Monday, 16 May 2016
The Monkees: HEAD/33 and a Third Revolutions Per Monkee/Episode #781
(Recorded February-May 1968, Released November 6th 1968)
"It's a very extraordinary scene to those who don't understand, but what you have seen you must believe -if you can"
Music: Porpoise Song/Ditty Diego-War Chant/Circle Sky/Can You Dig It?/As We Go Along/Daddy's Song/Happy Birthday To You/Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?/Swami Ken Thorne Strings Etc
Main Writers: The Monkees, Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson Director: Bob Rafelson
Plot: There isn't one. That is to say there's many. That way there is more fun. And only John Brockman's shrink knows for sure what it is anyway (and that's according to the film's own movie poster!) What plot there is involves a politician about to make a speech that's interrupted by various delays including The Monkees committing suicide by leaping from the top of the Golden Gate Bridge while pursued by lots of authority figures. Along the way Micky gets tired of shooting fake scenes and walks off set, Peter argues with the director over being seen to punch a 'girl', Davy gets a bloodied nose in a boxing ring and Mike discovers that the other guys keep disappearing but are really holding a surprise birthday party for him. Meanwhile American troops are shooting Vietnam soliders in cold blood and the police are harassing young teens but The Monkees can't say anything about it because they're too busy performing as dandruff in Victor Mature's hair and speaking to Swamis in the shower. The 'real' plot though concerns the many ingenious ways The Monkees are prepared to 'think outside the box' they're trapped in and keep breaking free of. Artistic suicide - hence this film - appears to be the only way but ultimately even that won't work and the punchline of the film (the one delayed by 90 minutes but runs on from the first scene) is that The Monkees haven't drowned at all but are still trapped, returned to the Screen Gems studio lot along with all the other props. All this plus Frank Zappa sells a talking cow.
What we learn about The Monkees In This Episode: Mike: Hates surprises and especially surprise birthday parties ('and I'll tell you something else too - the same thing goes for Christmas!') Wins a bet with Micky that a girl will jump off a building. His way out of the 'box' is to placate everybody around him or con them (which is the opposite of the strasight-talking openly honest Mike we see in the TV series). Micky: is the first Monkee to take the giant leap into the unknown - perhaps because he's singing the title song. Really hates empty drinks machines abandoned in the desert. Always the most 'independent' Monkee, this 'Micky' tries to escape the box by urging the others to work together. Davy: Get lost inside a vacuum cleaner but still comes out the other end singing and dancing. His way out of the box is to fight it - which doesn't work as well as it does in the TV series, what with Davy being tiny and all. Comes off worst in a fight with Sonny Liston, although you could have probably predicted that. Peter: His way out of the box is to think his way out with the help of the Swami - which again is very at odds with what the 'dummy' Peter of the TV series would do. He's worried about his image and how hitting a girl - even one played by a transvestite - sits with his character's image. In other words all four Monkees 'grow' into, if not quite their polar opposites, then at least into characters whose responses to things being thrown at them aren't as 'predictable' as in the TV series.
Things that don't make sense: This isn't a film where things like plot matter so what actually doesn't make sense here is the world and man's growing sense of detachment from it and each other. Film has reduced everything to a common level, so that cartoons and adverts for dandruff are shown on a par with Nguyen Van Lem, a Vietcong soldier, being shot (for real - it isn't staged; the poor Vietcong soldier being assassinated by American troops is the first time anyone had ever died for real on a broadcast film - not that most of the people watching would have realised the significance of this. The same bit of film was re-used in the 1974 film 'Hearts and Minds', which got lots of critical plaudits for using the identical film in the identical way 'Head' already had six years earlier). However there is one great big mistake that should have made sense even in this film: Mike and Davy share the same birthday, December 30th. So how come only Mike is celebrating not Davy? (Have Micky and Peter forgotten?)
Best Five Quotes: 1) Micky: 'My canteen is empty where once it was full. I felt I couldn't go on (I can't) but something kept telling me I must (I must I must)' 2) Davy picking a boxer to fight and choosing Sonny Liston: 'Great. I'll have a go at him. You won't hurt my face will you. Million dollar head this!' Bob: 'Why him, Davy?' Davy: 'Well, you know I like him, he looks like a god guy and I like his smile!' 3) Factory Owner: 'Capable of 33 horse power apiece and all on one pressure valve. It has a lifting power of over three hundred tonnes (man dangles from the edge). We spend a good deal of our time here ensuring the perfect working conditions (a woman worker sobs). The biggest aspect is the safety factor. Take one take and the entire process is re-geared. Pleasure, the inevitable by-product of our civilisation. A new world whose only preoccupation will be how to amuse itself. The tragedy of your times, my young friends, is that you may get exactly what you want 4) Peter: 'Everybody's where they want to be" Micky: "That's a particular crass thing to say considering we are in a vacuum cleaner!" 5) Critic: 'That song was pretty white' Davy: 'Well, so am I - what can I tell you?' Critic: 'You've been working on your dancing though' Davy: 'yeah yeah well I've been rehearsing it' Critic: 'That doesn't leave much time for your music. You ought to spend more time on it because the youth of America depends on you to show them the way' Talking Cow: 'Monkees is ze craziest people!' 6) Peter: 'Let me tell you one thing son - nobody ever lends money to a man with a sense of humour!' 7) Peter: 'Mike you son of a gun, a millionaire at twenty-five' Mike: 'Ask me 'how does it feel?' Peter: 'Huh?' Mike: 'I said ask me how does it feel? Micky: 'How does it feel?' Mike: 'I don't like it - that's how I feel! I don't like surprises, I don't like these people jumping out and saying...I don't even want to know what they're saying. Do you know what you're saying to me? 'Happy birthday' is what you're saying to me. And you're jumping out the wall and it's scaring me to death and it's a big joke and I'm supposed to be happy about it. 'Aww come on Mike be a good sport'. Well who needs it? You want to invite me to a party you don't kidnap me you send me an invitation. Besides I may have been happier where I was sleeping - hah! And I'll tell you something else too - the same thing goes for Christmas. Now how about them apples?!' 8) Reporter: 'Are you telling me you don't see the connection between Government and laughing at people?' 9) Swami: 'We were speaking of beliefs, beliefs and conditioning. All beliefs could be said to be the result of sound conditioning and thus history is simply the story of opposing beliefs one after another, and so on and so on and so on. A psychologically tested belief of our time is that the central nervous system which feeds it's impulses directly to the brain is unable to discern between the real and the vividly imaginative experience. Here there is a difference - at least most of us believe there is. Am I being clear? To examine these concepts requires tremendous energy and discipline. To allow the unknown to occur and to occur requires clarity. For where there is clarity there is no choice and where there is choice there is misery/ But then why should anyone listen to me? Why should I speak? Since I know nothing!' 10) Davy: 'Something's wrong with you man, you've got a sheet on, you look weird!' Peter: Whose to say what's normal? You've got to stop and listen to me guys or you'll end up back in the box!' 11) Micky: 'This box is now a composite universe...our universe is something inside of our head that allows us to go out into all sorts of different directions up until infinity...'
Romps/Performances: See the 'music' section for our take on the soundtrack album and it's songs. We will, however, point out a few key differences between the songs as heard in the film and on the soundtrack: 'Circle Sky' is an entirely different recording performed 'live' by all four Monkees in the film and by Mike and studio musicians on the album (the live take being officially released on Rhino's re-issues of the album), the unusual distinctive rhythm at the end of 'As We Go Along' ends up cross-fading into the sound of a machine in a factory, 'Daddy's Song' includes a very different last verse which is sung sad and slow in the film but in keeping with the chirpy feel of the rest on the album and 'Long Title' has a good fifteen seconds extra in the film, ending with a proper 'full stop' rather than a fade. The 'Swami' also speaks a few additional lines on the album which were cut from the film.
Postmodernisms: Masses. The film starts with lots of 'deliberate outtakes' - the sort of things that would get cut from other films (the boat noises, the sound effects, the microphone feedback as the mayor tries to speak). The 'Ditty Diego' sequence is the ultimate film no-no, providing sneak previews of twenty key scenes from the film (in retrospect it's amazing how much these look like a modern home movies maker kit, with each film 'separate' and waiting to be assembled seemingly at random). Micky and Mike in a Western is a horrendously over-clichéd bit of nonsense, with Mike and Micky in plain shot of the bad guys but never so much as cut by the flying arrows, while the bad guys fall all around them. Micky later walks off, scorning the 'fake arrows and fake trees' before physically walking through the set backdrop and revealing it was all 'just' an acted scene. The channel hopping too breaks the fourth wall and reminds us this is a 'work of fiction' (For the record the other films and TV shows included in the 'channel hopping' sequence include Golden Boy (1939), City For Conquest (1940), The Black Cat (1941), Jam Session (1944), Gilda (1946) and Two Faced Wolf (the cartoon, 1961)). Davy the promising fiddle player says 'what am I going to do? Play violin in two bit clubs all my life?' just as The Monkees are coming to a close. After Peter hits T C Jones the camera walks out of position and we see the 'real' scene, complete with Peter arguing about whether his character would do such a thing to real director Bob Rafelson and usual Monkee director Jim Frawley, being told that they'll change it in the edits and complaining 'you always say that and it never happens!' This scene is, however, as staged and unreal as anything else in the film, segueing nicely into the 'As We Go Along' sequence thanks to a falling bout of paper that turns into snow. 'Long Title' the song is about as postmodernist as it ever gets, an existentialist sigh over having to repeat yourself ('didn't I get it right the first time?) And finally our very last shot of the film is a lingering look at the studio in which it was made, the camera 'staying behind' as The Monkees props are filed away for another day. Over which some of the superimposed credits are also very postmodern: the entire last page, for instance, is in reverse so that 'Srebmahc Yrret' laying 'Oreh' should actually read 'Terry Chambers' playing 'Hero'. Even to the last frame this film is defying perceptions, with the absolute last shot the film catching alight and fizzing, just to remind us one last time that this actually is a 'film' and what we've been watching the past 84 minutes is just a strip of celluloid with some images on it.
