An analysis of the The Monkees' Movie HEAD

Part 1 of a 3 part essay


The Monkees one and only film HEAD (released in 1968) is not like any other film ever made. To even begin to describe this movie is a difficult task, and by doing this analysis, I am only trying to present one interpretation. My own. This interpretation is, however, based on many things. It is based on many repeat viewings of the film, the comments about the movie in Micky Dolenz's biography, the book "The Monkees" by Glenn A. Baker, Davy Jones' biography, from the words of Bob Rafelson, and based on how The Monkees described the making of this film. So one night, I sat down to watch this film yet again-- but with the intent to analyze every scene to come up with one universal theme.

With most films, finding a theme, or purpose, is quite simple, because in most films, the meaning is laid out directly in front of the viewer. This movie, is a whole other story. Everything in this movie is a symbol for something else. Every character. Every scene. Every song. Everything has some sort of a meaning. As the Ditty Diego states: "For those who look for meaning inform and as they do fact, we might tell you one thing, but we'd only take it back." Some things occur, but then later, we are shown that the events did NOT occur, and they were just mentally screwing with us. This movie is awesome.

That being said, if you have NOT seen this movie yet, do NOT read on. What makes this movie so amazing is that you see something new each time you watch it, a new theme, a new symbol, or something of that nature and I do not want to spoil anything for those of you who have not seen this movie yet. And I do recommend seeing this movie, regardless if you're a Monkees fan or not. Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson (who co-wrote the script with the Monkees) are wonderful filmmakers. The editing in this movie is spectacular. Anyone who's a fan of film will enjoy picking apart this movie and analyzing it.

The Format of this Essay:

To make this easy, I will simply take the movie scene by scene, interpreting them individually and then showing how each scene fits the theme of the entire movie.

So your next question is probably, what is meaning behind HEAD?

There are many possible themes. Some common discussed themes are:
a. the Monkees trying to escape their teenybopper image
b. the real vs. the manufactured images
c. an insiders view of hollywood

And all of those ARE valid themes, but all of those themes can be summed up into what I think is the underlying theme to HEAD: manipulation.

ma-nip-u-late: 1. to work or handle skillfully. 2. to manage artfully or shrewdly, often in an unfair way. 3. to alter figures for one's own purpose

This theme of manipulation is lying in every single aspect of this film; the title, the songs, the characters, the speeches.
The three most significant moments of the film into seeing this theme are The Ditty Diego (War Chant), The Swami Speech, and Micky's speech about the black box.

Even the title, HEAD, connects with the theme of manipulation. Mental mannipulation is the most common form, and obviously it goes on in a person's mind. People who manipulate others, tend to get inside of their minds in order to acheive something that they desire or to make that person act a certain way in order to benefit them. Mental mindfucking, shall I call it? Also, the word 'HEAD' in the 1960s also had a drug connotation. Back then, people that were known as "heads" were people into the drug scene. Drugs, once into the body, manipulate the brain (or head) into believing things that are not really there. Drugs cause the body to be unable to distiguish between the real and the vividly imagined experience. The drugs manipulate the brain into thinking certain things. So it is very prophetic to name the film HEAD, when the entire film revolves around being mentally and emotionally manipulated by everyone.

This story, to be quite frank, is the Monkees true story. The scenes in this movie, the situations put forth to the four main characters in this movie (Micky, Peter, Mike, Davy) are those that really happened. This movie is an attempt to show how the Monkees, right from the beginning, were being manipulated by everyone. This movie also is an insiders view of Hollywood. Many of the scenes are parodies of Hollywood cliches. By doing this parody of Hollywood, they are also showing how the Entertainment Industry as a whole is based on the manipulation for one's own benefit. So you have the Story Of The Monkees and the Story of Hollywood as the vehicle to demonstrate the theme of manipulation.

So let's begin.

The Bridge Scene: what does it all mean?

