The Monkees film Head to be screened at Leeds International Film Festival

The Monkees
The Monkees
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It was the film that effectively demolished the carefully groomed public image of one of America’s most popular bands of the 1960s, provoked scathing reviews and was a massive commercial flop.

Yet 46 years on the Monkees’ film Head is receiving something of a critical reappraisal. On November 19 it will receive its first public screening outside London at Leeds International Film Festival.

“I’m really pleased about it,” says Leeds Beckett University lecturer Dr Peter Mills, who will introduce the screening at the Belgrave Music Hall at 6.30pm. The Monkees – whose hits included I’m a Believer and Daydream Believer – are “important to the history” of a module he teaches on Popular Music and the Moving Image.

“The film is very interesting – it goes out of its way to deconstruct their public image. It’s fast, funny and a bit off-the-wall. They take the mickey out of themselves, really.”

The film’s counter-culture, stream of consciousness narrative, written by director Bob Rafelson and co-producer Jack Nicholson, initially baffled audiences who’d grown up with The Monkees’ clean-cut, zany TV series.

Yet Dr Mills, who’s writing a book on the band, believes it’s “a great film, not just a curio”.

“It’s an interesting, innovative film. It’s a psychedelic, counter-culture movie but made with a Hollywood budget. It’s a coming together of those two worlds, with all that money sloshing around the Monkees’ operation.”

Among the guest stars who appear in the film are Victor Mature and Frank Zappa, who turns up in one scene with a cow.

“It’s very episodic,” Dr Mills admits. “It’s not like A Hard Day’s Night where a situation is set up and you follow it through to a resolution at the end. There is a resoluation but it involves going back to where the film began. It’s circular.

“I always tell the students ‘if you get bored in one bit don’t worry, there will be something totally different in a few minutes.

“There are a lot of visual non-secateurs that are without explanation from one scene to another without internal logic apart from the fact it’s The Monkees’ story, which makes it so interesting.”

Dr Mills, who has previously written about Van Morrison and media and popular music, says his Monkees book is due to be published in 2016, to coincide with band’s 50th anniversary. Head will feature heavily.

He hopes to speak to surviving Monkees Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz as part of his research.

His interest in the band dates back to the 1970s. “I was too young for the original era,” he says, “but I used to watch re-runs of their TV series when I was a kid in the 70s. They were kind of present. I found a greatest hits record I could afford and I liked that.

“When there were dozens of second-hand record shops around Leeds in the 70s you could pick Monkees’ records up for next to nothing. They were like Bay City Rollers records in the 80s – people were giving them away, they were childhood stuff. So I got all the real albums and became a fan. One of them was the soundtrack album to Head. Jack Nicholson put that together, it’s a real work of art. There are six songs from the movie and little snippets of dialogue and sound collages, it’s really interesting.”

He’s mystified why Head languishes in comparative obscurity and is rarely shown on TV. “In some small way I’m hoping that I’m shedding a little bit of light on it by getting it into the film festival,” he says.

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