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CRITERION

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Bob Rafelson
Cast:
The Monkees (Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith)
Writing Credits:
Bob Rafelson, Jack Nicholson

Tagline:
What is Head all about? Only John Brockman's shrink knows for sure!

Synopsis:
Hey, hey, it’s the Monkees ... being catapulted through one of American cinema’s most surreal sixties odysseys. The brainchild of Bob Rafelson, making his directorial debut; his producing partner and Monkees cocreator Bert Schneider; and Jack Nicholson, a coscreenwriter on the project, Head was the fanciful beginning and ignominious end of the TV-bred supergroup’s big-screen career. In it, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork become trapped in a kaleidoscopic satire that’s movie homage, media send-up, concert movie, and antiwar cry all at once. A constantly looping, self-referential spoof that was ahead of its time, Head dodged commercial success on its release but has since been reclaimed as one of the great cult objects of its era.

Box Office:
Budget
$750 thousand.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 85 min.
Price: $124.95
Release Date: 11/23/2010

Available Only as Part of “America Lost And Found: The BBS Story”

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Actors Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith
• “From The Monkees to Head” Featurette
• “BBS: A Time for Change” Featurette
• Screen Tests
• “The Monkees on The Hy Lit Show
• Trailers, TV Spots and Radio Spots
• “Ephemera”


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Head: America Lost and Found - The BBS Story (Criterion Collection) [Blu-Ray] (1968)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 30, 2010)

More than four decades after its creation, 1968’s Head remains an odd piece of work. Created as a pre-fab knockoff of the Fab Four, the Monkees enjoyed great commercial success, but the band members wanted more creative freedom. After the popular TV series ended, they attempted to separate themselves from that image in a number of ways.

Head was one of these, as it attempted to use the Monkees’ big-screen debut to alter their public image and keep them relevant in the era’s market. It didn’t work. The soundtrack album bombed; though their first five albums charted no worse than number 3, Head made it only to number 45, and subsequent releases didn’t fare much better. Within a couple of years, the Monkees would be kaput – at least until their mid-1980s reunion, when three of the four members experienced a nice revival.

Despite its commercial failure, Head has turned into something of a cult classic, so this Blu-ray felt like a good way for me to finally give it a look. Rather than provide an actual plot, Head simply acts as a long visual montage. It leaps from one concept to another with moderate alacrity, though a theme of war/conflict emerges along the way.

Which contributes to the one overriding sense that comes with Head: the Monkees want us to know that they’re not just a bunch of cute TV pop stars! Honestly, the movie smacks of desperation, as the Monkees do a great deal to poke holes in their public image and stay contemporary.

I don’t doubt that the various Monkees did tire of their image as puppets and “plastic Beatles”, though I suspect this bothered some of them more than others. However, that doesn’t mean they really had anything worthwhile to say; just because they want us to believe they’re Serious Artistes doesn’t mean they are.

For me, Head just reinforces the ironic notion that the harder the Monkees tried to come across as independent individuals, the more they seemed like… well, like pre-fab TV stars. It seems to me that a band who really had something to say wouldn’t need to try so hard to convince us of this. The Monkees telegraph their message so heavily that they beat us over the head with it.

This applies to both themes. In case you don’t understand that the Monkees comprehend their image as bubbly comedic pop stars, the film’s theme makes sure you get it: “Hey hey we are the Monkees/You know we love to please/A manufactured image with no philosophies!”

Well, yeah – the Monkees were a manufactured image with no philosophies. Back in the late 1960s, that became a Really Bad Thing, so all pop stars had to at least feign some form of public consciousness or else they’d look out of touch.

Unfortunately, all the Monkees attempts to look “with it” in Head just seem like poses. They don’t appear any more sincere about their messages than anything else. Maybe the various Monkees believed what they pushed here, maybe they didn’t, but the end result appears unconvincing.

Sometimes bands attempt to change with the times and it just doesn’t work. For instance, when the Stones went psychedelic, it didn’t feel natural, and when the Monkees try to expand into their own broader horizons, it comes across like a ruse. “The porpoise is laughing”? Seriously?

And it feels desperate, like I mentioned. When the Monkees split with their corporate overlords and went independent, perhaps they really did want to make the kind of music found in Head. Or maybe they just thought this was a necessity to move ahead with the culture.

The film’s stabs at a social message sure feel contrived as well. Granted, most of the movie just reminds us that the business views the Monkees as meat/disposable product, but we also get the deep insight that War Is Bad. To make sure we understand, we see the famous image of the killing of Viet Cong Nguy?n Van Lém – and we see it a few times.

Take that, all your teen girls in the audience – your pop idols have grown up and become serious!

Ugh. I will grant that Head is a fairly ambitious piece since it disposes with traditional narrative techniques, but I can’t say that it does so successfully. A few of the skits have some entertainment value, and we see quite a few famous faces along the way; keep an eye out for Teri Garr, football star Ray Nitschke, Victor Mature, Annette Funicello, and Frank Zappa, among others. Even then-unknown co-writer Jack Nicholson can briefly be glimpsed.

Beyond curiosity value, I can’t find much to recommend about Head. This might be good viewing if you’re stoned, but for the sober, it’s a muddled mess.


The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

Head appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Though a little erratic, the transfer usually looked solid.

