Head is a psychedelic motion picture released in 1968, starring TV group The Monkees (in credit order: Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith), and distributed by Columbia Pictures. It was written and produced by Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson, and directed by Rafelson.
The name seems to be a sort of joke. The Beatles had released the film "HELP", and the physical beginning of a movie is called the "HEAD". "Head" is actually written on the beginnings of every reel of film produced just as "Tail" is written on the ends. A similar joke can be seen later in the movie - when they are playing a concert, you can see the word "Drum" on their drums instead of "Monkees". Additionally, a "head trip" was a common term in the late sixties, and this can also part of the joke. In 60s and 70s slang, "head" meant someone who used psychedelic drugs, as in "pot head," and "acid head." The name is also suggestive of oral sex. It is rumored that the title was chosen in the case of a sequel being produced, where it would be advertised as coming from the filmmakers who "gave you 'Head'".
The film featured Victor Mature as "The Big Victor" and other cameo appearances by Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Teri Garr, Carol Doda, Annette Funicello, Toni Basil (the film's choreographer), Frank Zappa, and athletes Sonny Liston and Ray Nitschke.
Head begins (without any opening credits) at the dedication of a bridge. After a politician struggles with constant feedback with his microphone as he tries to give a speech, the Monkees suddenly interrupt the ceremony by running through the assembled officials, to the sound of various horns and sirens. The rest of the film is essentially plotless, a seemingly stream of consciousness stringing-together of musical numbers, satire of various film genres, elements of psychedelia, and references to topical issues such as the Vietnam War. The distorted consciousness and psychedelia elements resemble that of an LSD trip, a widespread recreational drug at the time. Trailers for the film summarized it as a "most extraordinary adventure, western, comedy, love story, mystery, drama, musical, documentary satire ever made (And that's putting it mildly)." Some film critics now consider the film to be an allegorical deconstruction of the Monkees' experiences as pawns of the Hollywood starmaking machine that, like their real-life story itself, contains some sinister truths lurking underneath what appears to be a colorful, entrancing facade.
The storylines and peak moments of the movie came from a weekend visit to a resort in Ojai, California, where the Monkees, Rafelson and Nicholson brainstormed into a tape recorder, reportedly with the aid of a large quantity of marijuana. When the band learned that they would not be allowed to direct themselves or to receive screenwriting credit (since they didn't write the actual shooting script), Dolenz, Jones, and Nesmith staged a one-day walkout, leaving Tork the only Monkee on the set the first day. The incident damaged the Monkees' relationship with Rafelson and Bert Schneider.
Filmed at Columbia Pictures/Screen Gems Studios and on various locations in California (the Gerald Desmond Bridge, Long Beach; Pasadena Rose Bowl, Pasadena; Playa Del Rey; Bronson Canyon; Palm Springs; Columbia Ranch, Burbank), Utah (Valley Music Hall, Salt Lake City), and The Bahamas between February 15 and May 17, 1968, the movie makes fun of the band's image and the bandmembers' personae. The song "Ditty Diego - War Chant" is a parody of the band's TV theme song written by Boyce and Hart; 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 Nguyen Van Lem.)
Elements of the movie were based in fact, including the stampede leaving the studio canteen when the Monkees break for lunch, and the "big black box" the band repeatedly becomes trapped in. (During the first season, veteran performers would regularly complain about the Monkees' presence – and walk out of the cafeteria whenever they came in – while members would sometimes wander off-set when they weren't needed on camera. The studio responded by building a break area on-set for the Monkees, with a meat-locker door and the walls painted black.)
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. This was in part because Head, being an antithesis of The Monkees TV show, comprehensively demolished the group's carefully-groomed public image, while the older, hipper audience they'd been reaching for rejected the Monkees' efforts out of hand.
The movie was also delayed in its release (owing partly to 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; after thirty seconds, the man smiled and the name HEAD appeared on his forehead. 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'.
Another part of the promotional campaign was placing "Head" stickers in random places. An urban legend has circulated for years that Jack Nicholson was arrested for trying to place on of these stickers onto the helmet of a New York City police officer while he was mounting his horse.
The film eventually found a cult following, although even fans tend to disagree whether the film is a landmark of surreal, innovative filmmaking or simply a fascinating mess. It was released on video by RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video in September 1986 (taking advantage of the group's 20th Anniversary) and by Rhino Entertainment in January 1995.
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 best recorded work by The Monkees, including songs contributed by Carole King and Harry Nilsson. Jack Nicholson compiled the soundtrack album, which approximates the flow of the movie and includes large portions of the dialogue.
Andrew Sandoval, Rhino Entertainment's archivist who co-produced the company's reissue of the film, commented on the songs in a 1995 article published when the film was first reissued: "It has some of their best songs on it and, as you know, the movie's musical performances are some of the most cohesive moments in the film."
The music of the Monkees often featured rather dark subject matter beneath a superficially bright, happy sound (the song Last Train to Clarksville, for instance, is actually about a young man who has been drafted, and is trying to arrange one last date with his girlfriend before he ships out); 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 (Sadly, Jones' own father, Harry, died just prior to Head's release).
The soundtrack includes:
On screen, these credits actually appeared backwards