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Arts and Entertainment

The Monkees @ The Egyptian, 11/12

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The Monkees backstage with Jack. Photo courtesy Henry Diltz.

There’s something undeniably cheeky and charming about The Monkees, even after all these years. Well, 40 years to be exact. In November of 1968, America’s fun-loving answer to The Beatles teamed up with Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson to make Head, the only feature film to The Monkees’ credit. And, forty years later (almost to the day), Head returned to Hollywood for a rare 35mm print showing, and a few other one-of-a-kinds as well.

Most people know The Monkees because...well hey, hey, they’re The Monkees. But true fans of the short-lived television series understand that Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith were much more than just two-season wunderkinds for an American television market trying desperately to carve up slices of the true late-60’s American lifestyle. These fans know that The Monkees, while initially assembled for show purposes, grew to become a potent musical phenomenon, eventually wresting controls of music production away from the studios themselves. And after a 58-episode run on television, The Monkees garnered much success on tour into the early 1970’s, and a splendid resurgence in the 1980’s. And in that time, they even managed to star in a film.

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Head, for the uninitiated, is a surrealist grab bag of scenes loosely plotted around the ‘prefab four’ as they tackle their own issues, take flights of fancy, and fall haplessly into obscure and outrageous obstacles. If you are looking for cohesion, plot, story line, or any other contemporary cinematic force that would drive a film from beginning to end, then Head is probably not for you. Simply put, the whole thing is a farce put through a blender. After all, the title itself is a joke which relied on the presumed success of the film to drive audiences to go see Jack Nicholson (co-writer and producer) in the upcoming Easy Rider. The promotion department wanted to be able to say “from the producers who gave you Head”. That, in a nutshell laced with LSD and a bad haircut, is what Head really is.

Photo by Elise Thompson / LAist.

Sometimes hard to follow, sometimes hard to look away, Head does a tremendous job of making you squirm in your seat like you have to go to the bathroom, and then it turns you around and makes you laugh so hard you forget the bathroom and just pee your pants. The montage scenes, where characters from previous interactions in the film all somehow join together in one location, are far and away the best. They usually end with The Monkees themselves trapped in a weird storyline with no escape, only to be saved by a tank that blows up soda machines, or a quick song-and-dance routine on an empty black stage.

And to further celebrate the 40th anniversary of giving Head to the masses, both Peter Tork and Davy Jones were on hand for the event, providing the most engaging elements to the evening. Their quick banter and wittiness has not faded over the years, especially in Jones, who was as sharp and spry as ever. As the evening wore on, both Tork and Jones came to the front of the theater to rousing applause, but managed to take the focus off of themselves, and charmingly find ways to thank everyone else who had ever been involved with the success of The Monkees. But the simple truth is, that while the producers and music directors and caterers and key grips all were instrumental in making The Monkees a success, the two men up front were perhaps the most influential. Laden with the disarming affectations of youth and humor (even back then and perhaps more so today), the two have managed to keep themselves and their accomplishments relevant.