Head (film)

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Head film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Bob Rafelson
Produced by Bert Schneider
Bob Rafelson
Jack Nicholson
Written by Bob Rafelson
Jack Nicholson
Starring The Monkees
Victor Mature
Teri Garr
Carol Doda
Annette Funicello
Frank Zappa
Sonny Liston
Timothy Carey
Ray Nitschke
Music by Ken Thorne
Cinematography Michel Hugo
Editing by Mike Pozen
Studio Raybert Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • November 6, 1968 (1968-11-06)
Running time 86 minutes
110 minutes (Original cut)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $750,000[1]
Box office $16,111[1]

Head is a 1968 psychedelic adventure comedy film musical starring television rock group The Monkees, and distributed by Columbia Pictures. It was written and produced by Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson, and directed by Rafelson.

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.


The film is about the nature of free will, conceived and edited in a stream of consciousness style.

Head begins at the dedication of a bridge. As a local politician struggles with his microphone during the dedication speech, the Monkees interrupt the ceremony by running through the assembled officials, to the sound of various horns and sirens. The rest of the film shows what happened that led up to that. The four have just all kissed the same groupie, who tells them that they were indistinguishable. Throughout the film, they make their way through a series of unrelated vignettes, each being a different type of film (mystery, war, Western, desert adventure, etc.). In each one, they try to deal with the fact that they are four real people in a real band that makes records for real people, but are also scripted characters in a fake made-for-television band doing nothing except exactly what the director wants them to.

The Monkees try to prove to themselves that they are free and can make any choice they want. But no matter what they try — deliberately flubbing their lines, complaining to Nicholson and Rafelson who are on the set but not part of the film, smashing through the painted paper walls, walking off the set and into the street, physically attacking other actors for no reason, and making everyone they encounter mad at them — they discover that their every word and deed was predetermined to the finest detail by the script of the movie they are in and the director directing it.

In one scene, the Monkees forget their worries at a party where girls are go-go dancing. But a mirror on the wall reveals the camera shooting directly into it, filming the scene while Rafelson sits next to the camera in the mirror. At one point, Peter actually discovers the answer to the free will contradiction in their reality. The group frequently find themselves inside a large black box from which they cannot escape. The box represents the constraints of being fictional characters unable to make any real choices. Peter announces that he will talk about the nature of conceptual reality, then informs the others that "it doesn't matter if we're in the box". He realizes that the difference between free will and pre-scripted action is illusory.

Micky, Davy and Mike do not pay attention to Peter's liberating revelation, which they characterize as navel-contemplating nonsense: Peter himself eventually forgets about it. While being chased by everyone they have encountered, they run onto a bridge, shoving people out of the way. It is then revealed that the group was desperately trying to escape being mere scripted puppets. The escape to the bridge is done to make the ultimate assertion of free will. The Monkees jump off the edge and commit suicide. The final scene, however, reveals that this, too, was scripted. The film's director hauls their soaked bodies away in a huge aquarium while the four stare blankly through the glass, motionless under the water. Laughing, he rolls the aquarium into a slot at the studio warehouse, to be taken out when he wants to use them again in another movie.[2][3]


"Reversed" cast[edit]

  • 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, just a picture of John Brockman, who did the PR for the film.[4]


The storylines and peak moments of the film came from a weekend visit to a resort in Ojai, California, where the Monkees, Rafelson and Nicholson brainstormed into a tape recorder,[5] reportedly with the aid of a quantity of marijuana. Jack Nicholson then took the tapes away and used them as the basis for his screenplay which (according to Rafelson) he structured while under the influence of LSD.[6] 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.[2] 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[2] the Monkees' relationship with Rafelson and Bert Schneider, and would effectively draw a curtain on their professional relationship together.[2]

Filmed at Columbia Pictures/Screen Gems Studios in Culver City and at the Columbia Ranch in Burbank, as well as on various locations in California:

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 both he and Nicholson were arrested at the New York City premiere on October 6 for trying to place a sticker onto the helmet of a police officer while mounting his horse.[3]


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.[5] 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.[5]

The film was also delayed in its release (owing partly to 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 thirty seconds, the man smiled and the name HEAD appeared on his forehead.[3] 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 teenaged fanbase, while failing to attract the more adult audience they had been striving for.[5] 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. "Porpoise Song (Theme from Head)" was the first single to not make the Top 40 as well.

Renata Adler of The New York Times wrote a scathing review, commenting that 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." Adler 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."[3]

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." The review applauded Rafelson and Nicholson, however, 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." [3]


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.[7] 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."[8]


The Monkees during the filming of Head. A black and white version of this picture was used on the backside of the LP

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 best recorded work by The Monkees, including songs contributed 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.[2] 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 most famous song from the film, "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."[3]

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.

The soundtrack includes:

Home media history[edit]

  • September 18, 1986: VHS, Beta, Laserdisc
  • January 25, 1995: VHS
  • June 12, 2000: DVD
  • November 23, 2010: Criterion Blu-ray,[9] as part of the America Lost and Found: The BBS Story box set
  • December 14, 2010: Criterion DVD,[1][9] as part of the America Lost and Found: The BBS Story box set


External links[edit]