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Head (film)

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Title: Head (film)  
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Subject: The Monkees, Bob Rafelson, Porpoise Song (Theme from Head), Bert Schneider, 33⅓ Revolutions per Monkee
Collection: 1960S Musical Comedy Films, 1968 Films, American Avant-Garde and Experimental Films, American Films, American Musical Comedy Films, American Rock Music Films, American Satirical Films, Columbia Pictures Films, Counterculture of the 1960S, Directorial Debut Films, English-Language Films, Films About Freedom of Expression, Films Based on Television Series, Films Directed by Bob Rafelson, Hippie Films, Italian-Language Films, Mermaids in Film, Psychedelia, Screenplays by Bob Rafelson, Screenplays by Jack Nicholson, The Monkees
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Head (film)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Bob Rafelson
Produced by Bert Schneider
Bob Rafelson
Jack Nicholson
Written by Bob Rafelson
Jack Nicholson
Starring The Monkees (Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith)
Victor Mature
Teri Garr
Carol Doda
Annette Funicello
Frank Zappa
Sonny Liston
Timothy Carey
Ray Nitschke
Music by Ken Thorne
Cinematography Michel Hugo
Edited by Mike Pozen
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • November 6, 1968 (1968-11-06)
Running time
86 minutes
110 minutes (Original cut)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $750,000[1]
Box office $16,111[1]

Head is a 1968 American adventure comedy film musical written by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, directed by Rafelson, starring television rock group The Monkees (Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith), and distributed by Columbia Pictures.

During production, the working title for the film was Changes, which was later the name of an unrelated album by the Monkees. A rough cut of the film was previewed for audiences in Los Angeles in the summer of 1968 under the name of Movee Untitled.

The film featured Victor Mature as "The Big Victor" and other cameo appearances by Nicholson, Teri Garr, Carol Doda, Annette Funicello, Frank Zappa, Sonny Liston, Timothy Carey, and Ray Nitschke. Also appearing on screen in brief non-speaking parts are Dennis Hopper and film choreographer Toni Basil.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Marketing 3
  • Production 4
  • Reception 5
  • Legacy 6
  • Music 7
  • Home media history 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Head begins at the dedication of a bridge. A politician is supposed to give a speech but there is a barrage of feedback from the microphone. Suddenly the Monkees (further) interrupt the ceremony by running through the assembled officials to sound of horns and sirens. The rest of the film has no overriding plot but consists of a series of vignettes highlighting the unpleasant aspects of being public figures. There is a conflict and a resolution, but the film is essentially plotless; as the opening song related: "We hope you like our story/Although there isn't one/That is to say, there's many/That way, there is more fun!" Rather, it is a seemingly stream of consciousness stringing-together of musical numbers, satires of various film genres, elements of psychedelia, and references to topical issues such as the Vietnam War. The distorted consciousness and psychedelia elements resemble an LSD trip.. Recurring images include a black box in which the group are trapped, a desert location, and a gigantic Victor Mature.


Kolima's role is sometimes attributed to Tor Johnson, who does not appear in the film.


Trailers summarized it as a "most extraordinary adventure, western, comedy, love story, mystery, drama, musical, documentary satire ever made (And that's putting it mildly)." There were no pictures of the Monkees on the original poster; only a picture of John Brockman, who did the PR for the film.[2]


The storylines and peak moments of the film came from a weekend visit to an Ojai, California resort where the Monkees, Rafelson, and Nicholson brainstormed into a tape recorder,[3] reportedly with the aid of a quantity of marijuana. Jack Nicholson then took the tapes and used them as the basis for his screenplay which (according to Rafelson) he structured while under the influence of LSD.[4] When the band learned that they would not be allowed to direct themselves or to receive screenwriting credit, Dolenz, Jones, and Nesmith staged a one-day walkout, leaving Tork the only Monkee on the set the first day.[5] The strike ended after the first day when, to mollify the Monkees, the studio agreed to a larger percentage share of the film's net for the group. But the incident damaged[5] the Monkees' relationship with Rafelson and Bert Schneider, and would effectively end their professional relationship together.[5]