Davy Love Rating: The whole band are 'even' according to Julie Fairchild. That said, birds sing and an orchestra plays when she kisses Davy and it doesn't happen to the other three (a side effect of the TV series?)
Review: Here they come, walking down a crazy-paving street, getting the funniest looks from every film-goer they meet. It seems so wrong, somehow, being able to buy a mass-produced copy of this once barely seen film and to be able to watch it on a nice shiny DVD at any time day or night. 'Head' was a film that those making it thought would never be seen, the brave and slightly sarcastic response to the fact that the film was commissioned when the band were at the height of their powers but made when the band's critical reputation was on the wane. Nobody was going to see this movie anyway - so The Monkees, creator Bob Rafelson and new boy in town Jack Nicholson made sure that nobody would understand it either. 'Head' is a work that everyone knew was made for late night showings on obscure foreign channels, to be shown unbilled in cinemas when they run out of other things to show or to be bought for vast prices on some grainy bootleg copy, if there was even that much a level of interest in a band that was clearly dying a painful death. For decades 'Head' felt like a mass hallucination shared by Monkee fans so improbable that it couldn't possibly have been as weird as we remember it, one that would back to haunt us regularly often years between showings of it. And yet it is every bit as weird as we thought it was: having slightly turned the TV world on it's 'Head' The Monkees wage all out-war on the film business on their one and only movie, a film that's extraordinarily brave and rule-breaking (ten minutes go by before any of The Monkees speak). It's a film like no other made before or since, a last throw of the artistic dice by a band who knows they have nothing to risk and nothing to lose, a document of a particular point in time that could only have been made by a band like The Monkees, a band hip enough to destroy their own reputation. It's a film that simultaneously manages to break all the rules and make no sense while working to its own carefully structured inner set of rules and shedding just enough light to keep us watching on the way the Monkees specifically, the film world generally and the world loosely all work. It's a movie that takes in every genre and style going - partly to keep up with the zany pace of The Monkees' show and partly because the creators thought the film would do so badly they'd never get a chance to make another so wanted to pack as much into 'Head' as they could. It's a far-sighted film that was made not for the teeny-boppers expected to sit through the next Monkee project but for scholars and thinkers half a century on to celebrate and re-evaluate once the fuss over The Monkees playing their instruments has died down. It's a film that gives more artistic freedom to the main characters than any other script has ever done or will ever do - and still ends up with a last scene where it's all been in vain and they're as trapped as they ever were. It's a film that's outrageous, daring, complex, confusing, impressionistic and downright bonkers. It also happens to be my favourite film ever made.
A complex intellectual (some would say pretentious) film deserves a complex intellectual (some would say woefully pretentious) analysis, if only to match life for like (the first draft of this article even included a paragraph on the significance of orange cloths in the film, which is perhaps a concept too far even for me). To go back to my earlier statement and be clear about things, I'm not a great film buff, I left a film studies course to do creative writing two weeks in because it was boring me rigid and most of the symbolism people talk about being in films either seems blindingly obvious or is so flimsy I doubt whether anybody making the films actually meant things that way. Therefore saying 'Head' is my favourite film is not the same as me recommending my favourite album or my favourite book or my favourite TV series. I also doubt severely whether encouraging you all to rush to the shops to buy this film the way that I do with the records on this website will do any good either, because I doubt anybody enjoys films for the same things I do. Telling you to buy a certain album is easy because even if you don't share my passion for the words, ideas, music or performance individually, quality and excellence will genuinely out. 'Head' is different and I can well see why it bored some fans stiff even for me it's the main reason celluloid was invented. There are for instance many TV series I adore (The Monkees included) where you get to know a set of characters and whole worlds are created out of their interaction. But that rarely happens in film, where plots are king and everything is one layered and predictable. While I can see why other people would love films and enjoy them for the sake of being, the way you enjoy paintings, my brain is wired like a dot-to-dot puzzle in reverse, looking for connections and hidden meanings in things. My love of music partly comes from the fact that all the ideas are abstract and exist in a place where the music and words and sometimes the performances are telling different stories, hinting at layers and hidden meanings, all up to the interpretation of the listener. Films can't do that so well because the director effectively 'is' the listener, telling you where to look and how to think (a producer is the closest musical equivalent, but even then they can only choose how much prominence to give to certain things - how much stock you take by what they 'recommend' to you is up to you). 'Head' is to date the only thing I have ever seen (possibly '33 and a Third Revolutions Per Monkee', but not to the same extent) that lets the viewer interpret film the way that you can interpret music. 'Head' is my favourite playground for abstract ideas because this project is effectively anything you want it to be, with a series of metaphors and imagery that can be interpreted any way you wish with none of the ideas being right or wrong. That's why this project seems to have been called 'head' for a kick-off, complete with a soundtrack album that originally worked as a 'mirror' so you could see your own 'head' looking back from the album cover. Rather than some other projects that simply go mad, however, 'Head' has just enough sense of a point being made to make the quest for answers seem worth it, even if ultimately what you get out of the film is up to 'you' not the creators. I love basking in 'Head' because every-time I see the film I see something new in it and another possible angle about what the hell might be going on. If you don't want to know or don't care then just skip this section and accept that 'it's well made, well acted and directed, but deeply confusing' is about as full a description as you're likely to get.
Reviewing a film like this seems pointless anyway if you don't establish what it's 'about' so instead your treat is to hear various thoughts as to what might be going on in 'Head' (the ultimate 'mind' film, even if it is partly named because it takes place on Victor Mature's bonce). Let's start with who is meant to be 'narrating' this film. Amazingly once I got the internet I discovered that I wasn't alone in believing one theory which is that the film takes place in Micky's unconscious mind, possibly caused by the suicidal leap into the river. Patients brought back to lie often talk about their past lives 'flashing before their eyes' but mixed up with a surreal dreamlike quality where nothing is quite how it really happened (a side effect of the brain losing oxygen if you want to be scientific, although the idea of reviewing your past mistakes in preparation for an afterlife makes equal sense depending how you see it). Presumably as Micky jumps first this film is happening in 'his' brain and that might be why so many images from the TV series are lumped together and slightly askew ('Can You Dig It?' is the 'Everywhere A Sheikh Sheikh' episode, Frank Zappa returns after his cameo in 'Monkees Blow Their Minds' and Davy gets beaten to a pulp which isn't quite what happened in the similar 'Monkees In The Ring'). It is a scene, after all, accompanied by the chorus 'goodbye goodbye goodbye'. Then again the 'dream' seems to switch over midway from Micky to Davy as the 'central' character (with sequences for both Peter and Mike). Another thought is that it's a fan's narration after their 'suicide' bid (or at least they 're-wakening'), discovering that The Monkees had been conning them all along and that now they are adults they can 'see through' the evil plot to 'fool' them into loving this band. It could even be the fan 'John Brockman' (Screen Gems' marketing guy, who used his own face on the trailers for the film, which simply showed his head and the word 'Head' for a full fifty seconds; The Monkees weren't even mentioned). Alternately this is the Monkee 'characters' realising that as fictional creations they'll never escape the re-set button that recurs after every episode of the TV series (and most TV programmes in fact, so that they can be screened out of order in repeats) and making sure that they won't have to go through life again in the most drastic way possible. Just to add a spanner into the works, the 'Mike's birthday party' sequence is subtitled 'the cop's dream' and takes place after the policeman passes out on the floor - so is this film taken from lots of different viewpoints and stuck together like a collage (a film version of the Sgt Peppers front cover?)
Or is 'Head' a creative re-birth? The Monkees 'die' by hitting the water after all, the traditional imagery of being able to 'start anew' and it may be significant that The Monkees start to break out of their respective 'boxes' as the film unwinds. All The Monkees act deeply out of character across this film and get caught out for it. Mike, the straight-talking clear-thinking level-headed on, starts to placate people and urge the other Monkees (notably Micky) to 'play along' before conning people left right and centre. Davy, small and cheerful and friendly, gets the maddest at being restricted and ends the film fighting anyone who gets in his way. Micky, the commercial lynchpin of the entire series, blows up a coke machine in a daring display of anti-capitalism. And Peter, who for so long has played 'the dummy', meets an Indian mystic and starts talking deep philosophical thoughts. The thought seems to be that the Monkee characters can't go on being the relative ciphers they were in the TV show, where the re-set button is pressed every week; instead they're meant to be human beings and humans change and grow (this film's working title was 'Changes' after all). The Monkees 'outgrow' the boxes they're kept in - and yet by the end of the film, when they leap to their deaths to avoid the 're-set' button being used and wiping out all their new experiences, they wake up inside another box being taken back to the studio lot along with the other props, their grand plan failed. The boxes itself are a key piece of Monkee imagery: the band have since revealed that they referred to their VIP suite at the Colgems lot as their 'black box'; it was where each Monkee was 'stored' until needed by the camera crew and contained a giant door that could be locked, minimalist lighting and a big red bulb that would light up in each Monkees' respective 'corner' of the box to tell them if they were needed and someone was on the way to get them (it all seems pretty drastic but The Monkees had a habit of wondering off during the early TV episodes and by the end especially it was the only way of keeping tabs on all four at once). Similarly the black limousine that took them to gigs became known knowingly as the 'mobile black box' and the band always seemed to be in one or the other, except for when they were in a beige box of a hotel room on tour. The Monkees were in a way being stored like 'props' - the film is them rebelling big-time and 'escaping' this box. A 'black box' is also of course a flight recorder on an aircraft that recalls every past detail of your life - bringing us back to that point about the film being Micky's subconscious again.
