In 1968, Raybert productions?a Hollywood hotbed of drugged-out ’60s fornication?saw fit to hand would-be-Fellini Bob Rafelson The Monkees as a vehicle for his auteurist debut. This was the result. Hiring B-movie ‘bum’ Jack Nicholson to ‘write’ the film, Rafelson took the freewheeling zaniness of The Monkees’ television series, added grainy Vietnam footage and hallucinatory visuals that could have been lifted from Roger Corman’s The Trip, and let the quartet-next-door dig their own collective grave.
In one fell swoop, Head alienated the group’s pop fan base and was wide-berthed by the lysergic cognoscenti. Ah well, you can’t blame ’em for trying.
The film consists of a string of barely related tableaux that play out around a movie lot and feature various washed-up celebs (Sonny Liston, Victor Mature, Annette Funicello).
Mickey Dolenz kicks an empty Coke dispenser in the desert. Peter Tork wanders through snow. Davy Jones does his winsome top-hat routine. Mike Nesmith is vaguely disdainful as usual. A few good tunes?Goffin-King’s Anglo-psych classic “Porpoise Song” above all?help some. “Hey hey, we’re The Monkees,” the foursome gleefully sing, “a manufactured image with no philosophies.” Frank Zappa tells Jones that “the youth of America depends on you to show them the way.” Nicholson’s message is that the medium is the (empty, illusory) message. But we all know that by now.