Tuesday 5 June 2007

Head (1968) Bob Rafelson

It's been a couple of decades since I saw Head and I don't remember much about it, except that beyond the Monkees, there was Frank Zappa and a mule and not a lot of sense. Now I see a lot more but it's deliberately surreal and so doesn't make any sense. It starts out with Micky apparently committing suicide off a bridge that someone's trying to open but that's apparently not the case, because after the mermaids save him we realise that he's just being kissed by some groupie who's working her way through the whole band.

The whole point seems to be jump around from one expectation to another to confuse the crap out of us while somehow never letting us get bored, mostly through the benefit of innovative linking devices. Maybe Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson just created the script through a game of word association. It's a surreal and psychedelic fantasy by design and it works pretty well. I'm mostly surprised at how dark it all looks now, with so many images of death. The Monkees Mondo Movie? There would be an interesting concept.

What this really is is an attempt to document the blatant commercialism of the time. It begins with the deconstruction of the Monkees themselves, who begin by admitting that they're a manufactured product and work onward from there, blistering us with soundbites, jingles and sales pitches, all with an attention span shorter than this sentence. In many ways it plays like a commercial break between halves of a tv show like their own. Blink and you're on a different product with its own thirty second story. Even better, it's what you get if you channel surf through a hundred channels in an hour and a half. The message is that what you see isn't always the truth.

There are crucial names here to highlight the attack on popular culture. Beyond the band themselves, there's Annette Funicello, Frank Zappa as a critic, a recurring Victor Mature who at point gets to watch himself on tv, Timothy Carey with a rope round his neck, stripper Carol Doda, even then Governor of California Ronald Reagan in archive footage, along with Lugosi, Laughton, Karloff and others. I could swear that I saw George 'The Animal' Steele too. Behind the camera (mostly) are Jack Nicholson as co-writer and co-producer, Toni Basil as choreographer, even Monte Hellman as an editor.

Surreal and powerful stuff that doesn't make any logical sense but was obviously highly influential. I can see a lot of scenes that got used later by other people, in famous films too. Oh, and it wasn't a mule, it was a bull.

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