One scene that sticks in the minds of many people is the one of Micky in the desert with the coke can machine that's 'empty'. On the one hand it seems like a comment on capitalism coming up short - the one offer of promise in a barren wasteland keeps coming up short while an incessant coke jingle plays. However I've always wondered if this was a comment on The Monkees itself. Asked to conjure up a phenomenon for teenagers, The Monkees are the coke-can, full of glorious catchy jingles and promising much, but in keeping with the guilty conscience of much of 'Head' the film suggests the band have come up 'short'. Over the course of the scene Micky holds a conversation with himself and tells his inner voice to go away - he then suffers a breakdown as his muse 'goes away'. Is this The Monkees' creativity coming up short? is this the 1960s teenager rejecting the only thing they had reflecting their society back to them on television (so Bob is actually being angry that they haven't realised a flawed concept is better than nothing at all and that The Monkees, while acted, is still far more 'real' than most bands/TV series on air?) Or is it just a bunch of iconographic imagery that looked good? Possibly related to this is the symbolism of using Victor Mature of all people as a big stomping monster. Victor, a big star in the 1940s, had only recently been coaxed out of retirement to play a similar parody of who he 'used' to be in the Peter Sellers vehicle 'After The Fox' (which funnily enough has another AAA connection thanks to it's Hollies film soundtrack song), thus proving that he could both laugh at himself and wasn't scared by younger pop bands (perhaps the reason why Bert and Bob hired him: when asked about the script for the publicity he said 'I don't understand it but it makes me laugh', which is about a good summary of 'Head' as you can find). However is there something 'extra' going on here - is the creation of a giant-sized institution named Victor trying to squash the Monkees like bugs under his weight and considering the quartet as nothing more than dandruff to appear in adverts for his hair really a reference to RCA Victor, the record label 'behind' Screen Gems, the label The Monkees were 'officially' on.
Although 'Head' is wider than just The Monkees and you don't have to know the band to 'get' the film - which is why so much of the promotion doesn't mention them at all. Much of 'Head' is instead a commentary of the fakery of the film and TV world, with a shockingly high amount of behind-the-scene shots showing what filming is 'really' like decades before reality TV became a thing and harking back to the old Monkees tradition where 'outtakes' would be used over the real thing if it worked better that way. Just as the TV series didn't sit in one genre but instead borrowed iconography from many different genres (horror, Westerns, romances, 'sports' films, science fiction) so too does 'Head' laugh in turn at all of these (while throwing in digs at commercials along the way). It's really only a small step from the TV series making us laugh at yet another cliché coming up to what happens here where the punchline is that real life doesn't work the way it does in the movies (Davy gets a literal 'punchline' when he gives up the violin to become a boxer despite the tears of Annette Funnicello - and then gets beaten to a pulp by Sonny Liston). The Monkees also have fun revealing how fake movie sets are: Micky simply walks off set complaining about fake bows and arrows while Mike tries to get him back. And it's not just film: the 'war' coverage is 'fake' too, with a 'Life' photographer shooting Peter as he struggles on for ammunition.
Related to this is the idea that movies and television have now reduced everything to the 'same level'. The scene where the person who turns out to be Victor Mature is channel hopping literally gives equal meaning to everything as he flicks through the channels without context or direction, ending up at the point where cartoons are now on the same level as a news report where a real human being dies. Reality and fiction now exists side by side on the television - and the boundaries between the two are blurred because both are down to 'perception' and context than what they are actually showing (is there a difference between a good actor playing a person whose been shot and someone whose been murdered for real?) The way the 'channel hopping' scene is made, it's as if the clips are talking to each other and having one long conversation that clearly wasn't 'designed' by the people who made each particular film. The screams between the events in Vietnam and the screaming crowds at a rock gig are also indistinguishable - it's all one scream. Television was meant to open our minds to other cultures and other people, allowing us to learn to think like they do and empathise with them, but there are now ('Now' being 1968) so many channels out there reflecting so many people living and dead that we can't identify with them all (it may be relevant that so many of the characters seen on screen are the 'American hero' type - and yet the Vietnamese soldier shot dead is executed by another supposed type of American military hero). Micky himself turns out to be an American war hero, with the whole of the Italian army surrendering to him even though he's done nothing pro-active about this at all; being a true child of the 1960s he instead turns his attention to the capitalist system and blows up the drinks machine. The Monkees are clearly the perfect vehicle for a discussion of where the lines between reality and fantasy blur after playing with the concept for so long during their very post-modernistic TV series (note the fact that the band revert to becoming 'dolls' once the audience gets up on stage and tears them to pieces).
Choice is a dilemma across the film, with the characters making 'wrong' choices that always leave them back inside 'the black box'. And not just for The Monkees either: we only see June Fairchild in two scenes, one where she kisses each Monkee in turn before ranking them 'even' and another where she threatens loudly to jump off a roof, a later scene showing her in Mike's arms as Micky pays up after a bet. Given that we don't know what happens to her character between scenes things might not be linked, but if I know Bob Rafelson's mind like I think I do then the issue here is that she's drawn to suicide by being made to 'choose'. The four Monkees are so different and yet she can't choose between any of them so her mind shuts down (this is, presumably, reflective a wider metaphor about not being able to choose between more than her favourite Monkee). It also reveals how callous human beings have become, with Mike and Micky more interested in their bet than her welfare.
In fact all four Monkees come out of this film very badly (as scripted I mean - their acting is impeccable throughout). All four of them get slagged off across this film (June Fairchild turns them all down and T C Jones calls them 'God's gift to the eight year olds' and tells them to 'add some talent into their act') and they all get insulted by somebody (Micky is called a 'fuzzy wuzzy' by the cops, Davy is a 'Lancashire midget greenie' when seen through Micky's magnifying glass - Rafelson clearly didn't understand whereabouts Manchester was as its a county in its own right - Peter gets laughed at for passing on the Swami's words 'I know nothing' and Mike really turns on the friends who have done nothing more sinister than hold an - admittedly odd - birthday party for him). Peter later reflected that this was just the way that Bob thought and that he was like this to them all the time. Fair does, but the fact that 'Head' is in a wider sense trying to show people for what they 'really' are, instead of the cardboard cut-out characters always shown on television as 'heroes' and 'villains'. Another set of figures who come out of this film badly are authority figures. We've seen time and again across the Monkees TV series that those in power don't know what they're doing and have no more right to be in control of other people than the rest of us. Usually that's set up for laughs: the record producer who doesn't realise the band trying to chase him all day are the ones he wants to hire, the spies and FBI agents who are so hopeless they should have been sent back to spy/FBI school and the crooked politicians in 'Monkee Mayor' spending more time ruining genuine campaign trails than working on their own policies. This film is, typically, darker: The Mayor in control of the whole town in the opening scene is totally hopeless and his 'message' keeps getting screwed up (even though it works fine for the guards with him) - notably the screw-ups happen every time he tries to dedicate the bridge 'to the people' (is this a lie?) The policeman who The Monkees try to persuade to find Davy is more interested in interrogating them, even though they ain't done nuttin'. The factory worker is too interested in his own profits to notice that anything has gone wrong with his precious machine - or that the workers are slowly committing suicide and suffering horrendous accidents (again, his mind has been shut off to human suffering). Even Bob and Jack, the directors officially 'in charge' of this production, are shown to be mere humans, standing around and arguing with Peter even though he's clearly upset and 'right' (his character would never hit a 'woman'- again they've lost touch with the human empathy thing). Absolute power corrupts absolutely and the band release any hold they had over an entire nation for this film, safe in the knowledge that most of their fans had probably relinquished their hold long before this anyway. In a way 'Head' is saying 'grow up my children and be yourselves now that you're armed with knowledge about the fact that no human ever has any real idea what they're doing, even the ones that pretend and have positions of power', though ironically you have to have already learnt that independence to be able to notice it from the clues in the film (though Micky, the voice of his generation, leaping to his death from a bridge is quite a graphic clue if you believe this theory).
An interesting side effect of this is that 'Head' is a film about the humility and yet the dignity of 'losing (that's not me being rude either: even Davy says it in his radio interview promoting the film as heard in the Rhino deluxe set of 'Head'). Many people mention the guest cast in 'Head' and for good reason: no other film has ever matched American footballers, Disney child stars and 40s film icons in such a way before. But note that 'Head' doesn't do the obvious and hire the 'most famous' any of these: instead it deliberately goes for second best in all cases. Ray Nitschke was, at the time, the star player of The Bay Green Packers, an American Football team that were trounced frequently when he first joined them and often bottom of the league (although things were picking up by the time of his appearance in 'Head' when he in particular was winning much respect for his abilities in the game). Instead of Muhammad Ali we get the man who lost to him, 'Sonny Liston'. For a former child star we get Annette Funicello, whose star had slipped slower but just as dramatically as The Monkees with her always caught in a single role (the sort she plays here). Victor Mature was labelled 'past it' after reaching middle age - though he never did a commercial for an anti-dandruff shampoo as far as I know it's the sort of thing people would have seen him doing, a comedown from his heyday. Frank Zappa too was still at the start of his career and far from the big name he would be later; in commercial terms in 1968 he too was a 'loveable loser'. The Monkees are as much a part of their time and as tightly labelled as all these other stars so in a way 'Head' is a means of preparing The Monkees for a future when they too are has-beens and doomed to failure. It's both flattering and nasty that all these 'losers' are given a chance to show another side to them across this film (nobody knew the two sports stars could act for a start) while simultaneously having them depicted as being 'less' smart than The Monkees, the only ones to see through the 'black box' delusion. However, as much as people had tried to knock all of these previously popular institutions down, they had all survived the passing of time and had all maintained a sort of 'loveable loser' brand of identity. Back in 1968 acts like crossdresser TC Jones and Frank Zappa were loved as much as feared for being great traditional eccentrics. Victor Mature might have been a star of yesteryear but he's taken age with good grace, playing the sort of roles that laughed at what he used to be. Ray Nitschke and Sonny Liston were loved even more because they'd 'lost' after hyped contests - and become noble in the way they bravely took defeat. Even Annette Funicello, whose career had got stuck for the past fifteen years, would have been a key memory for many people's childhoods back in 1968 and the viewers were of an age to start to think it 'sweet' she was still the same as they remembered rather than creepy. The Monkees know they're going to join this long list of second-bests, forgotten and trodden on by hipper acts of the 1960s, but by goodness if they were going to go out it was with the same courage and grace as their supporting cast. Having winners like Muhammad Ali (or Cassius Clay as he still was then) and The Beatles, would have been 'hipper' than Sonny Liston and Frank Zappa, but would have been 'wrong' too: this is a film were nobody wins because nobody is smart enough to work out the rules; The Monkees here are as far away from natural life winners The Beatles as they ever were.