You see a bunch of "important" people trying to open a new bridge. A "magnificent marvel of modern architecture". The Mayor, Reporters, Photographers, Military Personell, Policemen, they're all there. To me, these members of the "Establishment" represent the Powers That Be at the network that was controlling The Monkees. The bridge can represent a new product: The Monkees, a project that manipulated the general public into buying lots of merchandise in order to make money. In this scene, The Mayor is trying to make a speech to open this grand new bridge, but is having trouble speaking in the microphone. There are communication problems. Perhaps this has something to do with the communication problems that The Monkees had with the Powers That Be (PTB) over their musical direction? Whatever it does mean, once the microphone is fixed and the Mayor beginns to herald this new bridge, he is interrupted by Micky, who breaks through the red ribbon and runs onto the bridge, followed by the other Monkees. But what are they running from? It is not shown yet.
"And when you see the end in sight, the beginning may arrive." This quote in Ditty Diego sums up this scene. A scene which will NOT be understood until the movie ends. "We might tell you one thing, but then we'd only take it back." This quote is also relevant. This scene and the last scene superficially appear to be the same, but they're not. In the beginning, they appear to be running from no one, but it is only later, after the events of the movie have passed, that we know WHY they are running, and we have a greater deal of understanding of their ordeals.
Micky is in the lead. He comes to the edge of the bridge, takes off his jacket, looks back, and jumps off. The other guys do not. This is also prophetic, as is the song that begins once Micky plummets to the water.

By jumping off the bridge, this can be described as committing suicide. Or can it? Is Micky jumping into the water to end something, or is he "taking the plunge" into something? This jump can symbolize Micky (who sung most of The Monkees songs) and the other guys need to escape their teenybopper image, or it can show the beginning of The Monkees project. The guys taking the plunge into teen idoldom.

Once in the water, Micky is rescued by mermaids; mythical sea creatures that DO NOT exsist. These mermaids can symbolize all that is desirable about being famous. As Micky and the guys plunge into their new fame and fortune and he is "comforted" (rescued) by the dreams of fame, fortune and luxery, the song in the background "Porpoise Song" seems to point out that these dreams of stardom are not real, they are mythical and only last for a short time. But these lyrics are only understood by the Monkees at the end of the film. The meaning is not yet understood.

I n this first scene, you already can see the manipulation. First by The Mayor and his cronies that are trying to open a new bridge (which can symbolize the PTB at the start of The Monkees project), but you see the mermaids, who APPEAR to be helpful and appear to save Micky's life, but in reality represent fame, fortune and other things that do not exsist. The mermaids are mental mannipulations to convince The Monkees in order to go along with the PTB. I will furthur discuss the meaning of the lyrics and tie up loose ends when I discuss the END of the film, which appears to be the same as the beginning, but in reality, is only a manipulation

As the underwater scene melts into the next scene, we get the image of a girl kissing Micky. This girl first appears as a solarized image (one of the mermaids?), but then the camera reveals to us that she is not a mermaid, and that instead of an ocean, we're seeing her and Micky kiss through a fish tank. We are yet again having our minds manipulated. The girl kisses Micky and we hear bubbling water sounds. As she walks away, she looks back and gives a half smile. Then she leans over and kisses Mike. We hear tinkling bells. She walks away, looks back at Mike and smirks. She then goes over to Peter, kisses him. We hear nothing but the squeaky dentist chair he's sitting on. She doesn't look back at him. When she kisses Davy, the doors fly open, doves fly out, and romantic music fills the room. Each sound that accompanies the boys can represent their forces in their musical revolt with them and Don Kirshner. The girl can represent the PTB, and the music PTB in particular. The whole time she is in command, the guys never move, but it is obvious that they want to "perform" well with her, especially Mike. To go back to the sounds part, each sound after the kissing can correspond with each one's response to the musical aspect of The Monkees career. Micky is first, and was the most used singer. The water sounds can demonstrate a "goes with the flow" attitude that he possessed. The girl (The PTB) looks back at him and smiles. He's not the one who is trying to revolt against the PTB's manipulation. Mike's sound, the tinklying bells, are shrill and loud. The girl walks away from him and smirks. The PTB hated Mike because he was the most vocal against the PTB, and he was also the one who was most eager to "perform well" after the musical revolt (hence later on his question to the girl: "Well?", as if he was looking for her reaction to the kiss (once the revolt occured, he was most anticipating the PTB reaction). The girl (PTB), however, just smirks at Mike's attempt. She knows she has the upper hand. Now with Peter, the girl kisses him and the chair squeaks. Peter was the second most disruptive to the PTB's operation, but unlike Mike, his protests were not heard most of the time. Peter never had any input, never got to sing any of the songs, and was greatly ignored by the Monkees music team, and the girl NOT looking back at Peter after the kiss demonstrates this. When she kisses Davy, the scene turns into a typical Hollywood love scene with the typical music, the doves, the wind machine, the whole bit. She also kissed him the longest and seemed to enjoy it the most. Davy was the Monkee most likely to go along with the manipulation of The PTB. He was the teen idol. He was ok with that. The music and the whole bit shows the relationship between Davy and the PTB was good, and the girl seems satisfied. So the girl leaves the pad looking pleased for herself, ignores Mike's whispers and laughs. The PTB are confident in their manipulation of The Monkees.

