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Head (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byBob Rafelson
Written by
Produced by
  • Bob Rafelson
  • Jack Nicholson
CinematographyMichel Hugo
Edited byMike Pozen
Music byKen Thorne
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • November 6, 1968 (1968-11-06) (New York City)
Running time
86 minutes
110 minutes (original cut)
CountryUnited States
  • English
  • Italian
Box office$16,111[1]

Head is a 1968 American satirical musical adventure film written and produced by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, directed by Rafelson, starring television rock group the Monkees (Davy Jones, Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith)[2] and distributed by Columbia Pictures. A theatrical spin-off of the 1966–68 NBC television show and a swan song (series finale), it started production directly after completion of series production.

During production, one of the working titles for the film was Changes, which was later the name of an album by the Monkees. Another working title was Untitled. A rough cut of the film was previewed for audiences in Los Angeles in the summer of 1968 under the title Movee Untitled.

The film featured Victor Mature as "The Big Victor"[2] and cameo appearances by Nicholson, Teri Garr, Carol Doda, Annette Funicello, Frank Zappa, Sonny Liston, Timothy Carey, Percy Helton and Ray Nitschke.[2] Also appearing on screen in brief non-speaking parts are Dennis Hopper and film choreographer Toni Basil.[2]


Head begins at the dedication of a bridge. As a local politician struggles with his microphone during the dedication speech, the "wacky, fun-loving" Monkees (Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith), suddenly interrupt the ceremony by running through the assembled officials, to the sound of various horns and sirens. The rest of the film shows the events leading up to this.

Earlier, the four have just all kissed the same groupie, who tells them that they were indistinguishable. Throughout the film, they make their way both together and separately through a series of unrelated vignettes, each being a different type of movie (a mystery, a war movie, a western, a desert adventure, etc.).

In each one segment, the Monkees try to deal with the fact that they're four real people in a real band that makes records for real people, but are also scripted characters in a fake TV band doing nothing except exactly what the director wants them to.

They continually try to prove to themselves that they're free and can make any choice they want. But no matter what they try—deliberately flubbing their lines in scenes from their TV show, pointing out to other characters that they're really just actors making a movie, complaining to producers Jack Nicholson and Bob 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're in and the director directing it.

While being chased by everyone they've encountered (and disrupted) in the various vignettes, they run onto a bridge, shoving people out of the way. It's revealed that they weren't being "wacky" at the beginning of the film; they were desperately trying to escape being mere scripted puppets. They jump off the edge and commit suicide, falling a very long way and slamming into the water far below.

However, 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, struggling 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.



The plot and peak moments of the film came together at an Ojai, California, resort where the Monkees, Rafelson, and Nicholson brainstormed into a tape recorder,[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] The strike ended after the first day when 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 with the producers.[5]

Head was filmed from February 19 to May 17, 1968, at Columbia Pictures/Screen Gems Studios at Sunset & Gower, Hollywood, California and at the Columbia Ranch in Burbank, California, as well as various locations in California and elsewhere:

  • 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, California
  • 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. 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.


The film's music included 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.[5] 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", appeared at the film's start and finish. 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.

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 ...the movie's musical performances are some of the most cohesive moments in the film."[6]

The music of the Monkees often featured a 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" 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:



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.[7]

Head was one of the first films to be advertised with an MPAA rating, with newspaper advertisements in New York daily papers on November 1, 1968, displaying a G rating.[8]

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 put a sticker on a police officer's helmet as he mounted his horse.[6]


A poor audience response at an August 1968 screening in Los Angeles forced the producers to edit the picture 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.[3] This was in part because Head, being an antithesis of The Monkees sitcom, comprehensively demolished the group's carefully groomed public image while the counterculture audience they had been reaching for rejected the Monkees' efforts out of hand.[3]

The film's release also was delayed (partly because of the extensive use of solarization, a then-new technique both laborious and expensive) and underpromoted. 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.[6] This ad was a parody of Andy Warhol's 1964 film Blow Job,[citation needed] 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.[3] Head's abysmal reception 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 No. 45 on the U.S. chart, the first time any Monkees album had not risen to the Top 5. "Porpoise Song" was also 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."[6]

Daily Variety was also harsh, stating that "Head is an extension of the ridiculous nonsense served up on the Screen Gems vid series 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."[6]

Funicello said when she saw the film "it made no more sense to me than it ever had" when she read the script "but it was a challenging, offbeat role and I was happy to play it."[9]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on September 18, 1986, on VHS, Beta, and Laserdisc. It was re-released on VHS on January 25, 1995.

