Saturday, December 15, 2007
When it was announced that "Head" would screen locally at the New Beverly Cinema - for the "Wright Stuff" Festival of Films - I marked my calendar to be sure not to miss it (especially in view of the fact Micky Dolenz was slated to appear).
As I recall, I'd dash home to catch the popular "Monkees" TV Show after school when I was a teen. Commercials notwithstanding, I'd step into the fab four's fantasy world for a zany thirty minutes or so to delight in their offbeat antics and mix of upbeat catchy tunes.
Basically, the comedy was about a fictional group - "The Monkees" - who were struggling to attain fame as pop artists in the challenging music industry.
Each week one of the boys - each had their own distinctive personality trait with an appeal that varied from fan to fan - would end up in some crazy fix. But, in the nick of time, the other zany lads usually dashed in on the heels of the dilemma and fathomed a quick rescue.
Having arrived in the wake of the popularity of the Beatles - fans were inclined to question who was better, cuter, or more popular - the mop heads from England or the long hairs made in America?
Yes, that was one of the bones of contention.
The Monkees were not an actual band, originally. The entertaining foursome were fabricated and put-together part-'n-parcel for the NBC Network show.
In the beginning the danceable music was penned by the likes of Carole King and Harry Neilson. In fact, Neilson's first chart hit - "Cuddly Toy" - was pressed and released and made popular by heart throb, Davey Jones.
In time the naive natives grew restless, though. That is to say, the boys wanted more creative control and a say in their image and the opportunity to flesh out their musical talents given their obvious potential.
The lads toiled long hours, eventually felt the strain, and the sh** finally hit the fan when the show went belly-up. Kaput. Much to the dismay of die-hard followers.
Amidst the throes of being split asunder, NBC announced there would be a parting swan song in the form of a feature length film - "Head".
I recall the fiasco like it was yesterday.
"Head" was a big question mark to some, a disaster to others, and downright difficult to fathom. For the most part, the Monkees' fan base was irate.
In fact, there was a deluge of protests, cries of discontent, and reviews of the stinky rotten tomatoes kind.
Yes, that's how I remember it.
So - when Dolenz arrived at the Q & A - I was intrigued by the thought that here (at long last) the truth would be revealed.
Right off the bat, Dolenz - fashionably-attired and trim for his age - noted that Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafaelson scripted the offbeat comedy as a sort-of homage to their true personalities.
Originally titled - "Changes" - the 90 minute feature was renamed "Head" along the way.
In some quarters it's been alleged that Jack came up with the title with a mischievous intention in mind. It's been conjectured that with the project so-named - on opening night - the Oscar-winning actor would have the delightful wicked opportunity to proudly chortle on stage in front of a rapt audience,
"And now, the producers give you Head."
The truth remains unknown.
Dolenz alleged that the title "Head" surfaced by virtue of the fact it was about the interior thoughts of the Monkees and the cerebral "trip" they were going through and that sort-of metaphoric "thing".
In fact, according to Dolenz, the troop headed off to Ojai for three days to wrap around some ideas in their foggy noggins with the specific aim of conjuring up a proper send off for the adoring fans.
"Jack smoked a lot," Dolenz joked.
The others, too.
Essentially, the purpose of the trip - there's that word again - was to mull over the concept. So, Jack pushed for a respite from it all where the guys could "open up". Bottom line, the filmmakers wanted the chance to take a peak into their personas with the aim of best capturing their unique heartbeats on celluloid.
The conversations were taped, tossed in a trunk, and then played back for a duration as the writers toyed with the script.
At the screening, Dolenz confirmed there was a growing discontent in the early days when the Monkees TV Show was originally taped. However, he stressed that there was a concerted effort by all concerned to turn - "the sour grapes into edible fruit" - near the end to satisfy the boys as much as possible.
Dolenz noted, for instance, that producers were inclined to allow the musicians to pen songs and have creative input into their characterizations on the small screen.
After that, they no longer felt like mere puppets.
But later, the Monkees fell apart at the seams.
"Head" was to be the tour-de-force to settle scores once and for all.
The difference between the TV Show and the movie - as Dolenz astutely put it - was quite simple. The NBC comedy was about an imaginary band while "Head" sought to unmask the fab four and their idiot box images.
"Head" was heady for its day. A real "trip".
A handful of the scenes are psychedelic, reminiscent of the Beatles "Help", and at times hint at characters drug-induced and "acid"-laced.
In fact, at the packed screening Micky joked,
"I just dropped some LSD and intend to just sit back and trip."
Edgar Wright - the magnetic host - piped in that he wanted to get "stoned", too.
But - because the Q & A loomed ahead and there were "Master of Ceremonies" duties to fulfill - it was a foregoing conclusion that he'd stay straight to keep the night's festivities on track instead of spiralling off the deep end!
"Head" is rife with scenes depicting the "old guard" of Hollywood.
And - through a handful of clever machinations on screen - the boys manage to deconstruct the studio system, turn-on-end the status quo, and all-the-while poke fun at the Hollywood factory assembly-line.
Throughout the film, the Monkees struggle to escape from an ominous black "box".
"The box symbolized the limitations and the space the band was trapped in and trying to get out of."
The containment was everywhere: in the back room on the sound stage where they unwound before taping, sequestered in the limo on the way to the stadium, backstage at the packed concert halls - and, of course - while ensconced at local Hotels.
In essence, the "box" represented "the head" of the band members and the ongoing tumultuous "trip" and myriad of complications unravelling out of control.
In sum, no one really seemed to know what "Head" was about.
Why was the Coke machine was blown up, for instance? What was the symbolism, there?
"Maybe it was a just a kick for Jack to do that."
To some, the war scenes were a metaphor, too. The inference was that the Monkees were "warring" with bosses at NBC, fighting for creative input, or quite simply wrestling with a growing state of discontent.
Dolenz noted that at the premiere "Head" was not screened end to end. Instead, several moviolas were strategically placed around the set so that the viewer could take a peek at each segment here and there at whim.
"It didn't matter where you started or ended. Sort-of like what the film was about. No start, no end. In sum, it didn't matter where you dropped in or out for the screening experience."
When actor Victor Mature loomed large on the screen in a couple of key scenes, the mainstream Hollywood Star was perceived as an important symbol.
"The epitome of the old Hollywood," Dolenz theorized.
At this juncture, Dolenz elaborated.
"On the Monkees TV Show the execs urged us to ad-lib and be spontaneous and act impromptu."
As a result, a "production mold" (that was tradition) had been broken, the former Monkee opined to the rapt audience.
"On the lot, they hated us and what we represented."
In my mind's eye - the "mature" reference implied just that - young men maturing, coming of age, and growing up.
In contrast to the other feature - "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" - that was on the double-bill, "Head" has held up over time.
As a whole - in its finite world - it appeals.
Judging from the audience reaction, the filmgoers were impressed.
In sum, "Head" is a neat and tidy package - a summation of the Monkees' demise - wrapped up joyously in a jazzy box with an eye-catching tidy bow.
Unfortunately, no one understands the contents.
That is the thing about obscurity.
In it's rich soil - profound ideas are capable of grabbing hold - and perpetuating a myriad of myths.
Lucky for Jack and Bob.
The "box" is impregnable, really!