Monday, July 23, 2007

What you have seen, you must believe—if you can. If you can!

Another post I’ve been meaning to get to…

A couple of weeks ago, inspired by Johanna’s review, Kathy & I rented The Monkees’ Head from Netflix and gave it a spin in the DVD player.

Man, is that a kooky movie.

There are some movies I think of as “plotless wonders.” It’s tempting to include Head in their number, but it’s not quite the case. My thinking is, to be a plotless wonder you need not only the very thinnest of plots, but also to be entertaining enough that it not only doesn’t matter that the movie has no plot to speak of, but also that you completely fail to notice it’s missing. Bottle Rocket is usually the first movie I think of in this category, although Clerks and Garden State are some other pretty good examples. Yeah, there’s a little bit of plot there, but it’s completely masked by the charm of the filmmakers.

Head is totally different. Not that the Monkees aren’t charming – of course they are. But they use that charm not to mask the movie’s plotnessness, but to flaunt it. The scene transitions are almost dadaist, and in other places, Pythonesque. For instance, Micky and Mike walk off a sketch that’s not working to go look for Davy and Peter. As soon as you acclimate to a setting, the movie swerves to something entirely different. And by entirely different, I mean The Band Is Suddenly Dandruff In Victor Mature’s Brylcreemed Hair. THAT kind of entirely different. To say nothing of the cameo appearances by Teri Garr, Toni Basil, Sonny Liston, Jack Nicholson and Frank. Freakin’. Zappa.

For the most part, the music isn't as catchy as the best Monkees tunes, but there are a couple of standouts. Mike Nesmith’s“Circle Sky” is the best, but there’s another song (“Ditty Diego – War Chant”) that’s an apology to authenticity-loving music fans of the day for their studio-manufactured origins. Some sample lyrics:

Hey hey we are the Monkees
You know we love to please
A manufactured image
With no philosophies!


You say we’re manufactured,
To that we all agree,
So make you choice and we’ll rejoice
In never being free!

Hey hey we are the Monkees,
We’ve said it all before
The money’s in were made of tin
We’re here to give you more!

The song ends abruptly with a gunshot and a scream, followed by an ironic three cheers for the Vietnam War.

Circle Sky is even sharper, with Monkees concert footage mixed with shots of screaming fans and black and white newsreel (I assume) footage from Vietnam, including a man being casually shot down in the street. The images mix until it’s deliberately blurred whether a teenager is screaming because she’s seeing the Monkees play or as a reaction to the murder. The song ends with fans rushing the stage and attacking the band, who transform into mannequins to be stripped and dismembered. It’s genuinely creepy.

As for the whole movie, it’s an hour and a half of non sequiturs and groovieness, and of stars bristling at their image and trying to craft a new one. Once Micky Dolenz smiles into the camera and offers you a hookah pipe, you’ll never be quite the same.



Greg! said...

Ah, Head. It's been too long.

This is the sort of film one really ought to see every six to ten years, just to reinforce that you actually saw what you vaguely recall having seen.

And now I want to listen to my pirated cassette copy of the soundtrack album, but I've no idea where it might be.


dave said...

what about The Porpoise Song?!

great movie.

Greg! said...

I love The Porpoise Song.