Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Bob Rafelson|
|Produced by||Bert Schneider
|Written by||Bob Rafelson
|Music by||Ken Thorne|
|Edited by||Mike Pozen|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Running time||86 minutes
110 minutes (Original cut)
Head is a 1968 psychedelic adventure comedy film musical starring television rock group The Monkees, and distributed by Columbia Pictures. Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson wrote and produced, and Rafelson directed.
During production, the working title for the film was "Changes", which was later the name of an unrelated album by the Monkees. A rough cut of the film was previewed for audiences in Los Angeles in the summer of 1968 under the name of "Movee Untitled".
The film featured Victor Mature as "The Big Victor" and other cameo appearances by Nicholson, Teri Garr, Carol Doda, Annette Funicello, Frank Zappa, Sonny Liston, Timothy Carey, and Ray Nitschke. Also appearing on screen in brief non-speaking parts are Dennis Hopper and film choreographer Toni Basil.
Head begins at the dedication of a bridge. A politician is supposed to give a speech but there is a barrage of feedback from the microphone. Suddenly the Monkees (further) interrupt the ceremony by running through the assembled officials to sound of horns and sirens. The rest of the film has no overriding plot but consists of a series of vignettes highlighting the unpleasant aspects of being public figures. There is a conflict and a resolution, but the film is essentially plotless; as the opening song related: "We hope you like our story/Although there isn't one/That is to say, there's many/That way, there is more fun!" Rather, it's a 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 distorted consciousness and psychedelia elements resemble a trip on LSD, a widespread recreational drug at the time that was made illegal in 1967. Recurring images include a black box in which the group are trapped, a desert location, and a gigantic Victor Mature.
- Peter Tork - Peter
- David Jones - Davy
- Micky Dolenz - Micky
- Michael Nesmith - Mike
- Annette Funicello - Teresa/Minnie
- Timothy Carey - Lord High 'n' Low
- Logan Ramsey - Officer Faye Lapid
- Abraham Sofaer - Swami
- Vito Scotti - I. Vitteloni
- Charles Macaulay - Inspector Shrink
- T. C. Jones - Mr. and Mrs. Ace
- Charles Irving - Mayor Feedback
- William Bagdad - Black Sheik
- Percy Helton - Heraldic Messenger
- Sonny Liston - Extra
- Ray Nitschke - Private One
- Carol Doda - Sally Silicone
- Frank Zappa - The Critic
- June Fairchild - The Jumper
- Teri Garr - Testy True
- I.J. Jefferson - Lady Pleasure
- Victor Mature - The Big Victor
- Toni Basil - 'Daddy's Song' Dancer
- Lee Kolima - guard (often mistaken for Tor Johnson, who isn't in this film)
- Srebmahc Yrret - Oreh (Terry Chambers - Hero)
- Snrub Ekim - Gnihton (Mike Burns - Nothing)
- Drapehs Rehtse - Rehtom (Esther Shepard - Mother)
- Iksotsleh Enitsirk - Dneirf Lrig (Kristine Helstoski - Girl Friend)
- Namffoh Nhoj - Dneifxes Eht (John Hoffman - The Sexfiend)
- Revaew Adnil - Yraterces Revol (Linda Weaver - Lover Secretary)
- Yelnah Mij - Frodis (Jim Hanley as 'Frodis' – a slang term for marijuana coined by Micky Dolenz)
On screen, these credits actually appeared backwards.
Trailers summarized it as a "most extraordinary adventure, western, comedy, love story, mystery, drama, musical, documentary satire ever made (And that's putting it mildly)." There were no pictures of the Monkees on the original poster; only a picture of John Brockman, who did the PR for the film.
The storylines and peak moments of the film came from a weekend visit to an Ojai, California resort where the Monkees, Rafelson, and Nicholson brainstormed into a tape recorder, reportedly with the aid of a quantity of marijuana. Jack Nicholson then took the tapes and used them as the basis for his screenplay which (according to Rafelson) he structured while under the influence of LSD. When the band learned that they would not be allowed to direct themselves or to receive screenwriting credit, Dolenz, Jones, and Nesmith staged a one-day walkout, leaving Tork the only Monkee on the set the first day. The strike ended after the first day when, to mollify the Monkees, the studio agreed to a larger percentage share of the film's net for the group. But the incident damaged the Monkees' relationship with Rafelson and Bert Schneider, and would effectively end their professional relationship together.