This is, you see, a very 1960s film and works best if you see it through the eyes of people who don't know how quickly Frank Zappa's star is about to rise in the early 1970s or that Sonny Liston's sudden death two years after making this film would elevate him from fondly remembered laughing stock into anational treasure. We've spoken often across our reviews of the TV episodes about how this series was intended for one generation only - and that was the teenagers who till now hadn't had a 'television' voice. 'Head' comes fashionably late towards the end of the 1960s when things are changing and getting darker; it would have been interesting to see if the relatively fluffy Monkee antics of 1967 would have got darker or been taken off the air anyway even without the great 'you don't play your own instruments' outcry hadn't happened. This is a generation who just a few years ago were teeny-boppers but are fast becoming 'adults', people of age who can infiltrate the 'system' by voting and holding positions of power (at least in theory - it's hard to explain how terrified some older people in power were of this happening, although sadly the odd commercial hit like Ben and Jerry's or Glastonbury aside, the 1960s seems to have had far less impact on business models than on music, fashions and politics). However many have chosen not to do this but instead to take the money and run as it were, hypnotised and sterilised on a diet of mass produced fodder that's the downside of the 1960s philosophy (as the factory owner puts it 'the trouble with your times my young friend is that you may get exactly what you want'), the pure bliss of 'As We Go Along' in the pure snow and sunshine giving way to ugly signs and the relentless whirr of capitalist consumerism. The summer of love spirit that everything will change as soon as the world discovers 'love' hasn't worked out the way it was hoped and in fact wars and demonstrations and assassinations have got worse than ever in 1968, not better. (The world is still a desert and capitalism is still the only oasis in it - even if it's one that proves frustratingly empty (as Micky finds out to his cost). Note that it's after the factory worker leads the band 'astray' (the other three not listening to Davy whose spotted the carnage caused by consumerism) that the band end up in a black box for the first time (one which gives way to a degrading anti-dandruff commercial). The Monkees represented the 'summer of love' more than most bands - not as much as the 'Laurel Canyon' mob or the 'Haight Ashbury' crowd perhaps, but they were very much the closest thing to a 'hippie' band on TV. Flower power and the 'Monkee peace' so often plugged on the show's second season hasn't worked. So is this instead the hippieness that went leaping over the bridge with the band, the innocence of the 1960s committing suicide because it can't bear to live in an adult world it can't possibly change? Is this in fact why Mike hates being reminded of his 'birthday' so much - and its not the surprise element at all; he turns nasty only after Peter mentions his age which, technically, is a year out as Mike turned 26 that year (it might perhaps be prescient to point out that 'real' hippies hated The Monkees - Peter Tork, for instance, got booed off the stage at the Monterey Pop festical in June 1967 when trying to introduce The Buffalo Springfield - but Bob and Jack either didn't know that or didn't care; 'Head' is all about 'perception' and the link between The Monkees and the 1960s in most of the general public's minds was 'enough' to maybe make a point).
The final point to make is based around something the Swami says at the end, when he appears to Peter and urges him to 'think' his way outside the box. His comments are that 'there is no difference between the real and the vividly imaginative'. Much of his speech actually refers to what we were saying earlier about TV's ability to depict other people's feelings and thought systems. However this blurred line is particularly key to The Monkees' story and one we've banging on about ever since the first article written on the band for Alan's Album Archives eight years ago: this is not just a TV series or a music band but both. The Monkees was the first real multimedia experience ever made, but in order to become one it had to blur a few lines between how the two systems worked. The music world in the 1960s was all about authenticity and being 'real' - The Monkees scored there by (sometimes) playing their own instruments and using their own names. The TV series, however, knew that this 'Mike Micky Davy Peter' group was a fictional construction based only loosely around each individual. It made no bones about the fact that the shows were scripted and often showed behind-the-scenes clips to make sure; although again the lines were blurred with the 'one minute short' interview clips where The Monkees became 'real' all over again. The Swami's speech - and much of 'Head' - seem to be asking what the difference is and why this 'blurred line' has effectively ended The Monkees' before its time (though you can debate how long The Monkees could have sustained itself without it anyway, the big revelation that 'the band didn't play their own instruments' is clearly the point which 'ends' the band's career, even if it took three years for the full damage to be done). There is, though, no difference - to us. I may have an impression of the 'real' Micky, Mike, Davy and Peter but I don't' 'know' what they're like because I'm not them living life through eyes and having had their experiences. Therefore the 'real' Micky Mike Davy and Peter that comes across on film is as much of an impression and a caricature as the characters each one 'plays' in the TV series. No wonder the Swami says 'here there is a difference (at least most of us believe there is)'. The Monkees were the first act ever to be both TV and music stars and that blurred line (along with the great songs, witty scripts, perfect casting and The Monkeemobile) are why The Monkees were so important and - once the fuss all died down - resilient enough to last into the current day. The Swami hints that the only way to become real is to tear down all barriers between us, to accept that all humans have a depth that we can never understand while living our own lives. 'Beliefs' are the result of 'conditioning' from a certain set of humans: but what if we're 'all' right and life is really about perception? The only way to live life as it really is, instead of through other people or what we've been taught to think, 'is to experience the now without preconception or belief'. We've clearly moved a long way on from 'Last Train To Clarksville'...
Most of this may well turn out to be pure gibberish and The Monkees, Bob and Jack really did write it because of a bad LSD trip that meant nothing (the script even beat me there too though - 'why should I speak? Since I know nothing!') However I defy anyone to watch 'Head' without the sense that something is going on - whether this is what you think the film is all bout or not. This is, after all, the movie business' equivalent of the rorsarch blot: what you see in it is probably more about you than the creators. There is, nevertheless, something palpably in this film and I love projects like this that allow me to tease out what might be here without giving me any straight answers. What I feel about this film can never be proved 'wrong' - even though it can never be proved 'right'. 'Head' is the perfect launchpad for the best discussions about, well, almost anything really from the state of music to the film world to the thoughts of fictional characters to the restrictions we place around all mankind. 'Head' debates the pointlessness of war, before taking a surreal walk through a vacuum cleaner, keen to laugh as much at itself and its main cast as the many traditions it lampoons mercilessly across its hour and a half running time. It really is the most extraordinary adventure/comedy/ western/love story/mystery/drama/ musical/documentary/satire ever filmed, as was promised on the trailers. It's aged better than almost anything else from the period, moving slowly from an average rating of 'zilch' stars to four stars (surely we can push it up to five?; the revisionism took place as early as the 1973 re-issue with esteemed film critic Charles Champlin wondering, as much to himself as anyone else, 'how critics and early audiences could miss the film's fierce energy and tart iconoclastic point of view'). Even Mick Jagger, not the sort of person you'd expect to want to see an arty film about a manufactured pop group, loved the sound of it so much that he wrote off to Bob Rafeleson offering to trade the unseen Rolling Stones documentary 'Cocksucker Blues' for a print of 'Head' (alas history never did record what he thought of it!) It is the most 1960s film ever made - and simultaneously the most timeless. It's full of some of the greatest songs The Monkees ever made (not much space for them here but we've covered that aspect in full on our album review). It is the best swansong anybody could ever have hoped to make (notwithstanding the TV special and three LPs still to come, this one 'feels' like an end). It's a project that has fascinated and thrilled more than almost any other AAA creation. It is 'Head' and 'Head' is whatever the hell you want it to be. What other film, especially a music film starring a fictional musical band, could you ever possibly say that about?
Things About This Episode You Might Not Know Unless You're A Mega-Fan: 1) This was the first screen credit actor Jack Nicholson ever got in his life, a year before teaming up with Bob Rafelson again for 'Easy Rider', only here he's a co-writer 2) Debate rages as to how much of this film The Monkees actually wrote. According to Bob and Jack the six of them took a holiday in Ojai California and tossed around ideas for a whole week, but it was the pair of writers who physically 'wrote' the script and decided what would happen, reflected in only them getting a credit on the end of the film. The four Monkees have all claimed to have written sections to varying degrees, however, especially Peter who was particularly hurt not to get a credit (given that part of the film is about how The Monkees were never given credit for their own actions, this seems sadly plausible). 3) Of the songs used in the film soundtrack only 'Porpoise Song' was written specifically for the film. Peter had submitted both of his for 'Birds, Bees and Monkees' before 'Can You Dig It?' and 'Long Title' were chosen by Bert and Bob for the film and Peter originally sang the former song not Micky (as can be heard on the re-issues of the album soundtrack) while Mike wanted to sing 'Daddy's Song' (ditto). The last song to be decided on was 'Daddy's Song' - the working script for the film had Davy singing his own song 'If You Have The Time' instead 4) A major rift developed between Monkees and creators when the band learnt that they would not be allowed to direct part of the film (as they thought had been agreed) and when they learnt they would not be getting a writing credit for the film. This lead to a rift between the other three and Peter when they staged a walkout strike on the first day of shooting but the banjo player still turned up for work 5) The name 'Head' was added late in the day (specifically so Bob and Jack could use the joke on their promotion for 'Easy Rider' 'From the makers who gave you 'Head' although they were never allowed to use their gag). The working title while the film was being made was 'Changes' (later 'borrowed' as the name of a 1970 Monkee LP and possibly named after a Davy Jones outtake from 1968) and early test screenings of the film were given the name 'Untitled' 6) Unlike the TV series, almost all of 'Head' was filmed on location: Long Beach (opening 'ribbon cutting' scene), Pasadena Rosebowl (the 'WAR' chant),Salt Lake City ('Circle Sky'), Bronson Canyon (the war trenches), Hyperlon Sewage Treatment Plant (The 'Factory'), Palm Springs (Micky in the desert) and The Bahamas (The Monkees underwater) 7) The Monkees pad seen in the film is clearly meant to resemble the 'old' one from the TV series. Only the set had already been broken up and junked, with several of the familiar props unavailable. So for this one project it looks as if The Monkees have had a change of decorators, gaining an entire new staircase, a new couch and lounge chairs and even a barber's chair, stained glass in the windows, a fluffy carpet instead of bare floorboards and - most bizarrely - an aquarium. Has 'this' version of The Monkees gone up in the world? Mind you the decor is the least of the band's troubles in this film... 8) Fans of The Beatles have often seen a link between this film's loose structure and that of 'magical Mystery Tour'. However I say the biggest influence is 'Help!' with many similarities between the two projects. Both titles are very similar four letter words beginning with 'H', both have Ken Thorne providing the music (including a re-arranged classical piece on the end credits), the scenes for 'Ticket To Ride' and 'As We Go Along' both set in the snow are very similar and there's a tank that runs out of control in both films 9) Apparently the 'director's cut; for this film ran to 110 minutes, but predictably poor results at test screenings meant the film company insisted on the film being cut down to the 86 minutes we have today (even though the film was always going to be hit like this at any length!) Sadly to date the 'extra footage' has never been seen and may not even have been kept 10) Bob and Jack were arrested for a promotional campaign for the film that went wrong, being 'discovered' in the process of trying to stick a 'Head' label onto the helmet of a New York policeman! 11) Was there ever another film with a cast to rival 'Head's? American footballer Ray Nitschke, actress Terri Garr, boxer Sonny Liston, Disney star Annette Funicello, 40s movie star Victor Mature, future 1980s songstress Toni Basil and anarchic musician Frank Zappa! 12) A rare cut scene written for the movie but not filmed would have taken place after June Fairchild has kissed The Monkees and left. Each of them goes to the mirror to preen and sees themselves as 'others' see them: Mike is 'posh', Peter is a 'clown', Micky is a 'centaur' (eh? I don't get that one...) and Davy is a sheikh (not so sure about that one either come to that...) 13) Peter Tork left The Monkees after making this film and subsequent TV special '33 and a Third Revolutions Per Monkee'. The others new of his decision and it was even incorporated into the film: the scene on Mike's birthday is set a day before his last official day as a Monkee, December 31st 1968 (the date seen on the telegram he receives; the others all signed new contracts through 1969, Mike buying his out a year later and bankrupting himself in the process) 14) Davy had already married his first wife Linda in secret earlier in the year. Her first appearance on film comes as one of the dancers in the 'Long Title' sequence, although she's not actually dancing with Davy. Phyllis Nesmith, Mike's first wife, also appears in the same scene - she's the one in a floral dress.