After this scene, The Ditty Diego plays simultaneousy with tiny images of every scene in the Monkees movie. Showing the viewer the first superficial glance at the movie. In this song, the whole point of the film is cleverly stated: read the lyrics here

The last box in the montage is not a scene from the movie. It is a scene from the Vietnam war of the assassination of one of the men in the Vietnamese army. This scene is then replaced by one of a teenage girl screaming. Is she screaming at the horror of war? That's what we are manipulated to believe until a few seconds later when it shows she is at a Monkees concert with fellow screaming fans. We then see The Monkees getting ready for a concert, running down a hall dressed in white. But then the scene changes. The images are again being manipulated. Instead of a concert, The Monkees in cheerleader outits at a football game scream out "W-A-R-!" and we then scene stock footage from war movies. The scene that follows is not only a parody of the typical Hollywood war flick, but is also interesting because it makes the comparison of a Monkees concert to a war. In the war scene, Peter goes out to get some amo and right in the middle of the intense bombardment, a photographer from LIFE magazine appears. "Hold it! This is for LIFE." He says, and snaps a picture that appears on the front cover. Was the Vietnam War just manipulated in order for the media to sell more copies of the magazines? Is the war real or a vividly imagined experience? Of course the war *was* real, but it was being manipulated by the media. I mean one day you have the NBC news guy proclaiming that the US is winning by large numbers, and the next day America finds out that the Viet Cong have just launched the Tet Offensive and killed tons of American soldiers. Surely the war was being manipulated by the media to make America appear to be the Powerhouse that it was in the 1960s. This media manipulation and the attitude of America's is also what the football player symbolizes. He symbolizes America's "We're #1" attitude and America's attitude during the Vietnam war. His jersey has one thing written on it: 1. The football player starts beating Peter up right as he enters the trench, not caring WHO he is or WHY he's there. he grunts: "We're #1, We're #1". This can symbolize the Vietnam War. Peter represents Vietnam. America didn't know WHY they were involved in the Vietnam war. They didn't know who they were dealing with. They got in the war to prove that they were the major world power and could manipulate the situation into showing the world that THEY WERE THE BIGGEST, THE MOST POWERFUL, and THE NUMBER ONE country in the world. We don't care who we fight or if there is a real reason to fight, as long as we can show everyone that we are NUMBER ONE.

But back to the trench. Despite Mike's musings, Peter does make it through the intense bombardment, gets a new helmet for Micky, and the guys go out to do battle. Mike throws a grenade into what looks to be a cave, but then it turns into the same hallway and The Monkees run through it dressed in white and go to the concert. This was a real concert in Salt Lake City. The song "Circle Sky" was performed Live. But from the camera techniques, we'd never know it. The camera manipulates the footage to make it look like the band is not live. The camera appears to be controlling the performance as well as the audience members who were REAL FANS, not paid actors, and their reactions are REAL. But from what images we are shown, it all looks fake. Manipulated. The Monkees are yet again blurring the line between real vs. imaginary. And they are yet again being manipulated by SOMETHING (the camera). Throughout this performance, footage from the war continues and as the song lyrics get more ominous: "But what you have seen you must believe, If you can." Is he singing about the concert experience or the Vietnam War footage? We are manipulted to believe he's singing about the war, but we never really find out. At the end of the song, the fans scream and rush the stage, pulling the Monkees to the ground, ripping their clothes, tearing their heads off, gleefully taking home with them a piece of their clothing. The Monkees turn out to be dummies however, not the real guys.

