Thursday, May 26, 2016

Hey Hey The Monkees' HEAD approaches 50 years old

In a few years from now, in what will feel like the blink of an eye, the industry that includes motion picture arts and sciences will begin announcing the 50th anniversary of HEAD, a film that ‘showcases’ THE MONKEES, a manufactured music group of the 1960s.

The band evolved from the creation of the TV series of the same name, based around the zany everyday antics of 4 guys who happened to be musicians, wanting Beatles-like success. With the TV series launching on-air in 1966, Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz starred in the series, and although they were hired as actors cast to play musicians, Mickey Dolenz himself later said, “The actor-musicians soon became a successful real band.”

The sitcom was cancelled in 1968, but the band continued to record music through until 1971. The Monkees have actually sold more than 75 million records worldwide and had international hits including "Last Train to Clarksville", "Pleasant Valley Sunday", "Daydream Believer" and "I'm a Believer". At their peak in 1967, the band outsold the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined.

For that reason, after the series ended, producers of the TV show decided ‘the band’ needed to feature in their own movie, given the success of efforts made by the Beatles with their “Help” and “Hard Day’s Night” cinema releases.

But anyone expecting a similar kind of cinema experience with Head was deeply disappointed, and that reflected in the box office takings for the film. The producers commissioned Jack Nicholson (yep, THE Jack Nicholson) to assist with scripting and producing the film, and anecdotes suggest the ‘storylines’ (or lack thereof) were developed with the band while on a long weekend bender. That appears obvious when watching the film.



The motion picture itself is the ‘antitheses’ of the TV series and the manufactured history of the band. The boppy "Hey Hey" theme song from the TV show is replaced with a spoken alternative, tearing shreds from the superficial nature of the TV production, the lack of storyline in the film, and the buckets of money made by the band. At one point in the film, during Michael’s birthday scene, he’s asked how it feels to be a millionaire so young. He then describes how revolting it is, similar to how he feels about Christmas.

Exposing the failures of the establishment at the time, raising the hippie culture of free love and drug experimentation, poking fun at the Beatles’ reverence to Eastern spiritualism, and pointedly cutting-in vision of brutal Vietnam warfare,  the film intended to comprehensively demolish the group's carefully groomed public image. In one scene, Peter Tork is heard whistling “Strawberry Fields.”

But watching the film, with almost 50 years of hindsight, the obvious subtexts are strikingly confronting. It’s an anarchistic romp painted within a nose-thumbing late-1960s psychedelic motion picture. It’s tainted with loathing for the entire ‘franchise’ and aspects of the world at that time.

Indeed, much that is represented as being ‘wrong’ during that part of history could be easily translated to today. On more than one occasion in the film, a Coca-Cola vending machine is destroyed via large calibre gunfire, perhaps in response to rising corporatisation and consumerism in the US. In another scene, screaming fans invade the stage during a performance, tearing clothes off the band, which are then revealed to be department store mannequins – another statement about the band’s manipulated and manufactured past.

Many of the scenes break the ‘4th wall’ revealing the film-making process in action, with some shots set around an obvious film lot with gigantic warehouse-like studio exteriors. In this, there’s little respect given to the magic of traditional film-making, while at the same time using the medium of motion pictures to make a statement. In fact, the film makes many statements. It’s a great time capsule of subversive versus conservative thoughts of the 1960s decade.

Watching through ‘modern’ eyes, the messages apparent in the film are significant, albeit interspersed with frivolous skylarking. The film is worth another look as it approaches the 50th anniversary.

The Monkees' latest album "Good Times" is now available and enjoying favourable reviews.





Saturday, May 21, 2016

Flight Test

THE ROUTE
Sydney - Adelaide

THE AIRCRAFT
Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800 Flight # VA0422 

THE LOYALTY SCHEME
Velocity.

In the Air
As a Velocity member, you can earn Points on eligible flights with Virgin Australia and their airline partners, to over 600 destinations worldwide. Fare type and earn rate restrictions apply. Find out more about how you can earn Points in the air.

