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  Head Last Train To Weirdsville
Year: 1968
Director: Bob Rafelson
Stars: Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Victor Mature, Annette Funicello, Timothy Carey, Logan Ramsey, Abraham Sofaer, Vito Scotti, Charles Macauley, T.C. Jones, Charles Irving, Percy Helton, Sonny Liston, Frank Zappa, Teri Garr
Genre: Musical, Comedy, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: There's an opening ceremony for a new suspension bridge being held, and the mayor is having a spot of bother with his microphone, which squeals painfully whenever he talks. As he decides to plough on regardless and deliver his speech, the red tape that he is supposed to cut is abruptly broken by Micky Dolenz of the pop group the Monkees running straight through it, followed by his bandmates Peter Tork, Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith. They are being chased so Micky rushes up to the side of the bridge, pauses briefly and throws himself off while the others stand and watch. Micky seems to take an age to land in the water far below and when he does there are two mermaids to accompany him...

Head, the only excursion onto the big screen for the Monkees, was a complete failure when it was first released, you couldn't even say it was a notorious flop because hardly anyone was bothered about the manufactured band anymore. It took some years, till the mid-seventies at least, for the film to attain the status of weirdo classic due to its constant undercutting of the group's image with winking reminders of the opportunistic way they were assembled to cash in on the current pop crazes of the sixties, largely The Beatles. Very popular with kids of the day on television, the Monkee movie would have sailed straight over their heads, and that's what makes it so fascinating.

For a start, the script was co-written by director Bob Rafelson with future megastar Jack Nicholson, who not only appears briefly but was reputed to absolutely love the film, making him possibly the first member of its fanbase. Rafelson and producer Bert Schneider would abandon their creation after this, and meaning the movie was essentially their final word on their huge hit, in music as well as the small screen. It's notable that early on the action takes the form of a restless run through the channels on a television, with clips ranging from Bela Lugosi to car salesman advertisements. This is appropriate because the action in the rest of the film looks like a viewer with a limited attention span is flicking between channels showing the Monkees in various styles of movies.

The celebrated television series was not only a showcase for the music but a comedy as well, and the anarchic sense of humour on show here makes the show look as straight as a sitcom from the previous decade - and it could be a pretty wild TV show. The point seems to be to take aim at every genre they can think of, so the band are sent to fight in the Vietnam War, making it surely one of the first films to take a satirical stand on the conflict, or plonked right down into a boxing drama with Davy up against Sonny Liston and Annette Funicello as his tearful girlfriend in the crowd imploring him to take a dive. But all these scenarios warp, as if the force of the disdain for the hackneyed formats, for mainstream productions as well as popular spoof targets, is too much for the plot logic to hold together.

There are still the songs, of course, and they are among the band's best, some written by Carol King and Gerry Goffin and Harry Nilsson, others by Nesmith and Tork (whose "Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again" during the birthday party is particularly fine). While the music is edited in just as randomly as the rest of the story and footage, it all blends together, if not smoothly, then at least provocatively. As the film progresses, the Monkees become dandruff in Victor Mature's hair and are sucked up by a vacuum cleaner, are frightened by Timothy Carey, and placed in a box they don't know how to escape from (ah, metaphor!). It may sound unlikely that they appeared in a quintessentially psychedelic movie of the time, but with its capricious mind games and pretentions that's precisely what the Monkees did, engagingly showing up Hollywood movies to be as much a sham as their band were, and just as entertaining with it. Seeing it now, no matter how anchored in the growing paranoia of the late sixties it was, Head seems very prescient for precisely that reason.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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