Head (1968)

Head (1968), directed by Bob Rafelson.

I saw just a bit of this years ago and had zero expectations for the Criterion Blu-ray. One: a little bit of 60s groovy freak-out goes a long way with me. Two: at the time the Monkees were a children's TV pop band acceptable to your parents. Though long-haired and goofy, they were safe and wholesome enough for family viewing. What are the odds they could make satisfactory psychedelica?

To my surprise, this was a fun 85 minutes. Sure, it's chaotic, dumb and smug; that goes with the genre. But there is the suggestion of a worthwhile plot: of fictional characters trying to break out of their manufactured, TV-land triviality into a higher reality. Just as a made-up rock band might strive to become the real thing.

It's done on the TV show sets with instantly recognizable costumes (F-Troop, Daniel Boone) and endlessly cliched plot fragments. Plenty of self-mockery ("God's gift to the eight year olds") and the obligatory Vietnam war footage. Jibes against industry, consumers, etc, actually seem a bit perfunctory.

The backstory is important. The Monkees were assembled for a silly and madcap TV show about a wannabe Beatles sound-alike group. The four members wanted to be a real band and eventually found phenomenal success but no respect. They were endlessly ridiculed as poseurs who could not play their own instruments (which was not true). The criticism seemed to come from the press; other working musicians were much more kind. See the wikipedia article for the history.

At the end of the TV series they decided to blow the whole thing up with Head, which was rather bold. Taking a time machine back to that era to watch it happen is a fun trip. It received negligible box-office but is better liked since.

Many celebrity cameos and distinguished musical contributors: see Head (film) for details. Several of what would be called music videos today.

Written by the director and Jack Nicholson.

Criterion Blu-ray, part of the "America Lost and Found: The BBS Story" box set. The image is amazingly fine, although low expectations may have contributed to my appreciation. The PreFab Four themselves provide a sensible, pretty happy commentary track.