkees to listen to him. He then goes on to say: “But then, why should I speak…since I know nothing?”
  • Melting-Film Effect: It ends with footage of a vintage Columbia Pictures logo breaking and melting.
  • Mind Screw: The entire film is a mix of surreal comedy with plain old Surrealism, as filtered through the psychedelia of The '60s.
  • Mirror Routine
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Swami (played by Abraham Sofaer) is clearly modeled on Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (one of a handful of references to The Beatles in the film). According to Peter, the Swami's philosophies were borrowed from Jiddu Krishnamurti.note 
  • Pie in the Face: Peter, by an angry waitr(ess) near the end of the movie.
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: Davy when they escape from the box.
  • Random Events Plot: More "random events" than "plot", and done deliberately.
  • Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony: The movies opens with one for a bridge.
  • Scary Surprise Party: Michael was lured to his own death…err…birthday party.
    • Funny they didn't celebrate Davy's birthday, too (both were born on December 30).
  • Scenery Porn: The footage of the individual Monkees strolling through natural settings during "As We Go Along".
  • Self-Deprecation: It would probably be easier to count the scenes where movie isn't poking fun at The Monkees at some point.
    Mr. & Mrs. Ace (as the guys walk into the diner): Well, if it isn't God's gift to the eight-year-olds!
  • Shirtless Scene: Micky and Davy.
  • Shout-Out:
  • The Something Song: "Porpoise Song" and "Daddy's Song".
  • Spiritual Successor:
    • Jack Nicholson wrote the screenplay for Roger Corman's The Trip (1967) before he worked on Head, and there are some definite commonalities in the two films, to the extent that Head plays almost like a parody of The Trip at times. For example, both films have a scene involving a character going to a diner and tangling with a tart-tongued waitress, but it's Played for Drama in The Trip, while Head takes things in a more absurd direction, with the waitress actually being a man in drag.
    • After his cameo here, some of Head 's surrealism must've rubbed off onto Frank Zappa when he made 200 Motels.
  • Starts with a Suicide: The film starts off (and ENDS) with Micky Dolenz jumping off a bridge... which arguably makes the whole film his near-death hallucination.
    • At the end, all four jump off the bridge and swim away with mermaids, only to wind up in the black box again, unable to escape their TV image even if they kill themselves trying.
  • Suicide as Comedy: A pretty young woman in a bikini threatens to jump off a building, attracting a crowd, including Mike and Micky. Rather than try to talk her down, Mike bets Micky $10 that she'll jump. A later shot shows Micky paying Mike his money as Mike holds the very-much-alive woman in his arms.
  • Thirsty Desert: A shirtless Micky shamelessly beating up an empty Coke machine (and then proceeding to blow it up) in the middle of the barren desert.
  • Time-Passes Montage: The "As We Go Along" sequence is meant to depict the passage of the seasons. Winter is Peter walking through snow, Spring is Micky wandering in a forest, Summer is Davy in a field of flowers, and Autumn is Mike strolling on the beach.
  • Watch It Stoned: In a desperate last-ditch attempt to sell the movie, Columbia Pictures added a blurb from New York Times reviewer Renata Adler to its poster: "Head is a film to see if you've been smoking grass". Except, Adler hated the movie and that line was meant to be an insult.
  • Weirdness Magnet: The movie is basically 86 minutes of The Monkees attracting all manner of weirdness.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Micky and Peter both punch women in the face during the movie (though in Peter's case, it's actually a man in drag). Peter immediately breaks character to complain to the director about how neither he nor his character should do that.