Movies Are My Wife

Married to the Movies — Mdino's Blog

HEAD (1968)

Premiering during one of America’ most violent years, HEAD (1968) is an interesting time warp experience for modern audiences.  If the film’s preoccupation with the Vietnam war seems inordinate, it must be remembered that in 1968 the nation was embroiled in one of the most traumatic experiences of its existence.  Director/writer Bob Rafelson and co-writer Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack Nicholson) made HEAD two years before their breakthrough with the ant-establishment classic FIVE EASY PIECES.  Their annoyance –  if not outright anger –  with the manipulative powers of the media, especially television, is palpable in the film.  Also angry are “The Monkees”.  There is a double irony here in that the bubble gum pop band was created especially for TV and that the members were assembled for that medium by none other than Bob Rafelson.  It is an irony not lost on anyone involved, as the movie amply demonstrates.

HEAD begins with an extreme close-up of a red ribbon, which could also stand in for a stripe of the American flag.  The red symbolizes the blood shed in Vietnam in particular and America’s fascination with violence in general – at least as Rafelson and Nicholson see it.  The ribbon is to be cut as part of a ceremony marking the opening of a bridge.  Suddenly (well, not too suddenly, considering how the ribbon cutting drags on) Micky Dolenz sprints across the bridge –  breaking the ribbon – followed by the other Monkees.  They are – in no particular order of importance – Mike Nesmith, David Jones and Peter Tork.  Micky jumps off the bridge leading to several psychedelic minutes of cavorting with mermaids.  Ahhh, freedom…the yearning of all disaffected youth.  A few moments later, the band members perform a song as they appear in tiny TV screens that pop up, one after another, with each line of the ditty.  The song (and the visualization) is all about the bands manufactured status – a gentle self mocking.  The bit ends with the first of the pic’s many war related images: A Viet Cong prisoner being assassinated by his South Vietnamese captor.  This newsreel footage provides a jarring moment and is followed by a close-up of a  teen aged girl screaming – for “the Monkees”.  We immediately know where the film is going, and the rest of HEAD pretty much chugs along on this same track – a series of black out sketches on how the media exploit both tragedy and the public’s need for escapism, leading to TV fare such as “The Monkees”.  The lads are next seen in war trenches where they are assaulted by an American football player in full athletic regalia.  America’s fascination with violence carries over to our sports as well.  The scene ends with the athlete running headfirst into the wall of the trench, knocking himself unconscious, and the filmmakers’ attitude toward the futility of war is made obvious.  

Consumerism is a bi-product of the media and we are treated to several scenes of anti-consumerism, including a desert set one in which Mickey blows up a Coca-Cola machine with a tank.    

After a western sketch (what is more violent than the settling of the West?), the film takes us to a diner where a waitress asks David, “Are you trying to change your image?”  Very possibly, as he is listed in the credits as “David”  Jones, rather than the name with which he had previously been associated – “Davy”.  Despite claims in the opening song, it seems that changing the images of the “monkees” is very much the intent.  Out with the bubble headed pop stars, in with the serious social satirists.  Even if they satirize themselves and their own brand. 

Along the way  several movies are spoofed, including GOLDEN BOY and HUMORESQUE, and the band members express displeasure with the phoniness of show business, as well as their own “plastic” reputations.  Early on, the boys in the band are transformed into mannequins just as they are mauled by a hysterical mob of teen-aged girls. 

A running gag throughout the film has our guys trapped in a giant “black box” as  the hold television has on them – and us – is all encompassing.  In perhaps a dig at many 60’s rock stars’ reliance on Indian Gurus for inspiration and enlightenment, Peter is visited by a Swami who asks “Who is to say what is real or vividly imagined?”  A good question, considering the media obsessed culture of 1968 and today.  At once mocked and begrudgingly respected by Rafelson and Nicholson, this Guru comes up with one of the central ideas of the film: appearance verses reality.  Show biz is fake but the horrors of war are real.  Perhaps the attempt at image transformation  for the “Monkees” will fall just short of succeeding.  As if to inform them of their ultimate insignificance, Frank Zappa arrives to ironically state: “The youth of America count on you to show them the way.” 

The film ends where it began, with the boys jumping off that bridge.  But it was all for not, as they wind up once again trapped in the black box.  This time the box has a picture tube like window, revealing the Monkees to be submerged in water as though floating helplessly in a fish bowl.  Appropriate…Unfortunately, nothing in HEAD is even remotely funny.  With all the imagination and energy expended it should be.  But there are cute cameos by media personalities of the era and just before, as if to point out the arbitrary and fleeting nature of celebrity.  We are obsessed with the famous, but the turnover rate is high.   Among the now (and at the time) almost forgotten "stars" appearing are Annette Funicello, Victor Mature and boxer Sonny Liston. 

CREDITS: Directed by Bob Rafelson.  Written by Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson.  Director of Photography Michel Hugo.  Music by Ken Thorne.  Songs by The Monkees.

With The Monkees (Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, David Jones and Peter Tork), Victor Mature, Annette Funicello, Sonny Liston, Rona Barrett





April 2, 2013 - Posted by | 1960's cinema, American Film, film directors | , , , , , , , , ,

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