It was released on DVD twice: first as an individual release on June 12, 2000, then again on December 14, 2010, as part of the Criterion Collection box set America Lost and Found: The BBS Story.[1][10]

It was released on Blu-ray twice: first on November 23, 2010, as part of America Lost and Found,[10] then again on July 8, 2016, as part of The Monkees: The Complete TV Series Blu-ray box set.[11]


Head has developed a cult following. Leonard Maltin describes it as "delightfully plotless" and "well worth seeing", giving the film 3 out of 4 stars.[12] 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 U.K., Channel 4 also aired it 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. In honor of the Monkees' 50th anniversary, Rhino released the complete series on Blu-ray on July 8, 2016, with the film and deleted scenes.

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 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.."[13] A decade earlier, in his commentary for the television series episode "Fairy Tale", Nesmith called the film the "murder" of the Monkees, an intentional move by Schneider and Rafelson, who had their eyes on bigger goals and felt that the Monkees project was holding them back. Tork echoed a similar statement during the Monkees' 2001 interview on the VH-1 series Behind the Music. In 2001, Davy Jones felt that that the Monkees should never have made the movie.

For all of the negative remarks, there have been positive comments, showing Dolenz, whether knowingly or unknowingly, as a fashion trendsetter. In Straight Outta Cullompton, author Adam Foley wrote more glowingly, "Julian [Hewings]: 'I was watching Head, The Monkees film, and there's a bit at the beginning when Micky Dolenz falls from Golden Gate Bridge and he's got a pair of slightly flared boot cut jean cords on with a pair of (Adidas) Gazelles, probably the first ones that ever came out and this stripy t-shirt and I thought "Wow, that's what I remember when I was a kid – that's what everyone used to wear when they went to school." I just thought "Wow. Yeah. That's really speaking to me there and I got the others together" and went "Have a look at this, we're going to go out and find these clothes and that's what we're going to wear". The look came first before the music'".[14][15][16]

On November 19, 2014, the film was screened in the United Kingdom for the first time outside London as part of the Leeds International Film Festival. It was introduced by Peter Mills of Leeds Beckett University, author of a book about the Monkees.

The NorthEast ComicCon & Collectibles Extravaganza hosted a 50th anniversary screening of the film at the Regent Theatre (Arlington, Massachusetts), on July 6, 2018. A portion of that screening benefited the Cystic Dreams Fund a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and Dolenz conducted a lengthy question and answer before introducing the film.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "HEAD (Columbia, 1968)". monkeesfilmtv.tripod.com.
  2. ^ a b c d "Head". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved May 9, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d King, Susan (November 12, 2008). "A Monkees 'Head' trip". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
  4. ^ Lynksey, Dorian (April 28, 2011). "The Monkees' Head: 'Our fans couldn't even see it'". The Guardian. Retrieved May 26, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Baker, Czarnota & Hoga 1986, pp. 91–102.
  6. ^ a b c d e Sandoval 2005, pp. 156–221.
  7. ^ Brown, Andrew (April 29, 2005). "The Hustler". The Guardian. Retrieved July 8, 2013.
  8. ^ "MPAA Ratings in Effect But Not Being Widely Advertised - Yet". Variety. November 4, 1968. p. 1.
  9. ^ Funicello, Annette; Bashe, Patricia Romanowski (1994). A dream is a wish your heart makes : my story. Hyperion. p. 159. ISBN 9780786860203.
  10. ^ a b "America Lost and Found: The BBS Story". The Criterion Collection. Janus Films. Retrieved May 26, 2016.
  11. ^ "The Monkees - the Complete Series (Blu-ray) | Rhino".
  12. ^ Head at Rotten Tomatoes
  13. ^ "Exclusive: Michael Nesmith Remembers Davy Jones". Rolling Stone. March 8, 2012. Archived from the original on May 30, 2012. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
  14. ^ Adam Foley (November 17, 2013). "Straight Outta Cullompton". Retrieved June 9, 2016.
  15. ^ Adam Foley (November 17, 2013). Straight Outta Cullompton. LULU Press Incorporated. p. 54. ISBN 9781291437201. Retrieved June 9, 2016.
  16. ^ "boot cut jeans in a sentence, sentence 2". ichacha.net Native English Web Dictionary. Retrieved August 21, 2021.


External links[edit]