- ribbon cutting ceremony - Gerald Desmond Bridge, Long Beach
- WAR chant cheerleader sequence - Pasadena Rose Bowl, Pasadena
- factory sequence - Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant, Playa Del Rey
- war sequence - Bronson Canyon; some sequences at San Francisco
- desert sequence - Palm Springs, Utah
- concert sequence - Valley Music Hall, Salt Lake City
- Micky's underwater sequence - The Bahamas
The song "Ditty Diego – War Chant" was written by Jack Nicholson and is a parody of the band's original Boyce and Hart written TV theme song; its lyrics illustrate the tone of self-parody evident in parts of the film:
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 rejoice
in 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!
The money's in, we're made of tin
We're here to give you...
The final "We're here to give you..." is interrupted by a gunshot, with footage of the execution of Viet Cong operative (q.v.) Nguyễn Văn Lém, by Brigadier General and then Chief of National Police Nguyễn Ngọc Loan.
Another part of the promotional campaign was placing Head stickers in random places. Rafelson commented that he and Nicholson were arrested at the New York City premiere on October 6 for trying to affix a sticker to a police officer's helmet as he mounted his horse.
A poor audience response at an August 1968 screening in Los Angeles eventually forced the producers to edit the picture down from its original 110-minute length. The 86-minute Head premiered in New York City on November 6, 1968; the film later debuted in Hollywood on November 20. It was not a commercial success. This was in part because Head, being an antithesis of The Monkees sitcom, comprehensively demolished the group's carefully groomed public image, while the older, hipper counterculture audience they had been reaching for rejected the Monkees' efforts out of hand.
The film's release was also delayed (partly because of the use of solarisation, a then-new technique both laborious and expensive) and badly under-promoted. The sole television commercial was a confusing minimalist close-up shot of a man's head (John Brockman); after 30 seconds the man smiled and the name HEAD appeared on his forehead. This ad was a parody of Andy Warhol's 1963 film Blow Job, which only showed a close-up of a man's face for an extended period, supposedly receiving 'head'.
Receiving mixed critical reviews and virtually non-existent box office receipts, the film succeeded in alienating the band's teenage fanbase while failing to attract the more adult audience for which they had strived. Head's abysmal reception instantly halted studio plans for any further films with the Monkees. It also corresponded with a steep drop in the group's popularity as recording artists; the Head soundtrack peaked at #45 on the American chart, the first time any Monkees album had not risen to the Top 5. Also, "Porpoise Song (Theme from Head)" was the first single to not make the Top 40.
In her scathing review, Renata Adler of The New York Times commented: Head "might be a film to see if you have been smoking grass, or if you like to scream at The Monkees, or if you are interested in what interests drifting heads and hysterical high-school girls." She added that the group "are most interesting for their lack of similarity to The Beatles. Going through ersatz Beatle songs, and jokes and motions, their complete lack of distinction of any kind...makes their performance modest and almost brave."
Daily Variety was also harsh, stating that "Head is an extension of the ridiculous nonsense served up on the Screen Gems vidseries that manufactured The Monkees and lasted two full seasons following the same format and, ostensibly, appealing to the same kind of audience." But the review applauded Rafelson and Nicholson, saying that they "were wise not to attempt a firm storyline as The Monkees have established themselves in the art of the non-sequitur and outrageous action. Giving them material they can handle is good thinking; asking them to achieve something more might have been a disaster." 
Head has developed a cult following. Today, it receives mainly positive reviews from fans and film critics alike. Leonard Maltin describes it as “delightfully plotless” and “well worth seeing,” giving the film 3 out of 4 stars, while Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 75% rating. Head premiered on television across-the-board as a CBS Late Movie on December 30, 1974; the network rebroadcast the film on July 7, 1975. Cable TV took hold in 1981, when Head began periodic showings on Spotlight; Cinemax began airing the film in 1984. In the UK, Channel 4 also aired on British TV in 1986 and 1991. It was later shown regularly on Starz Cinema, and in 2007, Turner Classic Movies featured the film as part of TCM Underground, showing the film unedited and in its original aspect ratio. It was released on video and Laserdisc by RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video in September 1986 taking advantage of the group's 20th Anniversary, again on VHS and DVD by Rhino Entertainment in January 1995, and a third time on Blu-ray and DVD in November and December 2010, respectively, by The Criterion Collection, in a box set with other films from Rafelson.