Filmed February 15-May 17, 1968 at Columbia Pictures/Screen Gems Studios in Culver City and at the Columbia Ranch in Burbank, as well as on various locations in California:

The song "Ditty Diego – War Chant" was written by Jack Nicholson and is a parody of the band's original Boyce and Hart written TV theme song; its lyrics illustrate the tone of self-parody evident in parts of the film:

Hey, hey, we are The Monkees
You know we love to please
A manufactured image
With no philosophies.
You say we're manufactured.
To that we all agree.
So make your choice and we'll rejoice
in never being free!

Hey, hey, we are The Monkees
We've said it all before
The money's in, we're made of tin
We're here to give you more!
The money's in, we're made of tin
We're here to give you...

The final "We're here to give you..." is interrupted by a gunshot, with footage of the execution of Viet Cong operative (q.v.) Nguyễn Văn Lém, by Brigadier General and then Chief of National Police Nguyễn Ngọc Loan.

Another part of the promotional campaign was placing Head stickers in random places. Rafelson commented that he and Nicholson were arrested at the New York City premiere on October 6 for trying to affix a sticker to a police officer's helmet as he mounted his horse.[6]


A poor audience response at an August 1968 screening in Los Angeles eventually forced the producers to edit the picture down from its original 110-minute length. The 86-minute Head premiered in New York City on November 6, 1968; the film later debuted in Hollywood on November 20. It was not a commercial success.[3] This was in part because Head, being an antithesis of The Monkees sitcom, comprehensively demolished the group's carefully groomed public image, while the older, hipper counterculture audience they had been reaching for rejected the Monkees' efforts out of hand.[3]

The film's release was also delayed (partly because of the use of solarisation, a then-new technique both laborious and expensive) and badly under-promoted. The sole television commercial was a confusing minimalist close-up shot of a man's head (John Brockman); after 30 seconds the man smiled and the name HEAD appeared on his forehead.[6] This ad was a parody of Andy Warhol's 1963 film Blow Job, which only showed a close-up of a man's face for an extended period, supposedly receiving 'head'.

Receiving mixed critical reviews and virtually non-existent box office receipts, the film succeeded in alienating the band's teenage fanbase while failing to attract the more adult audience for which they had strived.[3] Head‍ '​s abysmal reception instantly halted studio plans for any further films with the Monkees. It also corresponded with a steep drop in the group's popularity as recording artists; the Head soundtrack peaked at No. 45 on the U.S. chart, the first time any Monkees album had not risen to the Top 5. "Porpoise Song (Theme from Head)" was also the first single to not make the Top 40.

In her scathing review, Renata Adler of The New York Times commented: Head "might be a film to see if you have been smoking grass, or if you like to scream at The Monkees, or if you are interested in what interests drifting heads and hysterical high-school girls." She added that the group "are most interesting for their lack of similarity to The Beatles. Going through ersatz Beatle songs, and jokes and motions, their complete lack of distinction of any kind...makes their performance modest and almost brave."[6]

Daily Variety was also harsh, stating that "Head is an extension of the ridiculous nonsense served up on the Screen Gems vidseries that manufactured The Monkees and lasted two full seasons following the same format and, ostensibly, appealing to the same kind of audience." But the review applauded Rafelson and Nicholson, saying that they "were wise not to attempt a firm storyline as The Monkees have established themselves in the art of the non-sequitur and outrageous action. Giving them material they can handle is good thinking; asking them to achieve something more might have been a disaster." [6]


Head has developed a cult following. Leonard Maltin describes it as “delightfully plotless” and “well worth seeing,” giving the film 3 out of 4 stars, while Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 75% rating.[7] Head premiered on television across-the-board as a CBS Late Movie on December 30, 1974; the network rebroadcast the film on July 7, 1975. Cable TV took hold in 1981, when Head began periodic showings on Spotlight; Cinemax began airing the film in 1984. In the UK, Channel 4 also aired on British TV in 1986 and 1991. It was later shown regularly on Starz Cinema, and in 2007, Turner Classic Movies featured the film as part of TCM Underground, showing the film unedited and in its original aspect ratio. It was released on video and Laserdisc by RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video in September 1986 taking advantage of the group's 20th Anniversary, again on VHS and DVD by Rhino Entertainment in January 1995, and a third time on Blu-ray and DVD in November and December 2010, respectively, by The Criterion Collection, in a box set with other films from Rafelson.

