Wednesday, June 16, 2010
You know, you watch the Monkees' movie, Head, and you wonder who exactly was putting on whom. It opens with a mayor trying to dedicate a bridge (there aren't even any opening titles), before Micky Dolenz runs on and jumps off into the water below, whence he is rescued by mermaids to the strains of the gorgeous "Porpoise Song," which would later resurface on the soundtrack to the terrible Cameron Crowe movie Vanilla Sky. And everything thereafter is pretty much about the Monkees' attempt to kill off their image, their fan base, their entire career; they spend much of the movie trying to escape from an enormous metal box. Hmm, I wonder what that could be a metaphor for.
It was directed by Bob Rafelson, who put together the TV series that ended just before the movie began filming, and would later direct, with much success, Five Easy Pieces, as well as, with less success, Man Trouble. The four Monkees themselves also contributed ideas for sketches. So in a sense, with the whole Monkees creative team onboard, it's 90 minutes worth of self-loathing, exemplified by the sequence in which Davy Jones gets his beautiful face bruised and beaten in by Sonny Liston (!).
Rafelson brought in a struggling actor by the name of Jack Nicholson to help with the screenplay. Nicholson loved the movie - he makes a cameo appearance, and he claims to have seen it "like, 158 million times." But I also notice that his talents as a screenwriter have since gone untapped, with the sole exception of the script for Drive, He Said, which Nicholson also directed in 1971.
It's not even so much that it's bad, although it's plotless, and dreary at times - do we really need to see videotape of that South Vietnamese police chief shooting a guy in the head on the street? The surrealism and occasional shots of humor keep your attention, and Toni Basil dances a lovely duet in Davy's big Broadway-style production number. But you can't believe anyone thought this was a good idea for the Monkees, even the people who were starting to hate being the Monkees. If this trippy, cynical movie had starred the Jimi Hendrix Experience or the Strawberry Alarm Clock, it would have made a lot more sense. But the Monkees were madcap, carefree, too busy singing to put anybody down. Their presence just makes the movie a little more sad.
At the end, they all plunge from a helicopter - photographed falling in slow motion as if they were the Beatles in A Hard Day's Night - into that selfsame water Micky Dolenz jumped into, with the same gorgeous "Porpoise Song" playing behind them, and although they get to frolic in psychedelic colors for a while, this time there's no rescue. They end the movie trapped inside a water-filled box, screaming for their lives.