Actually, the mix of visual techniques made it somewhat tough to grade Head. It used a variety of “psychedelic” impressions and also layered images on top of each other. This meant an inevitable degradation of the picture for thee sequences.

Nonetheless, those looked fine, and when the movie went with more traditional images, it tended to demonstrate nice visuals. Sharpness was usually quite solid, as most of the film boasted solid clarity and accuracy; a bit of softness affected some wide shots, but those weren’t frequent. No issues with jaggies, shimmering or edge haloes occurred, and noise reduction failed to mar the proceedings; the flick offered a good sense of grain.

Source flaws were minor; I noticed a speck or two at most. Due to the design, colors varied, but they often came across as pretty lively and full; some vivid hues came along for the ride at times. Blacks were dark and tight, and shadows seemed fine overall; a few slightly murky shots emerged, but these weren’t serious. Overall, the film looked good.

Along with the film’s original monaural audio, we got a remixed DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. This was something of a mixed bag, but it certainly had some highs, most of which connected to the movie’s songs. The Monkees’ tunes demonstrated good usage of all the channels; the front speakers provided solid stereo spread and localization, while the surrounds contributed some unique musical elements of their own. All of these blended together in a smooth, enveloping fashion.

The occasional bits of score were less vivid, though they were still fine. They showed decent stereo presence but lacked the same dynamic appeal. Effects also broadened to the side and rear channels in with similar inconsistencies. Those elements used the various speakers in a fairly active manner, but they didn’t blend together terribly well. Still, I’d say they meshed acceptably given their mono roots; they managed to add some presence to the proceedings.

Like the soundscape, audio quality varied. Again, the Monkees songs fared best. They showed nice range and vivacity, as they demonstrated clear vocals and good reproduction of the various instruments. The score wasn’t quite as dynamic, but it still sounded fine.

Dialogue showed its age but not to a terrible degree. The lines could be somewhat reedy, but they remained intelligible and lacked notable flaws. Effects worked along the same lines; though they weren’t terribly vivid, they didn’t show problematic distortion, and they had a little punch at times. Given the film’s age, I felt pleased with this track.

In terms of extras, the main attraction comes from an audio commentary with actors Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith. Alas, they didn’t all sit together; instead, each provided individually recorded notes that got edited into this track. They discuss how they came to the Monkees, working with various cast and crew, locations and aspects of the shoot, social commentary and aspects of the era, music, and a few other film-related subjects.

Though it's too bad Criterion couldn't get all four Monkees to sit together at the same time, the quality of the commentary's content more than compensates. It moves at a nice pace and throws out a pretty terrific array of notes. We get a very good "Monkee-eye view" of the flick in this consistently informative and enjoyable piece.

Two featurettes follow. From The Monkees to Head goes for 28 minutes, 28 seconds and includes notes from director Bob Rafelson. He discusses the origins of the Monkees and casting the actors, the series’ development and cancellation, shifting to make the movie and writing the script, casting, aspects of the different sequences and visual choices, the flick’s title, its marketing and release, and its legacy. I guess Rafelson chose not to record a commentary, but I don’t mind since he musters a lot of good material here. Perhaps he only had about half an hour of notes, and he delivers quality thoughts in this honest, informative piece.

BBS: A Time for Change lasts 27 minutes, 38 seconds and offers statements from critic David Thomson and historian Douglas Brinkley. The show examines aspects of the era – both in terms of general society and the movie business - and the development of BBS as a film production company. Both men offer solid details and give us a useful overview of how BBS worked and what it meant to the era’s cinema.

Next we find some Screen Tests. We get these for all four Monkees’ TV auditions, and we also see “She’s a Groovy Kid” and “$13 Million”, two sequences that show auditions with various combinations of Monkees, including some who didn’t make the cut. All together, these run a total of 18 minutes, 47 seconds. These are fascinating to see and make a nice addition to the set.

For some archival material, we see The Monkees on The Hy Lit Show. This reel goes for five minutes, 31 seconds, and lets us hear all four Monkees – and DJ Long John Wade – promote Head. They don’t say anything especially substantial, but the clip is vaguely interesting for archival purposes. Plus, you gotta dig Tork’s hideous beard – it looks glued on!

Advertising wraps up the set. We find four Trailers, five TV Spots and nine Radio Spots. Ephemera provides a six-minute, 38-second reel that offers photos from the set and print ads along with an audio montage. The stills are generally good, so they make this a worthwhile compilation.

A big old 112-page booklet covers all seven films in the “America Lost and Found” boxed set. It includes essays on five of the seven flicks: Head, Easy Rider, The King of Marvin Gardens, Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show. It also delivers an essay about BBS, credits and photos. Criterion usually produce excellent booklets, and this one delivers a terrific companion to the movies.

With 1968’s Head, the Monkees tried desperately to smash their public image. They succeeded, but not in a good way, as the film marked the beginning of the end for the band. I can’t find much to enjoy in this faux-anarchic protest against pop stardom. The Blu-ray provides pretty good picture and audio along with a fairly useful set of supplements. Head might now be something of a cult classic, I can’t figure out why; it feels too contrived and silly to have much merit.

Note that as of November 2010, this Blu-ray version of Head can be found only in a seven-movie boxed set called “America Lost and Found: The BBS Story”. This package also includes Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens, The Last Picture Show, Drive, He Said and A Safe Place.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8888 Stars Number of Votes: 9
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main