Sunday, December 16, 2007

Head: The Money's In, We're Made Of Tin, We're Here To Give You MORE



the clock in the sky in pounding away

there's so much to say

Last night I saw Head at The New Beverly theater, the second part of a double bill featuring Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls and hosted by Edgar Wright. I'm no fan of Shaun Of The Dead and I haven't seen Hot Fuzz, but he was a perfectly amiable bloke. The REAL treat was a pre-film introduction and post-film Q&A by my favorite Monkee, Mickey Dolenz, who still looks like a kewpie doll all these years later. Snappy dresser, too.

I've seen the film before, but just as when you are high, seeing a film in a theater with an audience is the only way to see a film again for the first time. Rhino, Inc did the good service of striking up a new print. The colors were vivid and the strobe effects in the "Daddy's Song" sequence work well in a way that video can't quite capture:

God, what a beautiful film. The New Beverly played a couple trailers from other band-vehicle films of the time, all seeking to cash in on the success of A Hard Day's Night - a really wretched looking Sonny & Cher vehicle whose name escapes me, and The Beatles' own Help!. What's funny is how both of those contain imagery which appear in Head, namely a roving tank in Help! and the placement of Sonny Bono in numerous archetypical Old Hollywood scenarios - as the private eye or the gunslinger or Tarzan.

Almost half of Head depicts The Monkees running around an anonymous Hollywood studio from soundstage to soundstage, which Dolenz said was inspired by the "real" Monkees' entry into Hollywoodland, and the general lack of respect given to them by the old guard - hence scenes like the one where the bit players rush out the lunchroom when they arrive and then the lunchlady berates them.

There's also a scene where a 500 foot Victor Mature nearly crushes them beneath his feet. You know, Old Hollywood. Just like Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper and Bob Rafelson were dealing with. Hey! Did you know Jack Nicholson wrote Head, and that Rafelson directed it? Did you know all three of those guys can be seen onscreen, and that the money made from The Monkees TV show helped fund Easy Rider a year later?

Dolenz explained a LOT for a film which is so deliberately obtuse. For instance, the scenes of The Monkees stuck inside a black box came from their discussions of the "black boxes" of their lives - the tiny black box of the recording studio, the tiny black box of the hotel room, the tiny black box of the pre-show dressing room - all of which you can't go outside from or you're be mobbed by fans - it's just one black box to the next.

The broadest and most helpful explanation was the dichotomy between "The Monkees" of the TV show and The Monkees of Head. Whereas the TV show was a show about a fictional band, the movie was about the real performers, in caricature, but still The Monkees. The deconstruction of their image in the film isn't necessarily mean spirited, but a consideration of who they were at their time and in their milieu.

Speaking of which, the occasional shock intercutting of Vietnam footage, including that famously horrifying Viet Cong point-blank execution on the street, is nearly impossible to reconcile with the film's 'G' rating. One can only assume the newly-created MPAA didn't even bother watching the film, they just figured "Hey, it's a Monkees movie," and didn't waste their time with it. The double standards never go away, they only devolve...

Other weird bits, like the exploding Coke machine in the desert or the backwards credits, were written off by Dolenz as Jack Nicholson's stoned sense of humor. He also confirmed that the movie's ideas were collaborated upon by all of the band, and under the influence. Shockola!

I raised my hand to ask where this footage came from...

But he didn't know if it had been created for the film or found someplace else. The funniest bit of trivia he shared was that the film's title was suggested in part so that if there were a sequel, the poster could read "From the people that gave you Head." The other, more sensible explanation is that the film's episodic, looping and plotless structure lends itself to be watched at any point in time, and still be a complete experience. As in, the "HEAD" frame of a film strip. In fact, the 1968 premiere occurred at a psychadelic dance hall in which multiple moviolas were stationed to run a reel of film each, and patrons could simply wander from one to another, taking it in a bit at a time.

Dolenz, in regard to famous fans of the film over time:

"Tom Cruise doesn't like me to name-drop."

Heck, why else would "The Porpoise Song" be used in Vanilla Sky?

Eli Roth was in attendance and I think he asked that very question. That makes it the second time I've been in a room with the man, after my Troma internship a couple years back.

If you haven't seen Head, what the fuck are you waiting for? This is the most enthralling music movie (an odd non-"musical" subgenre of musical film I might dissect later) of the 60s after Hard Day's Night. It's possibly the better film, I don't know. But it's overdue for rediscovery, and if last night's crowd was any indication, it still has so much to say.

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