Ratings: At The Time: Unknown/AAA Rating: 10/10
"33 and 1/3rd Revolutions Per Monkee"
(Recorded November 1968, First broadcast April 14th 1969)
"I don't believe it!"
Music: I'm A Believer (Micky)/Prithee (Do Not Ask For Love) (Peter)/Naked Persimmon (Mike)/Goldilocks Sometime (Davy)/Wind-Up Man (Monkees)/Darwin (Monkees)/I Go Ape! (Monkees)/Medley: At The Hop-I'm Ready-A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On-Tutti Frutti-Shake A Tailfeather-Blue Monday-Little Darlin'-Long Tall Sally-Down The Line-Dem Dry Bones (Monkees with Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and Little Richard)/Come On Up (Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll and The Trinity)/A String For My Kite (Monkees)/Solfeggietto (Peter)/Listen To The Band (Monkees)/California Here I Come! (Peter)
Main Writer: Jack Good and Art Fisher Director: Art Fisher
Plot: Brian Auger and his less-than-lovely assistant Julie Driscoll want to brainwash the world through the powers of television and have an electro-thought machine that allows them to do just that. For reasons best known to themselves and the director, they decide to conjure up The Monkees and 'brainwash' the real Micky, Mike, Peter and Davy into taking up new roles as Monkees. Each one gets trapped in a hypnotising 'tube' and has their own 'musical fantasy' relating to the direction they wanted to take The Monkees in. Somewhere in the middle of all this is the idea of evolution - that The Monkees have to progress from their primate stage and Charles Darwin is somehow shoe-horned into the plot as a fellow mad scientist. Along the way Auger decides that the experiment is taking too long so he 'invents' rock and roll, with a parody concert set at the Paramount Theatre on December 7th 1956 and attended by Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Fat Domino who play a rock and roll medley with and without the Monkees joining in. Auger and Driscoll then perform one of their own songs before a sad and wistful Davy reflects on what might have been, Peter sits down to play a big of his favourite Bach piece and then The Monkees all turn up for one final performance, an epic version of 'Listen To The Band' that lasts nearly twenty minutes. It's a lengthy 'spoof' of the Monkees romps in which the band themselves don't do much but all sorts of psychedelic effects happen and we cut to the guests/dancers/extras doing weird things. The camera pulls away to reveal this is all taking place in a 'book' titled 'Chaos Has Come Again' and has 'The Beginning Of The End' on the back cover. This is shut with a big crash, bringing an end to the song, before Peter's last performance as a Monkee has him telling us 'this is the final end!' as he plays 'California Here It Comes' out to the finish. In other words, no that wasn't a drug-induced dream you had back in 1969, this special really happened and yes it was every bit as weird, surreal and downright confusing as you remember (this isn't the sort of special you'd forget if you've seen it) - and I'm sorry if I've just started off an acid flashback for you, as if I have this will be a very uncomfortable experience all round.
What we learn about The Monkees In This Episode: Mike: Or 'Monkee number threre' as he's labelled. His 'dream' is the most pertinent of the four and 'Naked Persimmon' involves a schizophrenic Nesmith trying to be both country legend and rock star. Both Mike's 'die' during the course of the sequence. Elsewhere 'Listen To The Band' is started by Mike as a sad lonesome ballad before everyone else joins in and it becomes an epic. Micky: Is 'Monkee number one'. His big number is an R and B version of 'I'm A Believer', which is great until the part where Julie Driscoll decides to screech right along with him. Micky is also the 'lead' singer of The Primate Monkees as they sing 'I Go Ape!' Davy: Is Monkee number four. His dream sequence is a children's tale that has him inch high and turned into a storybook character. Peter: Is 'Monkee number two'. His big moment is an Indian re-arrangement of Medival-sounding ballad 'Prithee', previously recorded by both Micky and Davy for the band (though technically this is the song's first 'release').
Things that don't make sense: Strap yourselves in, we're going to be here for around 33 and 1/3rd pages to sort this mess out! Firstly, the obvious: why this show ever got on the air for a start. Along with 'why did Screen Gems show this opposite the Oscars Award Ceremony which back in 1969 was a 'must see'? (they seem to all intents and purposes have been pleased with the special and still expected a fair audience similar to the end of the second season). Oh and another big why - how on earth did a channel as professional as NBC 'accidentally' screen parts of this special out of sequence the first time round? (Confused by what was going on but assuming it was part of the madness, no one complained!) However most of the problems with this special stem from the chaotic way it was made, with The Monkees unlucky enough to get the short straw in a battle of productions delayed by an NBC strike, meaning that the show was made in a hurry (even by Monkees standards) and in a totally different setting which neither band nor director had rehearsed (most of the special was meant to be an 'outside broadcast', though exactly where outdoors has never been said). this explains a lot of the dodgy camera shots, the unrehearsed extras (or Monkee occasionally) and the general sense that this is a bad school play. The most hilarious moment comes in the seconde scene where Drsicoll 'telepathically' talks to the audience and says 'silly boys - brute force will get you nowhere' while Mike Nesmith desperately clings to his 'hypnotising tube' because if he even breathes on it strangely it will topple over! However, this surely could have been avoided. Given the extraordinarily long time between recording and broadcast dates (roughly double the amount on the second series) and the fact that Screen Gems still expected a semi-big hit with this special, why not wait until the 'proper' equipment was ready and starty again?
As for the script, who are Auger and Driscoll meant to be? The confusing opening speech - including munching apples - seems to hint that the pair are our 'creators', Gods if you will ending the Garden of Eden themselves as they brainwash mankind. Another view is that they're wizards/aliens who have taken an interest in Earth and just happen to like munching apples without realising the significance. A third has Auger is the devil and he's changed his form since he was Mr Zero - that might explain why he wants to get his own back on The Monkees although this raises another 'thing that doesn't make sense'. The TV Monkees were never in a position of brainwashing anybody - their only chance to appear on television got blown by Fern and Davy doing so badly at a talent show. Fair enough then, this is the 'real' Monkees as they are in real life - only they're not but the caricatures of the TV characters. Which means that they're both. Or neither. My head hurts! (They really didn't think this through did they?)
Linked to this - who is Driscoll and what is she to Auger? (Yeah apart from singer and organist - we'll leave that to one side a minute). In the first scene she's laughing and cackling along with him and is in truth a lot scarier than he is but then in the second scene she's trying to 'help', urging The Monkees to 'think yourselves free'. Won't Auger be cross when he comes back? And why, if she was always there to help the hapless foursome, is she so mocking and beastly to them? Why does she appear in Micky's 'dream' but not those of the other three? And where has Auger gone away - did he run out of apples or something?
In the 'Golidlocks Sometime' sequence, why does Auger interrupt the action, laugh at The Monkees' dreams and then allow the song to run on with a 'false stop' dance sequence that adds nothing (he doesn't seem the type of wizard to be a fan of dolls dancing somehow).
Where does Darwin come into play? Though certainly 'connected' with the idea of evolution, old Charlie boy is hardly the wizard he's painted out to be here. Unless of course you assume that he went back in time to pose as a human to come up with the theory and lived out a normal human lifespan (and a painful I might add - he clearly had an early form of m.e./cfs) in his pointless quest to turn humans on to evolution. And why does he spend so much of his time manically laughing and making bad puns about man rising up from being fish ('but without the chips of course - ha ha!') Full marks for the stupidest line in I've heard in years ('Evolution can do no more - this is where science steps over!' I get the drift (Evolution has reached a peak and now scientist humans can manufacture things themselves) but surely someone involved with this production should have pointed out that you can't get much more sciency than 'evolution' (which was taught as part of biology last time I looked). This is not the same Darwin I studied at school and doesn't even look that much like him...