The war scene and the concert scene both deal with manipulation, and it is interesting to see both experiences not only have people being manipulated, but both also deal with the concept of reality and the imagined experience. In the war, the soldiers are being manipulated by the press. The Press tells lies about how successfull the war is, when in reality, it is not. It is manipulating the war in America's favor. But the concept of war is also about manipulation. One side tries to use either psychological or physical manipulation to get what they desire out of the conflict. In the film, this manipulation in terms of The Monkees is relayed by a concert experience. The Monkees are set up on a stage, being bombarded not by bullets, but by screaming fans. Fans who have one goal. To take ONE part of The Monkees home with them for their own personal gratification. Like in war, these fans use physical manipualtion to get what they want, which is some part of The Monkees. So this part of the movie not only deals with the Monkees manipulation, but of manipulation in other events in life.

Analysis Part 2

After the concert, we see a hand flipping channels with a remote control. Some of the channels include the following: "I gave her a very powerful narcotic, I'm sure it will be effective soon.", gossip about Barbara Stanwyck and her son, Ralph Williams Worlds Largest Ford Dealership, the concert, "But you are the Messiah", "Our ships better be sailing out..", A Bela Lugosi film, Micky rolling down a sandhill, a hippie saying he "doesn't read papers, watch tv, or listen to the radio", A lady tap dancing to become famous, The hippie saying "what happened", Ralph Williams' Ford Dealership with a car with "666" on the dash, Micky rolling down a hill, and finally transitioning from a TV into Micky's solo scene.

Wheras the last section dealt with physical manipulation, the channel changing scene deals with manipulation by the entertainment industry and corporations, which transitions nicely to Micky's solo scene, which deals heavily with the influence of commercialism and marketing. The "changing channels" is also prophetic because it is this scene that changes channels from different types of manipulation; physical into media and marketing manipulation. But anyway, the channel flipping scene is basically saying that the media and television is a narcotic, and eventually we can be overly consumed with it so much that it takes over our life. The powerful narcotic clip reiterates this, as does the guy saying "but you are the Messiah", and "supernatural baloney". Supernatural baloney can also refer to the worthlessness of Hollywood, which is also addressed by the lady tap dancing. She obviously wants to be a star and tries everything to do so, because our culture is so focused on celebrities (hence, the gossip about Barbara Stanwyck) and how perfect their lives are, that after watching tons of TV and movies, some people believe that they can be like movie stars. That lady is obviously trying hard to do so. The only person who is disenfranchaised from the media manipulation seems to be the stoned hippie, who doesn't engage in any form of media. Interesting concept on Rafelson's part. Are they saying that the hippies are the only generation not manipulated by Hollywood? Hmm. Ralph Williams was a really famous car dealer back in the day, and he represents consumerism and manipulating people to buy STUFF. This concept is a nice transition into the DESERT SCENE...

DESERT SCENE- We see Micky rolling down a sandhill, wearing nothing but an old, ratty pair of pants. He is obviously wandering aimlessly through the desert and appears to be dying of thirst. Suddenly he spots a Coca Cola Machine, digs out some change and puts it in the machine. The machine flashes "EMPTY" and Micky gets angry and beats it up. After that, he and his inner monologue yell at eachother, until the inner monologue stops talking, thus driving Micky insane from the silence. We then hear the Coca Cola jingle and a deep voice saying "Quiet, isn't it, George Michael Dolenz." Then, out from the middle of nowhere, a Black Sheik on a black horse rides up and says "Pssst" to Micky then runs away. Micky steps back, obviously confused. A few moments later, a tank drives up and a short Italian guy gets out, speaks to Micky in poor English and asks if he's "Americano" and then surrenders everything to Micky. Micky is obviously confused, but hops up into the tank anyway and blows up the Coke Machine.

It is interesting that Micky has the first solo scene, since he was also the most prominent Monkee and the first one to jump off the bridge. This scene serves many purposes in developing the theme of the film. We see a glimpse at Micky as a person, we see a parody of another Hollywood Cliche (those "lost in the desert" movies), and we examine another aspect of manipulation (commercialism).

( the money's in, we're made of tin.... )