The only reason Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, the director and producer of The Monkees TV series, wanted to name the group's only feature film Head, was so that when they make the next movie, the trade ads could say "From the people who gave you Head."
The Monkees were already in the rear-view mirror for Rafelson and Schneider. They went on to Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces directly after, and Monkees fans kind of went the same way. Never had a group risen so high and been drop-kicked so swiftly as the Pre-Fab Four between Fall 1966 when the NBC series premiered, and Fall 1968 when Head opened and closed within weeks of being thread into projectors.
Having experienced Monkeemania as a kid, I forced myself to stay up late to see the movie's auspicious TV premiere on the CBS Late Movie on December 30, 1974, and fell asleep, periodically waking up to scenes of Davy Jones getting beat up by a drag queen and Floyd Patterson. And the band auditioning to be dandruff in Victor Mature's giant head.
It wouldn't have made much more sense to my young mind had I remained awake. But the film has always had its defenders, now more vocal than ever since Head is approaching its silver anniversary, and is being screened at FilmBar on Saturday, June 16, as part of the Cinemania series.
FilmBar film programmers Andrea Canales and Dan Stone have wanted to secure the rights to screen it for years. Stone, who also hosts the popular the Unfathomable Film Freakout series, also remembers first seeing Head late at night on a superstation at a really young age.
"I was just discovering them for the first time in the '80s, through Nick at Nite reruns. And it seemed like an extended version of the TV show to me. My favorite episode of the show was 'The Frodis Caper,' which was the last episode of the series.The one with the eye on the TV. That's why the eye is on the Unfathomable Film Freakout logo."
Stone sees Head as "The Monkees' middle finger to the television industry, the music industry, and the way the fans treated them. "It's The Monkees at the end of their rope in every way. Even Peter Tork has said the movie was designed to destroy The Monkees. The ad campaign didn't even mention the group at all. So people who went to theaters to see this really heavy psychedelic film went, saw The Monkees, and immediately left. And the kids who would've seen it didn't know it was a Monkees movie and never came. It made a tenth of the box office back."
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The 50th anniversary of Magical Mystery Tour, the Beatles' cinematic psychedoodle, came and went without much fanfare last year, but rock movie fans wishing to jump on this celebration will note that the Monkees' film freakout was the rare case where they may have surpassed their Fab avatars. Head was more expertly crafted than MMT and deserves its half-century re-evaluation.
"Head was also avant-garde, but it's pretty snappy and moves along a lot better than most avant-garde rock films," Canales says. "The only Blu-ray release it's had was part of a Criterion set, which is what we'll be screening. It's rarely screened anywhere, so it has had a forbidden-fruit quality to it."
Canales still moons sadly: "I had a VHS copy of Head from the '90s. And at one time I had a 35 mm print of a Monkees episode. And I wished I'd kept both of them. So this will be like watching it for the first time."
FilmBar screens Head, an 85-minute romp starring The Monkees, Sonny Liston, Victor Mature, and Carol Doda, on Saturday, June 16. Visit thefilmbarphx.com for showtime and prices.