The Monkees’ feature film Head was written and produced by Bob Rafelson (co-creator of The Monkees) and Jack Nicholson, and directed by Rafelson. The film aimed to deconstruct the “manufactured” image that the Monkees wished to leave behind far behind them by 1968. The group wander through a number of surrealistic scenes, Hollywood sound stages and trippy pop art musical production numbers. Along the way, they encounter the likes of Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Annette Funicello, Terri Garr, stripper Carol Doda, Frank Zappa, Toni Basil, fighter Sonny Liston, and weirdo character actor Timothy Carey. Victor Mature, an over-the-hill actor known for appearing in biblical epics and sword and sandals films, played a King Kong-sized version of himself (I’m not old enough to have much context for Victor Mature, but the way I take it is that he’s playing himself in a “human punch-line” kind of way, something that will no doubt be completely lost on future audiences for whom he’ll just appear to be some weird old giant guy who appears, apropos of nothing).
Head was initially released with a mysterious advertising campaign that never mentioned the Monkees and instead featured the head of a man apparently unconnected with the film (John Brockman, future literary super agent was in fact the film’s press agent and devised the campaign). It could have been about anything. The Monkees’ teenbopper fan base must have been mighty confused. These were still the Monkees they loved, but what was with all the lysergic Marshall McLuhan stuff, the Vietnam footage and the hookahs?
Head is an audio-visual mindfuck.
Head was a total flop when it came out.
Head’s reputation as a cult film grew during a couple of national CBS late night TV airings in the mid 1970s. A VHS was released in the mid-80s during the revival of interest in the group brought on by MTV screening The Monkees for a new generation. Today Head is properly considered a odd milestone in Hollywood history—it’s one of the highest budgeted rock films of the era and one of the first counter culture films to be produced by the studio system. And what a stylish time capsule of the era it is. In his liner notes to Criterion’s America Lost and Found box set, Chuck Stephens called Head, “the Ulysses of a hip New Hollywood about to be born.”
What he said!
Writing about Head in 1989 in his Shock Cinema fanzine, Steven Puchalski opined:
I saw this film for the first time about 15 years ago. Since then I’ve sat through HEAD half a dozen times on the screen and another dozen times on video, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s The Monkees’ own 2001—their YELLOW SUBMARINE—their GODZILLA VS. THE THING. Not just a good film, not just a weird film, this is one of the most cleverly-conceived masterworks of the LSD era.
What he said, too!
In just a few weeks time we’ll see the release of The Monkees Complete TV Series Blu-ray box set—all 58 episodes plus Head and the “33 and a 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee” TV special—for the first time in HD video. The deluxe 10 disc Blu-ray box set will be available only via the official Monkees webstore. Just 10,000 copies of the set, each individually numbered, will be produced.