When asked by Rolling Stone magazine in March 2012 if he thought making Head was a mistake, Nesmith responded by saying that "by the time Head came out the Monkees were a pariah. There was no confusion about this. We were on the cosine of the line of approbation, from acceptance to rejection . . . and it was basically over. Head was a swan song. We wrote it with Jack and Bob . . .and we liked it. It was an authentic representation of a phenomenon we were a part of that was winding down. It was very far from suicide—even though it may have looked like that. There were some people in power, and not a few critics, who thought there was another decision that could have been made. But I believe the movie was an inevitability—there was no other movie to be made that would not have been ghastly under the circumstances."
While the film's music disappointed fans of the band's more traditional pop sound, it features what some critics considered to be some of the Monkees' best recorded work, including contributions by Carole King and Harry Nilsson. Jack Nicholson compiled the soundtrack album, which approximates the flow of the movie and includes large portions of the dialogue. The film's incidental music was composed and conducted by Ken Thorne, who also composed and conducted the incidental music to the Beatles' second film, Help! The film's most famous song, "Porpoise Song (Theme from Head)", appeared at the film's start and finish and left viewers feeling they were watching something dreamlike: even the editing of the bridge scene and the slow motion was almost meant to feel like a dream. Bright color filters heighten the visual effect and dreamlike touch of the passages, which include mermaids rescuing member Micky Dolenz in the film's start: it was a psychedelic touch that recalled the visual and musical elements used for the Beatles television film Magical Mystery Tour and the animated feature film Yellow Submarine, also with the Beatles and directed by George Dunning.
Andrew Sandoval, author of The Monkees: The Day-By-Day Story of the 60s TV Pop Sensation, commented that, "It has some of their best songs on it and, as you know, the movie's musical performances are some of the most cohesive moments in the film."
The music of The Monkees often featured rather dark subject matter beneath a superficially bright, uplifting sound. The music of the film takes the darkness and occasional satirical elements of the Monkees' earlier tunes and makes it far more overt, as in "Ditty Diego – War Chant", or "Daddy's Song," which has Jones singing an upbeat, Broadway-style number about a boy abandoned by his father. In his 2012 essay on the soundtrack album, academic Peter Mills noted that 'on this album the songs are only part of the story, as they were with The Monkees project as a whole : signals, sounds, and ideas interfere with each other throughout.'
The soundtrack includes:
- "Porpoise Song (Theme from Head)" - Gerry Goffin, Carole King
- "Ditty Diego – War Chant" - Bob Rafelson, Jack Nicholson
- "Circle Sky" - Michael Nesmith
- "Can You Dig It" - Peter Tork
- "As We Go Along" - Carole King, Toni Stern
- "Daddy's Song" - Harry Nilsson
- "Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?" - Peter Tork
- Excerpts from the film, spliced in random order that is not consecutive to the movie itself
Home media history
- September 18, 1986: VHS, Beta, Laserdisc
- January 25, 1995: VHS
- June 12, 2000: DVD
- November 23, 2010: Criterion Blu-ray, as part of the America Lost and Found: The BBS Story box set
- December 14, 2010: Criterion DVD, as part of the America Lost and Found: The BBS Story box set
- "The Hustler", The Guardian, Andrew Brown, April 29, 2005, retrieved July 8, 2013.
- King, Susan (2008-11-12). "A Monkees 'Head' trip". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles). Retrieved 2010-04-30.
- Dorian Lynksey, "The Monkees' Head: 'Our fans couldn't even see it', The Guardian, 28 April 2011
- Baker, Glenn A.; Tom Czarnota; Peter Hoga (1986). Monkeemania: The True Story of the Monkees. New York, New York: Plexus Publishing. pp. 91–102. ISBN 0-312-00003-0.
- Sandoval, Andrew (2005). The Monkees: The Day-by-Day Story of the 60s TV Pop Sensation. London, England: Backbeat Books. pp. 156–221. ISBN 1-871547-86-5.
- Head at Rotten Tomatoes
- "Exclusive: Michael Nesmith Remembers Davy Jones". Rolling Stone. 8 March 2012. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
- Head at the Internet Movie Database
- Head at the TCM Movie Database
- Head at AllMovie
- Head at Rotten Tomatoes
- The HEAD page, from The Monkees Film & TV Vault
- The Monkees' Head: 'Our fans couldn't even see it' - Dorian Lynskey, The Guardian, 28 April 2011
- Criterion Collection Essay by Chuck Stephens
- Criterion Collection Essay by J. Hoberman