During the rock and roll sequences Micky falls in love with Marilyn Monroe, an actress whose of the completely wrong vintage for the music playing and who would have been sixteen years older than Micky had she not already died in 1962, seven years before this special was aired. So why the Charles Darwin is she here?!
Why is the rock and roll sequence here at all? Yes I get that The Monkees are just the tip of an iceberg of mass-commercialism, but unlike say 'Head' (which made a point of making all the guest parts 'losers' who had lost their way and fame and been stuck in time the way The Monkees had been) we don't know what to think. Are the 1950s a warning about what will happen to The Monkees when everybody 'catches on'? If so then I'd take it - even in 1969, with a slight dip, Fats Little and Jerry Lee were all still fairly big name performers and only the latter marrying his cousin had really caused sales to dip. The answer to this special seems to be: The Monkees can't last and they're going to be dried up, just as those timeless legends from the 1950s we all still know and love.
I've just seen Mike asked to bend over so the backing singer can see his tail-feather. This is clearly wrong. I suddenly feel very sick.
Hmm something tells me I've spent far longer thinking about this special than the people making it did...
Oh and why the heck was Julie Driscoll ever popular? Auger and Driscoll have the audacity to laugh at The Monkees for having no talent - eh?!
Best Five Quotes: 1) Auger - "We have the knowledge, evil though it be, to twist the mind to any lunacy we wish through this electro-thought machine - I'll demonstrate exactly what I mean. We'll take the means of mass communication, use them for commercial exploitation, create a new four part rhythm group, four simply lads talent little or not, and through the latest fad of rock and roll conduct experiments in mind control on an unsuspecting public. I'll brainwash them and they'll brainwash - the world!" 2) Driscoll - "Silly boys, brute force will get you nowhere. Here's not here now - your minds are free. Use them! Think yourselves out! Relax, relax, feel your body sinking and your spirits rising. Rising out of your heads, floating away into your own world of fantasy..." 3) "I'm a wind up man, programmed to be entertaining, turn the key, I'm a fully automatic wind-up man, invented by the teeny-bopper turn me on and I will sing a song about the wind-up man! I'm a wind-up man programmed to be entertaining, turn me on and I will sing a song about the wind up world of people watching television, wind-up man, can you hear me laughing at you? Wind-up man!" 4) Darwin - Balderdash! Rubbish and tommy rot! Do you know who I am or have you forgot? You're trying to run before you can walk, now let's get back to the start of it all...In the beginning there was Darwin (Here's my card!) Then came the fish (But without the chips of course, ha ha!) Dinosaurs and Brontasaurs followed (Yes it's in my book 'Origin Of Species') and started an evolution! 5) Announcer - "And here they come, idloized, plasticised, psycho-analysed, sterilised - The Monkees!" 6) "Awake before it's too late, there comes a time when love bangs at your door and when that time comes run it run it and then..."
Postmodernisms: Oodles. For a start The Monkees are drawing attention to their own creation as mass-produced consumerist fodder, supposedly 'brainwashing' a sleeping world into being sucked into their empty capitalist greedy plot. The show also veers from dismissing the band as 'puppets' to making them out to be 'brainwashed' - either way, this special is very openly mocking the TV show. Then there's the continual jokes about the band as 'apes' and 'monkeys' as well as addressing 'evolution' in general (the entire special starts with Julie Driscoll eating an apple, a Biblical reference to man's 'creation'). You could throw in the 'advert' that crops up behind the 'Wind-Up Man' sequence with 'this space for rent' written all over it. And the fact that Darwin rips through the screen and physically tears it up to make his point. Then there's the music: all four Monkees are seen in 'exaggerations' of themselves, like an LSD-fuelled vision of what the band played in their solo spots on their first concert tour (Micky 'James Brown' Dolenz re-invents 'I'm A Believer', Peter gets trippy on 'Prithee', Mike is torn between country and rock on 'Naked Persimmon' and Davy is storybook cute on 'Golidlocks Sometime'. During the closing 'Listen To The Band' jam someone holds up a very awkward sign during the quartet's last performance together: 'They're Really Playing This!' You can throw in 'Wind-Up Man' there too, a track deliberately designed to sound like a horribly irritating commercial and where the 'evil' Auger and Darwin himself can be seen 'laughing' at the people at home for watching all this rubbish. To put this in context this would be the equivalent of Alan's Album Archives writing parody editions of its own newsletters every April Fool's Day and expecting people to come back after uproariously laughing at itself (erm, guess what book we have coming out in just over a year's time!) The special actually ends with the camera running out of film! And the single greatest entry across this whole book so great we have to quote it in full as Brian Auger calls out to producer Jack Good and says: 'Wait a minute Jack, hold on, stop the show, look this brainwashing bit has completely out of hand. I'm Brian Auger and this is Julie Driscoll and we don't any more of this sort of brainwashing business - what we want is complete and total freedom. Do you understand what this means?' 'Yeah - utter bloody shambles!'
Davy Love Rating: Minus a Million. In fact every Monkee scores minus a million here - nobody loves The Monkees anymore, they're finished, washed up, through, shown for what they 'really' are as mass media puppets and the creation of capitalist pigs, etc etc
Review: They wanted it to be a sequel to 'Head', one of the most perfectly realised, groundbreaking, multi-layered film projects ever created. It ended up looking like one of those embarrassing pantomimes the children's series Rainbow used to do but with a scary man and woman instead of Rod, Jane and Freddy (actually that is about the same!) The general consensus among Monkee fans is that '33 and a Third' was a clumsy attempt to do on a low budget what the band had already done perfectly with a big one, with a wannabe writer in Art Fisher (previous experience: a James Brown music special very different to this one) whacking fans over the 'head' with the sort of thing the film had only hinted at. Watching it at times is like the worst acid trip of your life, as an old friend is murdered in front of you - after they've dug their own grave first. The few fans The Monkees had left in 1969 really hoped that the promise of three specials in the year (the other two were cancelled after this) really would be 'special', with The Monkees all given the chance to prove how great and talented they were across a longer period of time, breaking free from the 'control' of the TV series the same way they had musically on 'Headquarters'. Instead it doesn't feel special at all, just cheap and nasty and full of cruel digs at how stupid The Monkees were for being brainwashed and how stupid we all were for being taken in for so long. In one stroke this special explains why the last three years of our lives were wasted (and by osmosis the last 500 odd pages of this book) and we're all supposed to say 'thankyou, how clever!' at having this pointed out. I don't think so. The strike and the impact it caused on this rushed and clumsy production is clearly to blame for some of the issues, but it could have been shot with a million pounds a scene and still been wrong because its so badly put together at the start. I think it's fair to say that neither Art Fisher nor Jack Good (creator of the 'Oh Boy' series among others) ever really 'got' The Monkees or even came anywhere close.
There is, you see, just enough of a hint in this special about why The Monkees weren't offering manufactured anything. While Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll ponce about like the main stars (to be fair they're only doing what the script demands) their one-layered performance is exactly what you see in other Magical Mystery Tour-lite specials like this one around back then. Even confined to quarters, with just a song each and a shared jam plus thirty second bursts of crock and roll hits, The Monkees prove why if this was being brainwashed most fans would gladly welcome being brainwashed all over again. Micky purrs like a panther on 'I'm A Believer', updated to sound contemporary and fresh and ironically its the 'hip' presence of Driscoll that comes close to ruining it. Even at the time Peter's Indian-inspired 'Prithee' seemed bonkers and OTT as well as horrifically dated - but this period of music charms for several good reasons and by combining the fading demand for all things Eastern with a Medieval feel, Peter gets close to being 'timeless'. Mike's 'Naked Persimmon' is a real song that 'got away', a debate between his country and rock sides without any clear winner as he veers between one extreme to another, in front of a daringly inventive split screen that features two Mike's on a 'wanted' poster. Very clever Nes. Even 'Golidlocks Sometime' isn't as horrifically chirpy as some other Davy songs and has a really pretty melody, while 'A String For My Kite' is beautifully sung by the Mancunian melodicist. The 1950s rock pastiche, while inordinately stupid, is delivered with just enough of a wink and a nod to get The Monkees by. 'Wind Up Man', too, is the best irritating song I've had the pleasure to be irritated by in a long time, perfectly capturing the incessant droning persistence of consumerism (even if I'd still prefer a shampoo commercial shot in Victor Mature's hair to make the point). 'Listen To The Band' is great for the first four minutes, even if its a shame about the other sixteen. Somehow it makes sense, though, that The Monkees' original career (ie the one with all four members) ends with a monumental postmodern jam about waving goodbye to us and to each other - it's a neat mirror of the 'Theme' which promises the band will come 'walking down the street' full of energy and excitement as we hear them turning away and slumping to the floor.
It's not just The Monkees either. There are some great ideas in this special which have either been lost because they're surrounded by so many bad ones or because the passing of time has seen so many other shows catch up that they seem ordinary. Even in the opening shot, though, we get Julie's eyes in Brian's stomach and all sorts of post-production effects that would have been mind-blowing television in 1969, already a move ahead from the second series of the TV series even with such a low budget and interrupted production. Darwin ripping up the screen still looks remarkable now nearly fifty years on. The four pianos stacked on each other (Fats, Little, Jerry and Brian) is an astonishing bit of editing work without any obvious lines around it. The simple set dressing for 'I Go Ape!' is fab, even if the chunky costumes aren't. The sudden cuts away to various gorillas doing human things - like wearing headphones or nodding along - are a good ten years ahead of their time. The dancing skeletons who jive along with the Clara Ward Singers are laughable now, but you show me another programme from 1969 with graphics this god - especially when this complex combination of live action and animation is then burnt from the middle out! (That's witchcraft for 1969!) The fact that The Monkees are kept in a 'cage' between shows is simple yet very effective (and resembles the 'truth' more than the production team perhaps knew - the TV show directors took to locking the band up in a special room when they weren't need to make sure they wouldn't walk away!) Mike Nesmith sings to himself using split screen - and just when you think you've worked out how they've done it he reaches over the rather obvious 'split' line and reveals the production is so much cleverer than you think it is. Not to mention the moment when the penny drops and some of the half-ends wrap themselves together, with the debate about whether it is better to be controlled and brainwashed but making music people will listen to - or whether it's better to be 'free' and limitless, but because of our lack of rules we'll end up making more noise. Alas this promising discovery is rather swept aside by a lovely Davy Jones vocal on 'A String For My Kite' and Peter Tork doing his 'Bach' bit and the whole idea gets lost.
