Wednesday, July 05, 2006

"Talkin' about it and bein' it are two different things."

- Easy Rider

"You say we're manufactured / to that we all agree / so make a choice, and we'll rejoice in never being free."

- Head

On the nation's birthday I randomly chose a double feature of "Easy Rider" and the Monkees flick "Head". I was surprised to discover that, watched back to back, the films complement each other well.

In a lot of ways, both are about a counterculture at odds with the state of the good 'ol US of A.

Whether it's Peter Fonda, draped in American flags, travelling the open road, chasing down the American dream (in this case New Orleans Mardi Gras), or a near death Mickey Dolenz happening upon a Coke machine in the middle of the desert, both films are clearly commenting on the vibe of their times.

Both are clearly filtered through the eye of disillusionment with the government and the war; and both are hyperaware of the increasing tensions between the old guard and The Youth. In "Easy Rider", the heroes are brutally murdered by some intolerant good 'ol boys. In Mickey's case, the Coke machine turns out to be empty. You can interpret the symbolism.

Oddly enough, in the case of the Monkees, the meanings in their film struck me as multi-layered and complex. The Coke machine can represent the emptiness beneath the surface in modern America or it can reflect the lack of substance beneath the manufactured facade of The Monkees.

In fact, whether it's turning into mannequins, or being trapped in a black box taking orders, the bulk of "Head" is focused on deconstructing the mythology of the Monkees as contrived puppets. Things are constantly not what they seem. A sassy waitress is revealed to be a balding man. Footage of girls screaming at a concert is interspersed with footage of war victims. In the middle of one scene, the group declares it can't go on and walks off the set. Over the course of the film, the carefully cultivated personality of each band member is explored and destroyed - from Davy Jones, ladies man, to Peter Tork, "the dumb one". (The band actually has an argument about which of them is the dumb one.)

Without thinking too hard, there are a few other nice moments of synergy between the two films. When the Monkees walk off the set in the scene I mentioned earlier, they walk past Head screenwriter Jack Nicholson and his Easy Rider co-star Dennis Hopper! Jack Nicholson puts on a gold football helmet instead of a motorcycle helmet to go riding. One of the Monkees puts on a gold football helmet instead of a soldier's helmet to go fight in the war. Toni Basil choreographed and appears in both. Jimi Hendrix opened for the Monkees, and there's a Hendrix song in Easy Rider... Okay that last one is stretching it.

The truth is, though, that both films rely heavily on great sountracks to sell their message.

As soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll post a few MP3s here to prove my point.

Holy shit. I just wrote a lot about the Monkees.


At 3:33 PM, Blogger Star said...

I love your blog!


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