Saturday, January 12, 2019

Rock Cinema - Head

The genesis of Head, the only theatrical production by The Monkees, was a lost weekend in 1968 when The Monkees, Bob Rafelson and B-movie actor Jack Nicholson, turned on a tape recorder and took turns tossing ideas about. The ill-fated film got off on the wrong foot from the first day of filming on February 11, 1968, including a rock-bottom budget of $750,000.

The cast was hellishly eclectic and included Annette Funicello, boxer Sonny Liston, Frank Zappa, a teen-aged Terri Garr and the Radio City Rockettes. Veteran actor Victor Mature signed on after reading the script: "All I know is, it made me laugh." Mature's character in Head was "the Big Victor," a jab at RCA Victor, the distributor for Colgems which owned and aired the TV show. Even Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper made brief cameos. 

The film had no opening credits but opens with what could be considered an early music video, the Goffin-King penned "Porpoise Song." The film quickly morphs from there into what many describe as something resembling an "acid trip;" the basic premise of which was the Monkees unmaking their clean-cut TV images. In one scene, the Monkees walk into the studio commissary and a cattle stampede rushes out. In real life, many performers disliked The Monkees and would deliberately walk out of the studio commissary when the boys entered.

In many scenes, only three Monkees appear on screen, a reference to "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." A few Beatles references are thrown in, as well. In one scene, Ringo Starr is mentioned. In another, Peter Tork whistles "Strawberry Fields Forever" as he walks into the restroom. Even some of the end credits of Head boggle the mind, which were printed backward as the "reversed" cast, i.e. Srebmahc Yrret as Oreh (Terry Chambers as Hero) and Revaew Adnil as Yraterces Revol (Linda Weaver as Lover Secretary).

Toward the end of production, Jack Nicholson was at the studio where he encountered Mike Nesmith working on the Head soundtrack. Jack asked if he could help, and to his surprise, Nesmith turned the whole thing over to Nicholson, saying "I just want to go home." Production wrapped on May 21, 1968, and a disastrous preview took place in Los Angeles, causing the filmmakers to cut the one hour 50-minute film to just 86 minutes.

The World Premiere occurred Wednesday, November 6, 1968 in Manhattan; a gala was held at Columbia Pictures Studio on West 54th Street attended by The Monkees, Janis Ian, Andy Warhol, Boyce and Hart, Carole Bayer, Bert Schneider, Bob Rafelson and Peter Fonda. An invitation-only debut of Head in Los Angeles took place at 8:30pm, Tuesday, November 19, 1968 at The Vogue Theater on Hollywood Blvd., attended by The Monkees, Phyllis Nesmith, Samantha Juste, Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty of The Mamas And The Papas, Boyce and Hart, Dennis Hopper, actor Sonny Tufts, comedy troupe The Committee, Tina Louise, and supporting Head cast members Frank Zappa, Sonny Liston and Annette Funicello. The film was a tremendous box office flop by most standards until it's below budget costs are calculated into the mix.

While A Hard Day's Night hovers within the 100 best films ever made, Head doesn't begin to capture the latent talents of the studio-created boy band, yet retrospectively the film has gained a deserved cult following, is immensely watchable in bits and pieces and caps a Monkee career lauded by everyone from Rivers Cuomo to Billy Corgan, from Piers Morgan to Ringo Starr.