Or am I being unfair? Is this special in fact even more clever than Head and its just the execution that's clumsier? I'll throw this in here now because I'm not quite sure where else it goes, but watching it back reminds me of a lot of the late 1960s books that theorised that God was an alien and man was created in his image twinned with the DNA of monkeys. Now admittedly this special is weird enough without throwing that in, but it would explain this special's obsession with evolution and the fact a giant gorilla paw comes out of nowhere to close a book marked 'the beginning of the end' while the world explodes on the last note. Throughout the special you can see a tug of war between the idea of being controlled (all the things the 1960s thinks of as 'bad' in rock songs: capitalism, greed, wars, 'the man') and the idea at the end of limitless freedom, which sounds like a great idea when Mike strikes up 'Listen To The Band' but is sounding like a bad move twenty minutes later when everyone's playing randomly and you have the mother of all migraines. There are many books from this era that explore, both fictionally and potentially factually, the idea that Mankind rebelled against God/ET and went his own way in the universe, swapping peace but no freedom for freedom but no peace. There was a real feeling in 1969, as we've seen with every AAA band around that year, that the pendulum was swinging like crazy and society could yet go either way. We know now sadly (and to me its sadly if not you) that the 60s idealism of thinking for yourself and overthrowing outdated regimes won't last past the next few years of the next decade. There was a sense that it wouldn't even back then, with the 'discovery' of drugs and free love that opened so many doors in 1967 having closed for good in so many cases by 1969, with endless meaningless parties, endless meaningless sex without love and too many days wasted strung out on dope. The Monkees couldn't have made this show in any earlier year, just as they couldn't have got away with the first TV season any later - say what you will about how this show reflects The Monkees (sand we have) but it's a very prescient take on the 1960s. You could even compare it to the Darwin-era of the 19th century when man was caught between obeying God without question or accepting scientific principles that over-rode what was written in the Bible (the very reason a God-fearing Darwin didn't publish his theory for years before he heard of a scientist having similar thoughts - he was actually a very different character to the aggressive chap seen in this episode). The end result, then, is that just as in the TV series The Monkees are the product of their generation, battered about by the waves of pop brainwashing and fakeness set against their growing independence and demands for authenticity, which is actually a very neat conclusion to The Monkees' 1960s film work after all. A few more clues would have been nice, though, if any of this last paragraph is true.
However, that's still no excuse for wasting all the talents in the show in the first place, with the wrong people getting the most air time and the band the few people tuning in have come to see so far down the screen time sheets it hurts. Almost the entire second half is pointless, a two minute song about kites and the first four of 'Listen To The Band' apart. The Auger/Driscoll duet is atrocious - this is a pair that should have got other musicians in to play and sing on their records! The 'awake' bit that the alien version of Pan's People dance to in funny costumes, against a backdrop of volcanoes, is both the single stupidest and cheapest looking Monkee production since the finger puppets and make you long for something more palatable - like a five hour musical based on 'Ladies Aid Society'. If I'd seen a schoolplay this bad I'd have asked for my money back - as an NBC production, even a badly hit and doomed one, it's a disaster. Peter Tork's grand farewell should amount to more than an Eastern-flavoured cover song, a quick burst of Bach and an unlistenable performance of 'Listen To The Band', interrupted by all four Monkee larking around in ape costumes. The rock and roll legends really needn't have turned up (just why did they turn up?) The script needs starting again completely from scratch, missing the laughs and alternating between being blindingly obvious and offensively obscure all the way through. As the song says, I can almost hear them laughing at me while I'm watching this - but not The Monkees but Good and Fisher. As a sequel to the TV series it's a disappointment. As a piece of entertainment in its own right it's flimsy and crude. As standalone special with so much riding on it (the other two TV specials and who knows what next?) it's a disaster. Even as a period piece it's an overblown under-budgeted farce. And yet despite all the mud that's thrown at The Monkees across this special their reputations somehow remain unsullied: at least they had the good grace to laugh at themselves and it's not the brainwashed who deserve our sneers but the brainwashers. The Monkees deserved a better finale than this. And yet the special is so utterly unlike anything else you will ever see and so totally utterly often stupidly daring I still can't help but love this special, for all it's many many many faults.
Weren't they good? They made me happy. Now how on earth can they make it alone, without Bert or Bob to guide them?
Things About This Episode You Might Not Know Unless You're A Mega-Fan: 1) What's the significance of the date and place: Paramount Studios, December 7th 1956? Erm, like most features of this special you got me there - the date seems to have been plucked at random from what I can tell. However it might be worth noting that Elvis signed his first film contract with Paramount Pictures earlier in the year and on this very date got into 'trouble' with the deep South and racial laws by performing a joint concert with B B King and a photocall where both had their arms round each other caused an outcry at the time. However this all took place at Memphis radio station WDIA and nothing to do with the Paramount Theatre! 2) Filming for the special started the day after the band's last concert as a quartet at The Festival Hall in Osaka, Japan. It marked a busy week for the band and especially Peter Tork, who with his contract up and unwilling to re-sign, went from one of the busiest weeks of his life (even by Monkee standards) to having nothing to do for the next few years. 3) This was the first and - until 1997 - only Monkee recording made on videotape rather than 16 or 35 mm film (as per the series and the film), a deliberate decision because despite losing a sharpness and quality it made it much easier for effects to be added in post-production. There are a lot of them in this special, even if few of them turn out the way they were intended (though the one of the two Mikes in 'Naked Persimmon' works rather well for the times). 4) As usual with The Monkees, the backing tracks were made largely without their contributions. However all four Monkees sang to these backing tracks 'as live' in the studio - the only time they ever did this. 5) There are only five names carried across to the credits from the TV series - the four Monkees and executive producer Ward Sylvester. If you're wondering where Bert and Bob are, they're busy making 'Easy Rider' with Head scriptwriter Jack Nicholson. 6) The bored looking extras were all genuine hippies from the Sunset Strip (the place with the riots Mike talks about in a 'minute short' segment) bussed into the studios at the production team's expense. The one who isn't is Monkees pal Rip Taylor (last seen nearly a year earlier as Wizard Glick in 'The Frodis Caper'). There is also one last hurrah for the original Monkee extras David Price plays drums on 'Little Darlin' and speaks the show's latest catchphrase 'I don't believe it!' 7) Though fie or so months separate the two recordings, the Monkees studio re-recording of 'Listen To The Band' was rush-released to the shops twelve days after the shambolic early version in this special first aired. Given the poor reception to the special this publicity scheme rather backfired. 8) Reine Stewart, Peter's girlfriend of the time and soon to be the drummer in his short-lived band 'Release' filled in for Fats Domino's drummer in the camera rehearsals when he failed to show and can be seen playing drums next to Jerry Lee Lewis in the 'Listen To The Band' jam 9) Puzzlingly, this special is the only Monkee inclusion at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York and the copy is one of the show in transmission order, not the intended order used on videos and DVD 10) Talking of which, modern-day viewers can see the special in its entirety as a special feature on the DVD set of the second season. There's also two optional extras to hear commentaries by director Art Fisher and guest star Brian Auger on the one hand (they're really proud of the special and thinks it stands up really well) and Micky on another (who thinks it looks awful and laughs most of the way through it. His last comment: a wry 'Boy, was that weird!')
Ratings: At The Time: Unknown/AAA Rating: 3/10
TV Episode #781
"Hey! Hey! It's The Monkees!" aka "Episode 781"
(Recorded January 1997, First broadcast February 17th 1997)
"Even if you're all grown up, you're just as dumb as you ever were!"
Music: You and I (Romp/Performance) Circle Sky (90s Version) (Performance) Antarctica (Romp/Performance) Regional Girl (Performance) Hits Medley (Performance)
Main Writer: Mike Nesmith Director: Mike Nesmith
Plot: There isn't one! Or rather, The Monkees keep trying to avoid one. It's 1997 and The Monkees' series has continued to run for thirty years even though we at home have never had the chance to see it. The Monkees still live together at their beach pad and are still musicians but they've become increasingly tired by having their lives interrupted by endless plots. In turn they throw out a butler whose comes from a 'mansion that some say is...haunted!', a girl in love with Davy whose being chased by 'guys with cell phones and...black gloves' and a kid whose pet pig is about to be sold '...for bacon!' , but the closest the band come to a plot is performing at a prestigious country establishment where if it doesn't go well the owners may 'lose...the club!' Along the way Micky develops a new invention that allows him to throw up via a special effect ('Magnificent Monkee Hurl'), the laughter track breaks down and creates chaos, Mike re-develops the Monkeemobile so that it's 'dimensionally transcendent' (it now has a 'space' button, a 'time' button and has the ability to change objects at random - which causes a few surprises during The Monkees' actual performance!) Alas the Monkees end up using so much of their budget the episode has to keep cutting to footage of a lizard sunning itself on a rock and the episode ends prematurely, shortly after they find a kissing couple outside their house have covered it in toilet paper (it's an American thing, so I'm told!)
