HEAD is a 1968 American adventure comedy film musical starring The Monkees (Mike Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork), and distributed by Columbia Pictures. Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson wrote and produced, and Rafelson directed.
During production, the working title for the film was Changes, which was later the name of an unrelated album by the Monkees. A rough cut of the film was previewed for audiences in Los Angeles in the summer of 1968 under the name of Movee Untitled.
The storylines and peak moments of the film came from a weekend visit to an Ojai, California resort where the Monkees, Rafelson, and Nicholson brainstormed into a tape recorder, reportedly with the aid of a quantity of marijuana. Jack Nicholson then took the tapes and used them as the basis for his screenplay which (according to Rafelson) he structured while under the influence of LSD.
When the band learned that they would not be allowed to direct themselves or to receive screenwriting credit, Dolenz, Jones, and Nesmith staged a one-day walkout, leaving Tork the only Monkee on the set the first day. The strike ended after the first day when, to mollify the Monkees, the studio agreed to a larger percentage share of the film's net for the group. But the incident damaged the Monkees' relationship with Rafelson and Bert Schneider, and would effectively end their professional relationship together.
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 sitcom, comprehensively demolished the group's carefully groomed public image, while the older, hipper counterculture audience they had been reaching for rejected the Monkees' efforts out of hand.
The film's release was also delayed (partly because of 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 (John Brockman); after 30 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.'
In her scathing review, Renata Adler of The New York Times commented: Head "might be a film to see if you have been smoking grass, or if you like to scream at The Monkees, or if you are interested in what interests drifting heads and hysterical high-school girls." She added that the group "are most interesting for their lack of similarity to The Beatles. Going through ersatz Beatle songs, and jokes and motions, their complete lack of distinction of any kind... makes their performance modest and almost brave."
Daily Variety was also harsh, stating that "Head is an extension of the ridiculous nonsense served up on the Screen Gems vidseries that manufactured The Monkees and lasted two full seasons following the same format and, ostensibly, appealing to the same kind of audience." But the review applauded Rafelson and Nicholson, saying that they "were wise not to attempt a firm storyline as The Monkees have established themselves in the art of the non-sequitur and outrageous action. Giving them material they can handle is good thinking; asking them to achieve something more might have been a disaster."
When asked by Rolling Stone magazine in March 2012 if he thought making Head was a mistake, Nesmith responded by saying that "by the time Head came out the Monkees were a pariah. There was no confusion about this. We were on the cosine of the line of approbation, from acceptance to rejection... and it was basically over. Head was a swan song.
We wrote it with Jack and Bob... and we liked it. It was an authentic representation of a phenomenon we were a part of that was winding down. It was very far from suicide- even though it may have looked like that. There were some people in power, and not a few critics, who thought there was another decision that could have been made. But I believe the movie was an inevitability- there was no other movie to be made that would not have been ghastly under the circumstances."
THE CAST included: Victor Mature, Annette Funicello, Timothy Carey, Logan Ramsey, Vito Scotti, Percy Helton, Sonny Liston, Ray Nitschke, Carol Doda, Frank Zappa, Teri Garr, Toni Basil; and both Nicholson and Dennis Hopper (straight from the set of Easy Rider)