Head (the movie)

I watched this for only the second time last night, and I was amazed, as I hadn’t been on the first viewing. I recorded it off AMC; that’s the only place I could find it. Friend had never seen it; the previews elicited at “WTF” reaction. Said I, “You’ll be saying that a lot.” In fact; so was I. It was amazing how little I’d retained from my first viewing. All I really remembered was Zappa with the cow, and the Austin Powers looking dance number. But I think that’s because this film is truly unique.

I’ve seen plenty of films which have tried to be surreal and failed. This may be one of the few which succeeded. Generally, the ones that fail have a plot, linear and simple, but still a plot, so the action has to be anchored to it in some way. So they don’t have the sense of absolute lack of rhyme or reason. Another common problem is characters who act in a bizarre manner, but are still archetypal, so they’re identifiable characters. Minor characters who appear once or twice don’t make up the difference, because they’re seen from the main characters’ POVs.

I wouldn’t quite count films like Un Chien Andalou as surreal, because they’re completely non-narrative. Bizarre images without the contrast of clearly defined settings, or character interaction, are simply bizarre images, related to each other instead of counter to people and action. These films aren’t bending reality; they just don’t have any.

I don’t think this movie could have been made without the Monkees. (Some may say it didn’t need to be made at all, but I’m sure there are people here who would disagree.) The four main characters are the only constants. They were already known to the audience when the film was released, and even to people unfamiliar with their show, it’s evident that these guys know each other, there’s no friction between them, and their only motivation is to stay together throughout all circumstances.

There’s no need to worry about who any of the other characters are or what they’re doing there. The main characters aren’t concerned, and it soon becomes clear to the audience that neither should they be. The main characters aren’t happy about their situation, but they never fully question it. An alternate reality has to be accepted by all characters; gratutious scenes where the main character(s) demand to know exactly What Is Going On Here destroy the illusion.

I would say that Holy Grail is somewhat surreal, but not on the level of Head.

A really interesting movie, which also features some of the Monkee’s best tunes: From The Porpoise Song (Time, by the clock in the sky/is pounding away, there’s so much to say) to Nesmith’s awesome "Circle Sky) to the weirdly George Harrison-esque “Can You Dig It”, the music is great.

And there’s just enough of a hint of a plot to make the ten thousand skits hold together. At the beginning of the movie, the boys are being chased by an angry mob. They jump off a bridge…and drown? Maybe?? Anyway, they go through all the skits, meeting the people who started out chasing them. The movie ends with them being chased by the mob…etc.

Interesting stuff, and as I said: great music!

Fenris (And Nesmith was the most talented of 'em all, dammit!)

The best movie Jack Nicholson ever wrote.

Yes, Nesmith was the only one with musical talent. Dolenz was a talented actor/producer. The other 2 were just pretty boys.

Anyway, I was a Monkees fan as a 7 yr old when they were big. Loved the TV show and the songs (even though they weren’t playing the music). I first saw “Head” in the mid 70s. Got a video a few years back.

I can’t agree “Head” is “surreal” in the same sense as Un Chien Andalou. The latter was made in 1929 by Brunel and Dali at the same time the latter was defining surrealism in painting. Problem is, people use the word “surreal” to mean anything that strikes them as out of the ordinary. “Holy Grail” - if you mean the Monty Python movie - is not surreal. It’s comedy. Wacky, but not surrealism.

“Head” is a self-conscious attempt to be hip by a bunch of guys disgusted with the way they had been manipulated by the pop industry. It’s fascinating, but it’s not art. All sorts of things passed for deep at the time. I love it, though!

On the subject of Zappa showing up… Anyone seen 200 Motels?

No, I’ve not seen 200 Motels. I would if I had the opportunity, but I never have.

And I think Head is far enough from traditional narrative to be surreal.

I love this movie, it’s in my entry on the “Movies your embarassed to admit you like” thread. But I have to agree with Hemlock, it’s not art. It’s the Monkees deflating their “pop” image and trying to seem relevent. Notice them being controlled and manipulated by “Big Victor” from behind the scenes. They spend much of the movie on a film studio backlot, a place that manufactures pretend reality. Many of the scene transitions happen when Big Victor changes the channels, he’s always in control of them. When they are in the tank at the end, he’s relaxing on the back of the truck as it drives out of a soundstage. It’s not a reality, they have been putting on a show (unwittingly probably) the whole time. The movie even ends with the film getting hung in the projector and melting. It’s all just a show. It gets points with me for fun 1960s psychedelia, but it’s not true surrealism, IMO.

Hemlock, I have seen 200 Motels, but it’s been a while. I remember having mixed feelings about it. Mostly I’m not a big fan of the Flo & Eddie period. But Ringo Starr as the “fake” Zappa/Larry the Dwarf was fun.

Well then, what is surrealism? And if you’re going to use Un Chien Andalou as an example, please do so descriptively.

