Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Monkees: Head

Lend me your ears, that I may sing the praises of one of the greatest movies ever. A masterpiece of absurdism, a pinnacle of '60's pop culture vignette, a cheeky chunk of iconoclastic self-aware self-indulgence - "The Monkees : Head". Part the adult version of what freaks were hoping their TV show could be; part psychedelic storytelling which 'Magical Mystery Tour' wished it could be; part cinematic version of the avant garde hippie musique concret 'Lumpy Gravy'. Unquestionably the zenith of The Monkees' output : where they ceased being merely a corporate-generated American answer to the Beatles, and transcended all preconceptions to achieve a surreal, self-reflecting convergence of their collective talent. The weirdness of the 'fourth wall' movie-making is stellar, the art direction is cosmically mind-blowing, the music is outstanding, the humor is black, thick, and infectious. Some examples? The slo-mo opening of Micky Dolenz jumping from a bridge and becoming a mermaid's mate; reference to being a 'corporate generated' band in the theme song, the numerous interruptions to chat with the director on-camera, the channel-changing montages that blur the lines between reference and re-creation; the admission that Peter Tork is always the 'dumb one'. A loosely patched together string of often high-concept scenarios, it's clear the filmmakers knew in every shot what they were doing, how silly the ideas were, and which notions of celebrity and 'art' they were skewering. It's a send-up of Westerner's ignorant, shallow consumption of feel-good Eastern philosophy, and a parody of several film genres, while at the same time embracing the truth therein (its symbolism of the 'black box', and the Coke machine in the desert, is unmistakable). On the many occasions where the jokes were over-extended, lazily realized, or just plain unfunny, they knew how to milk them and turn them around, so the awfulness came bubbling to the top like fine cream. For those who followed the TV show, and kept hoping they would ditch the lowest-common-denominator, dumbed-down for the kids wimp out of most of the jokes, this film delivers on those dreams! For people who knew the Monkees real musical talent for the psychedelic was trapped in a Boyce-and-Hart pop song box, here is your champion!
The move culminates in a stereotypical, amped-up chase scene through the studio backlot, with the obvious gang of antagonists in pursuit of our heroes. And yet - the music slows, and we get a reprise of the opening slo-mo underwater sequence, which is then revealed to be an on-set water tank, taking the concept of cliche and parody and bending it even further to deliver the unexpected. All this, and co-written by Jack Nicholson, with cameos by NIcholson & Dennis Hopper (as stagehands), Frank Zappa, Sonny Liston as a boxer, Terri Garr, Annette Funicello, and Victor Mature.
If you've never seen it, put it on your list. And watch it before you die.