Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Playground Gets Ponderous: Some Ranting and Head (1968)


(Editor’s Note: Hello 2012...you mean the John Cusack movie wasn’t prophetic?  We’re all still here?  I was really hoping for an apocalypse so I would have an excuse not for writing  No such luck.)
So, where I am going with this?  
There’s going to be a whole lot of personal flotsam and jetsam...after which I might get around to a review of Head.  
If you want to get straight to the Head, skip over all this other junk.  
Let’s Be Honest...


I was going to try to make my first entry of this year extra special good.  I sat down on New Year’s Day and watched Wings of Desire, which is an absolutely incredible movie.  That being said, there’s very little I could tell you about why it’s so good.  (Though I would have loved to be a fly for the pitch session:  There are these angels, right?  And they fly around...but they can listen to the inside of everyone’s heads.  But the only person who can see them is Columbo...”)  
Actually, there’s very much I could say, but my forehead might start to bleed.  The gist of my ranting would be this: a filmmaker would have to have enormous professional and personal confidence to even want to attempt something like that.  (If you want to see how the same movie looks through a Hollywood filter, check out City of Angels.  I was stupid enough to like that movie at the time it came out).   
After my lack of motivation to write about German speaking angels, I asked myself a hard question.  
What do I really want to write about?  What’s going on inside my mind right now?  
Since I’m Volunteering, Here Are the Answers to My Questions
This isn’t even the tip of the surface, but here we go.  
    • I’m still struggling with that beast “reality”: What the hell is it?  Yes, I’ve been reading about Buddhism and mindfulness and Zen...not to mention doing my own study course called “Why The Inside of My Head is Like a Crowded and Dirty Closet.”  I get that there is a “moment” that we all live in, and it’s a point that strikes me as logical.  Still, doesn’t everyone’s version of reality look different?  Would you like me to give you a text book example of this?  Think about a car accident...there are always two wildly different stories about what happened.  On top of that, I’m deeply guilty of consuming popular culture as a form of reality.   You invest in certain movie resolutions, messages, and philosophies because they sound appealing.  The problem is that you wave your hand over a household appliance, and then realize...Wait, I don’t have the force.  
    • What is a “movie,” really?: This question originally arose in my head because of practicality.  Cue the Ray Charles song...I’m “Busted.”  I’m cash poor at this point, and don’t have the proper funding to execute some of the ideas I have for “proper” film projects.  Wait a moment, though.  Isn’t any projected image essentially a movie?  While I was contemplating this, I happened to watch (on accident, really) The Man with a Movie Camera (1929).  This was a landmark Russian film, created to be the first movie without artifice.  No sets, no actors, no script.  The filmmaker, Dziga Vertov, simply went around Russia and shot the stuff he found compelling.  That made for an interesting, non-linear film.  Believe it or not, yours truly used to lug his camera around the University of New Mexico campus and do the same thing.  I made several “movies,” but didn’t show them to anyone.  It’s all about expanding your relationship with the medium...while keeping your ego in check.  
Now What Does Any of this Have to Do With Head (1968)?  
Head is an interesting “fake” film.  This is a meditation on what makes a “movie” is or isn’t.  
Let’s back up a minute: What exactly was Head?  This was a monumental act of career suicide by the long gone pop act The Monkees.  The first scene we bear witness to is the rather unsettling site of the Monkees hurling themselves off a bridge, one by one.  
This was also the “coming out” moment for Bob Rafelson. a deeply contemplative and sensitive filmmaker.  Despite his talents, Rafelson somehow got roped into creating the Monkees group and television series.  The Catch 22 was that it brought him a fortune, while getting in the way of his more serious ambitions as an artist.  Now he finally had a chance to direct a real, honest to God film!  (Rafelson went on to produce and direct two of my favorite movies, Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens.)   


There’s a not so subtle conceit at the center of Head.  The Monkees were entirely fabricated, and at the mercy of their creators.  Does that mean they could fit into just about any situation with minimal coaching?  The plotless structure of the movie places them in a Western, a David Lean desert epic, and even as dandruff on Victor Mature’s head.  The boys continue to grin, good humored about whatever the screenwriters pass their way.  (Jack Nicholson coauthored the script with Rafelson.  Would you be surprised that they were both doing tons of acid at the time?  No, you wouldn’t).  
Yes, this is a “movie,” but there’s also a deconstruction going on at the same time.  The modern audience is gullible, and will digest anything.     
The kind of manufactured surrealism Head trafficked in was about twenty years before its time.  We’ve all watched countless music videos and TV commercials that use the same trick.  This has been accepted as common place, and we know how to digest it.  Think about the last ten advertisements you watched.  Mucus talks, cartoon cats and dogs beg for food, and there’s a robot counterpart for Flo the Progressive Girl.  


I was going to tie this all up in a neat resolution by referencing “Post Modernism.”  That would just be a cop out.  
Here’s what I would like you to take away from this instead: Film (and art) is whatever the hell you want to make of it.  Just be happy that we have it, no matter what form it is in.  

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