|Director Rafelson, Dennis Hopper, & Peter Tork|
Now that I have your attention with the title for this blog post, I will point out that it is not what you think. I am sure most of you are thinking of one connotation for “getting head,” but I am really going to talk about understanding—or “getting”—the movie Head, which stars the pop group the Monkees. This Saturday, Head closes Session 10 of Night School, Facets’ own interpretation of the midnight movie experience. The title is an example of misdirection through a play on words, a technique of comedy as old as the genre itself. Head is filled with such old-school comedy stylings that also include vaudeville-style sketches, satires of classic-movie tropes, and puns. And,yet, the movie is presented in a nonlinear, experimental mode that seeks to subvert and deconstruct mainstream entertainment forms—from classic Hollywood genre conventions to The Monkees themselves.
Head is very much a Hollywood product of its time, because it was conceived as the feature-length debut of the wildly popular musical group The Monkees, whose crazy antics unfolded each week on television for two seasons from 1966 to 1967. At the time, members of the counterculture were most often depicted on TV as dirty, drug-addled, and misguided juvenile delinquents, but The Monkees series showed four long-haired but fun-loving youths who engaged in harmless antics and high jinks in a tongue-in-cheek style. The TV show tended to lightly poke fun at long-standing entertainment conventions even while engaging in them.
|This shot references two Kubrick films by turning the monolith from 2001 into the Coke machine of DR. STANGELOVE.|
But, Head is more than a vehicle for some popular TV stars. It is downright avant-garde in its nonlinear structure, self-reflexive nature, and criticisms of old-school Hollywood. Much like other young filmmakers, such as those of the New American Cinema, director Bob Rafelson felt it was time for a new generation of filmmakers to replace old Hollywood with smart content, young actors, and European-style techniques. Just as the American avant-garde, or underground filmmakers, were making non-narrative films that eschewed glamorous movie stars and happy endings and tossed aside genre conventions as well as “invisible editing,” so does Head deconstruct, and even scorn, movie tropes and conventions. The film features satires of familiar movie genres, surreal imagery including football legend Ray Nitschke tackling Monkee Peter Tork in the trenches of a war scene and Sonny Liston knocking out Davy Jones, and other irrational juxtaposition of plot devices and celebrities. In retrospect, the film’s place in cinema history should rest on its melding of experimental techniques into Hollywood feature filmmaking.
|The Monkees appear in one scene as dandruff in movie star Victor Mature’s head.|
What I find interesting about Head is that it is a hot-button topic for those who were involved in it. Each has a different interpretation of the film’s intent and final outcome. Bob Rafelson, who went on to direct Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens, and Blood and Wine, claims he wanted to tell the truth about the Monkees—that they were a manufactured musical group who protested that identity by rising to the occasion with their talents. He wanted to tell the true story of their manufacture and treatment by the network but in abstract form. However, the book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls claims that Rafelson hated the Monkees, which he helped create for TV, because they became a joke when gossip columnists revealed that they lip-synched to music played and sung by others. Supposedly, Rafelson was going to get the last laugh with Head by proving he was in on the joke. Monkee Mickey Dolenz, on the other hand, claimed Rafelson was using the movie to critique the old studio system that he despised, while the late Davy Jones felt he and the other Monkees had been dupes and pawns.
“Getting” Head does require knowledge of pop culture history that may be beyond the scope of young viewers unfamiliar with the stars, celebrities, and movies of past generations. The film is dense in its referencing; it’s is more self-reflexive than any French New Wave film of the period. But the movie is fun, outrageous, inventive, and bizarre, even for those who don’t get every reference, and I invite all of you to come for an entertaining evening that serves as Night School’s own tribute to Davy Jones, the Monkee who hated Head the most! Film critic and scholar Joel Wicklund will talk about the making of Head and about the Monkees as a cultural phenomenon in an introduction before the film. Head wraps up Session 10 of Night School, and the evening includes a closing reception with monkey-themed treats, trivia, prizes, and our usual raffle. The fun begins at 11pm. Click here for more info –Susan Doll
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