When asked by Rolling Stone magazine in March 2012 if he thought making Head was a mistake, Nesmith responded by saying that "by the time Head came out the Monkees were a pariah. There was no confusion about this. We were on the cosine of the line of approbation, from acceptance to rejection . . . and it was basically over. Head was a swan song. We wrote it with Jack and Bob . . .and we liked it. It was an authentic representation of a phenomenon we were a part of that was winding down. It was very far from suicide—even though it may have looked like that. There were some people in power, and not a few critics, who thought there was another decision that could have been made. But I believe the movie was an inevitability—there was no other movie to be made that would not have been ghastly under the circumstances."[8]

On November 19, 2014, the film was screened in the UK for the first time outside of London, as part of the Leeds International Film Festival, and introduced by Dr. Peter Mills of Leeds Beckett University, author of a book about The Monkees in which the film features strongly.


The Monkees during the filming of Head. A black and white version of this photo was featured on the back cover of the album.

While the film's music disappointed fans of the band's more traditional pop sound, it features what some critics considered to be some of the Monkees' best recorded work, including contributions by George Dunning.

Andrew Sandoval, author of The Monkees: The Day-By-Day Story of the 60s TV Pop Sensation, commented that, "It has some of their best songs on it and . . . the movie's musical performances are some of the most cohesive moments in the film."[6]

The music of The Monkees often featured rather dark subject matter beneath a superficially bright, uplifting sound. The music of the film takes the darkness and occasional satirical elements of the Monkees' earlier tunes and makes it far more overt, as in "Ditty Diego – War Chant", or "Daddy's Song," which has Jones singing an upbeat, Broadway-style number about a boy abandoned by his father. In his 2012 essay on the soundtrack album, academic Peter Mills noted that 'on this album the songs are only part of the story, as they were with The Monkees project as a whole : signals, sounds, and ideas interfere with each other throughout.'

The soundtrack includes:

Home media history

  • September 18, 1986: VHS, Beta, Laserdisc
  • January 25, 1995: VHS
  • June 12, 2000: DVD
  • November 23, 2010: Criterion Blu-ray,[9] as part of the America Lost and Found: The BBS Story box set
  • December 14, 2010: Criterion DVD,[1][9] as part of the America Lost and Found: The BBS Story box set
  • January 2016 The Monkees - Complete TV Series Blu-ray

See also


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ "The Hustler", The Guardian, Andrew Brown, April 29, 2005, retrieved July 8, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d King, Susan (2008-11-12). "A Monkees 'Head' trip".  
  4. ^ , 28 April 2011The GuardianDorian Lynksey, "The Monkees' Head: 'Our fans couldn't even see it',
  5. ^ a b c d Baker, Glenn A.; Tom Czarnota; Peter Hoga (1986). Monkeemania: The True Story of the Monkees.  
  6. ^ a b c d e  
  7. ^ Head at Rotten Tomatoes
  8. ^ "Exclusive: Michael Nesmith Remembers Davy Jones". Rolling Stone. 8 March 2012. Retrieved 9 March 2012. 
  9. ^ a b

External links

  • Head at the Internet Movie Database
  • Head at the TCM Movie Database
  • Head at AllMovie
  • Head at Rotten Tomatoes
  • pageHEADThe , from The Monkees Film & TV Vault
  • The Monkees' Head: 'Our fans couldn't even see it' - Dorian Lynskey, The Guardian, 28 April 2011
  • Criterion Collection Essay by Chuck Stephens
  • Criterion Collection Essay by J. Hoberman
  • UK screening at Leeds International Film Festival November 19, 2014
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