I’ve only seen clips of Un Chien Andalou so I won’t use it. Head and films like that are apples and oranges to me, anyway.

Surrealism, in film and TV, transends reality through the medium it is presented in. It creates a convincing reality for the viewer, however improbable and unlikely. Head never does this. It is always shallow, a put-on. In the film, the Monkees are caricatures of their TV personas, if that’s possible, they are a part of the put-on.

Head is psychedelia, which has surreal touches, like bizarre imagery and juxtaposition. But I don’t think the film has deeper insights than what we see on the screen. True surrealism should. The oddity and bizarre images should add up to more. It is a fun movie, but not challenging or insightful. Therefore it is not art, IMO.

The reality created does not have to be accepted by all of the characters involved. If it is disturbing enough, it should unerve some of the characters in the work.

Since Head, is a commercial work, I will cite other commercial works that are truer examples of surrealism to me:

Fellini Satyricon
Point Blank - Is it a dream, is the main character a ghost, or is he really alive despite everyone else’s certainty that he is dead? Eventually everyone’s reality is questioned in this film
The President’s Analyst - James Coburn doesn’t want to believe that this is his reality, but it is.
The Prisoner - Number Six fights against a reality that constantly changes on him. Whenever he takes anything for granted, it shifts on him. He can’t accept his reality, there’s always something more to it.
City Of Lost Children - It may be a real world, but it certainly isn’t ours.

Narrative is a necessity for the mainstream viewer of commercial works, so that’s why I regard these works differently from Un Chien Andalou and noncommercial experimental films. They were made with different intentions. One group is aimed at the multiplex, the other for the arthouse or museum.

Two of the sentences in your OP seem to contradict each other: “So they don’t have the sense of absolute lack of rhyme or reason.” and “These films aren’t bending reality; they just don’t have any.” I realize these are out of context, but which is it?

I’ll shut up now. I can’t believe I wrote ALL this because of a Monkees movie. I need help…

Trying to find a decent definition of surrealsim. Came across this A to Z - which omits the letter “S”.

Head is more “psychedelia”. Yes. Of course, that begs the question “what’s psychedelia?”. The best answer I can come up with would be “contrived, labored, drug-induced, largely artless mid-late 60s attempt at being as profound as surrealism.” But nothing personal - I love psychedelia, and am about to put on my 13th Floor Elevators CD to prove it. Please feel free to hang around and listen.

hemlock, if that is your definition of psychedelia, then where do you put “200 Motels”? if anything the film mocks the drug culture…the hey man’s and the far out’s. i agree that most of the sixties cultural output was contrived and self conscious, but it may have been the last time we made an attempt to break out of spoon fed pop culture, the kind we so readily accept now. everyone thinks they’re being really deep when they’re stoned for the first time…but at least it shows a willingness to peel back layers and get down to some nitty gritty. that kind of attitude did produce some of the most brilliant works of art we’ve seen in this century.

i love the movie “head”. i’m a huge monkees fan, and i think the whole phenomena as a whole is an amazing exercise in free will…one that i haven’t seen repeated. and yes, nesmith is the best one…but don’t knock davy, who has some good vaudevillian type work under his belt, notably working with harry nilsson…and peter tork, if you know his story, is definitely the most interesting monkee, having served time in prison and been a substitute teacher and also being one of two actual musicians when the monkees were formed…he started as a greenwich village folkie and like nesmith, could have probably done well on his own musically.

my other favorite things from the era are comedy albums by the firesign theater…and another comedy record called “a child’s garden of grass” which is great. musically, don’t get me started.


How far should the screen expand? When I’m watching a movie, I’m not ever going to fully forget that it is a movie, unless I’m tripping.

Two different situations. The first sentence applies to movies like It’s a Complex World (don’t ask) which are narrative and have a main character who doesn’t understand or accept his surroundings. The second applies to UCA and the like: films that are mostly images.

I realize this is a relativist answer, but I guess it depends on the viewer. I want a surreal movie to convince me (at least for a little while) that the bizarre, disconcerting, and unlikely things I’m seeing are possible. If the film wants to show me that pigs can fly, I don’t want to see the wires. Unless the wires are meant to be part of the reality of that film, for what ever reason the creators of the movie may choose.

Like I said earlier, Head never manages to do this. It is wacky, like Hemlock said, but also self-conscious, their egos are visible. The boys are putting on a show, not giving me a glimpse of something that couldn’t exist but somehow does.

So! Anyone up for 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee ?

Whatever. I still like it.

33 1/3 revolutions per monkee…what a nightmare. if you thought they were bitter in “head”…it’s 33 1/3 times worse. and boring to boot.

I want to see 33 1/3… just for the sake of seeing it. I’ve heard it and the failure of *Head * at the box office were the reasons Peter Tork quit? If it’s as bad as you say it is, maybe Pete was the “dummy” after all.