What we learn about The Monkees In This Episode: Mike: Seems to have changed character with Micky for this episode, re-designing the Monkeemobile and cracking jokes. This aged Mike is far less bossy and no longer wears a wool-hat ('I haven't seen that hat in twenty-five years!') but is still game enough to run into the sea as per the Monkees' opening titles and demonstrate the news in interpretative dance. He's also the Monkees' memory checker, remembering old episode plots from years ago. Introduced by the club owner as Charlie. Micky: Seems to have had a character transplant with Mike and has now become 'the bossy one', forever pushing the band to rehearse. Is still enough of an inventor to create 'Magical Monkees Hurl' although he reveals later it's just a special effect. Once had a tomato thrown at him during a concert in 1967 which for some strange reason the drummer still keeps in the fridge. Introduced by the club owner as Arlo. Davy: Is perhaps the most similar to his old self - he's still a sucker for a pretty face, seen trying to chat up girls who are now half his age during the video for 'Regional Girl' and even gets stars in his eyes and ears sometimes ('leftovers' from the old days). Dresses in drag as Ethel Merman to distract a guard. He's also slightly vain, going back to the broken laughter track to pretend that the applause of all for himself ('You like me! You really like me!'). Introduced by the club owner as Humphrey. Peter: Knows a lot of euphemisms for kissing, throwing up and being bonkers. Seems slightly smarter, if a bit quieter, than his 60s self though he still pulls many of the same expressions. He likes what the vandals have done to The Monkees' pad at the end of the episode. Introduced by the club owner as Bing. The Monkees 'probably' own the house 'by now', with no appearance by the landlord.
Things that don't make sense: There seems to be some confusion about how successful The Monkees ever were in this timeline. At times the band still seem to be unknowns, dodging rotten fruit in the past and greeted with silence when their name is announced. On the other hand the club owner insists on them playing their 'hits', which rather suggests they had some, and everyone in the audience remembers being beaten up for owning a Monkees lunchbox strangely ('it was quite a weapon though wasn't it?!') The fictional Monkees also had a glove puppet made of them which Peter happens to own - just like 'our' Monkees!
Best Five Quotes: 1) Micky - "What was the name of that other band, with all the blood and the make-up?" Davy - "Kiss?" Micky - "No thanks. You know, they have high heels and the guy has a nine-foot tongue" Mike - "Kiss?" Micky - "No, but Davy wants one!" 2) Micky "We'd better rehearse - before another plotline shows up!" 3) Davy - "Don't you think we really need a storyline?" Mike - "Not really, not as long as we're having a good time" Davy - "You mean, you think it's alright that we have no visible means of support?" Micky - "Who says our means have to be visible?" Davy - "Don't you think we should have some dramatic tension, some drama, some distress?" Mike - "Not really, I mean we've been living like this for years. Once in a while a good storyline comes along, but other than that it's better hanging round on the beach, life's a bowl of oysters, what could be better?" 4) Girl in Car outside The Monkees' pad "Once four boys moved into this house, went crazy and never moved out!" 5) Davy - "But she has had stars in her eyes!" Micky - "Yeah and oranges and grapefruits and the international symbol for slippery when wet!"
Romps/Performances: First up, 'You and I' in which The Monkees are seen to skate while miming their parts. Davy, Micky and Peter are all pretty good but Mike - traditionally the least physically active of The Monkees is amazing with a red bandana over his face (erm, is that really him as we're led to believe?) A random dog turns up to skate too! Second, the re-arrangement of 'Circle Sky' is performed by the band on the beach before the video cuts to shots of the band performing the song on a series of televisions. Note that Davy plays the guitar for this one. Thirdly, 'Antarctica' - a Bill Martin song that only ever appeared in this episode - starts with The Monkees performing out in the beach and cuts to them apparently at the South Pole dressed in furs looking cold. Fourthly, 'Regional Girl' features the band and extras walking past the camera, supposedly backstage, where only Micky mimes the song while Mike plays air guitar and Davy chats up his co-stars! Finally, The Monkees performance of old hits features 'Last Train To Clarksville/Daydream Believer/I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone/I'm A Believer/Pleasant Valley Sunday' and is an otherwise 'normal' performance except for the kids playing with the buttons on the Monkeemobile that suddenly change their instruments into different objects at random!
Postmodernisms: Lots. The doorbell at The Monkees' pad plays their theme tune. The fact that The Monkees' don't have a 'plot' suggests they know they're on television. The kissing teenagers out in the car referring to an 'outsider's view of The Monkees as 'four men who went inside that house and went mad!' The sight of 'Circle Sky' being performed on multiple TVs. The references to the budget and running out of film so that they have to keep cutting to a lizard sunning itself on a rock. The laughter track breaking down (interestingly, this wasn't used on the final few Monkees episodes - is this why?) The references to old plotlines (which interestingly aren't quite accurate - the one about a haunted house is of course episode two not 106, while the one about a pet being sold was actually a horse not a 'calf') plus Davy repeating his performance in drag from 'Some Like It Lukewarm', safe in the knowledge that viewers at home will know he's done this before. The club owner's references to Monkee lunchboxes and finger puppets.
Davy Love Rating: About a three. Davy gets only a 'hot dog' coming out of his ears when he meets the princess and is clearly worried about her stability even if he thinks she's pretty (however Davy clearly still has an effect on her - she gets most of the symbols from a fruit machine in her eyes at some point!)
Ad Lib: Micky's speech about not liking the changes to The Monkeemobile are followed by the drummer playing around with two crabs that try to eat each other, causing Micky to sob 'ohhh, he's dead!' catching both Mike and Peter off guard with their giggles!
Review: There was a lot being asked of the Nesmith written and directed reunion special. It had to remind people of the 'old' series without ignoring the changes that took place in 'Head' and '33 and A Third Revolutions Per Monkee' and try to make sense of the fact that The Monkees were still hanging out on the beach, largely unemployed, after all these years. Mike, never the fondest or most nostalgic of the Monkees, seems stuck between genuine affection for the band and respect for the audience and lampooning the whole thing a la 'Head', meaning that we get two great halves of an episode that never quite works. The decision to go 'plotless' is both the episode's strength (meaning we get to concentrate on The Monkees' characters - and let's face it the plots were never why we watched The Monkees in the first place) and it's weakness (the episode all seems a bit pointless, with the sense that The Monkees are just doing what they've always done - just on camera this time - not 'special' enough to quite pull off). There are lots of gags throughout this episode that work really well: the meddling with The Monkeemobile that moves everything outside the car back to the sixties or into random objects ('Very Monkees' as Peter puts it), the 'mini tour guide' round the fridge (full of fruit thrown at the band and 'the first ever TV dinner') and the postmodern gags like the laughter track breaking down. The fact that The Monkees' pad still looks much the same (with the same 'money is the root of all evil' poster) but now comes with a psychedelic looking microwave is very clever too (we could have done with more of this actually: a Mr Schenider dummy dressed like one of The Spice Girls or something, or a collection of CDs to go alongside the records). However there are other parts that just don't work: the whole routine about Micky throwing up with confetti seems very 'off' somehow and what could have been a clever trick (the fact that The Monkees are themselves the 'monsters', 'going crazy' in a house they 'never left') ends up with a weak ending where two kissing teenagers hurl toilet paper over the house. The Monkees are noticeably less active in the music videos which are closer to straight performances than the 'romps' of old and whilst the instruments-becoming-fruit gag is very Monkees, the performance of the hits medley itself is awful. Oddly Mike gets Davy's character spot on (basically sweet, but still slightly vein and lovesick) but doesn't do so well with the others - Peter gets very little to do, whilst Micky has become the bossy one and Mike the wise-cracking one (you get the sense that Nes didn't actually bother to watch any of the episodes back to write this!) The result confused many fans, who were expecting a celebration rather than a 'Head'-like dissection of the TV business and the Monkees project, but actually those are the parts that work best: the poster of Magritte painting 'this is not a pipe' next to a shot of The Monkees captioned 'this is not a band' is priceless and easily the best gag of the episode, the only reference back to the 'Monkee backlash' of 1968 and beyond. This needed to be one of a handful of specials to go alongside more 'traditional' Monkee episodes - as a standalone reunion episode (and sadly the only one we're likely to get nowadays) it's all slightly underwhelming. Still, this special's heart is in the right place and it's great to see the band together as their 'fictional' selves again. The format of the show updates to the 1990s surprisingly well (modern TV owes more to The Monkees than it will ever admit, with all the fast cutaway shots and breaking the fourth-wall gags and the updated brief insert of The Monkees plugging their CD on a shopping channel) and this series could have gone on to run and run had the band been willing or had their 1997 reunion been greeted better by the national press. Micky's near-closing comment 'I wonder if the public know that TV shows like ours will never die, they just run and run even if they're never filmed' is a lovely Monkee moment that should have been where the episode finished (instead of the stuff with the papered house). However there just isn't enough Monkees here: where's the landlord, the dummy, the old guest stars (many of whom were still acting in 1997), the romps? This special sometimes surprises you with what it gets right and the attention to detail, but misses out on some of the obvious things along the way. The end verdict? This is better than many fans would have you think (many were quite bitter on first broadcast) and has some undeniably great moments, but in many ways it's a lost opportunity, more like the under-written over-cooked episodes of the second series than the brilliant gems of the first. A mixed bag, reminding you both why The Monkees was so brilliant in the first place and why it ran out of steam so quickly it was taken off the air after two series.
Things About This Episode You Might Not Know Unless You're A Mega-Fan: 1) The Monkees gave caret blanche to ABC to title this special whatever they wanted - the working title of this episode was 'A Lizard Sunning Itself On A Rock' 2) The project was Sylvester Ward's idea - the shows had been popular in re-reruns across the 1990s and the network asked him to come out of retirement to make a documentary. He contacted the other Monkees who were more enthusiastic about a one-off episode of the series updated to the modern day 3) most episodes of The Monkees took two days to film - this one took the record with six! 4) The old plots referred to in this special include The Pilot, 'Monkee See Monkee Die' 'Gift Horse' and 'Some Like It Lukewarm' 5) The oddest moment in the special is 'Antarctica'. The song was written by Bill Martin (who also auditioned for The Monkees before writing 'All Of Your Toys' and 'The Door Into Summer' for the band and can be seen as the fridge 'tour guide' in this episode) and was first directed by Nesmith in his 'Pacific Arts' music video of 1980 'An Evening With Sir William Martin'. The pair had stayed close friends since The Monkees' split and Mike wanted him in there somewhere! 6) ABC insisted on a 'new' version of 'Regional Girl' without the word 'bitch' so Micky re-recorded the line especially for this special- it's now 'making burgers for some cat!' 7) Mike's speech trying to cheer up the boy with the pig is the closing scene from 1947 film 'The Grapes Of Wrath
Ratings: At The Time: Unknown/AAA Rating: 4/10