On the Ground
You can also earn Points when you make a booking with Virgin Australia’s global accommodation, car hire, travel and insurance partners. Plus, if you use a Velocity co-branded credit card to make your purchase, you earn Points twice – once on your card, and again with their partner. Find out more about how you can earn Points on the ground.

Bonus Points 
As a Silver, Gold or Platinum member, you earn a Points bonus when you book with selected Velocity travel partners, plus on flights with Virgin Australia and their partner Etihad Airways. Find out more about earning Points bonuses.


UP THE BACK OR POINTY END?
Economy seat 22C – aisle. 
·         78cm (31in) seat pitch
·         43cm (17in) seat width
·         10.16cm (4in) recline
 Fully booked flight.

TIME IN TRANSIT
Left on time at 12:55.
Arrived Adelaide 14:35 on time.   

SEAT STUFF
On the 737-800 in economy class: 168 leather seats, 3-3 configuration



BAGGAGE
Virgin Australia is on a per piece based baggage allowance as per fare type and Velocity membership level. If checked baggage exceeds the weight limit of 23kg (where applicable) it attracts overweight baggage fees (option to pre-purchase or pay overweight fee at the airport) and will only be accepted and loaded onboard at the airline’s discretion.

Each piece of baggage must not weigh more than 32kg, or exceed a total linear dimension (length + width + height) of 140cm, per piece. For information regarding baggage items that exceed these limits, take a look at Virgin’s Oversized Items section. My checked baggage was 12 kgs

COMFORT FACTOR
A bit tight considering the fully booked flight. A number of non-seasoned travellers boarded the plane from the wrong end and therefore wrestled against the tide to make their way to the correct end of the aircraft to take their seats, amongst other travellers trying to load their cabin baggage into the overhead lockers.

Virgin still seems to suffer from the ‘budget airline’ label, popular with infrequent flyers juggling bags, boarding passes, purses and fluffy slippers. Should one item be discovered as accidentally dropped in the aisle during boarding, a ‘swim’ against the current ensues to locate the aforesaid item on the floor among the legs and feet of other boarding passengers, with the partner of the 'swimmer' shouting directions.

I suffered only a few shoulder jostles and paunchy stomachs in my lap as people reached for a vacant space in the overhead locker above my seat. The guy in the seat across the aisle bent over to remove this shoes while standing in the aisle, shoving his butt in my face.

CHECK-IN AND UNDERWAY
Having had the ticket booked and confirmed via the client's travel agent, there was no check-in required online. However as I had a bag to check-in, this was undertaken at a self-serve “kiosk” at the airport. Parts of the dispensed baggage ticket must be retained (the bit you would normally peel-off and discard) as that serves as the receipt for your bag. Throwing it out is a mistake you only make once, although the check-in clerk can issue another if required, as well as your boarding pass if you forget to collect it from the same kiosk. In-flight, mobile phones must be switched-off although their wi-fi component can be used to access the entertainment system once underway. No USB charging points appeared to be available.

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT
BYO iPod or Android tablet. There are no seatback entertainment units. If you have a Windows laptop, Microsoft Silverlight media player should work, but no guarantees. Silverlight doesn’t work on Edge, so you have to fallback onto boring old Internet Explorer. Good grief. Try this link for more info.
Forget it if you have a Windows phone or tablet.  It.Just.Doesn’t.Work.
You must download Virgin Australia’s entertainment app for iPhone or Android before departure. It cannot be downloaded in-flight, and no flight-to-ground internet connection is available. The selection of entertainment options is world class, but the app automatically shuts-off your device’s speaker so as not to disturb other passengers. Plugging-in your headphones is supposed to re-enable the audio, but not on my Android tablet. After a while of fiddling, I gave up and watched an old Lucille Ball movie (The Long Long Trailer) I had previously downloaded, the highlight of the flight.

FEEDING TIME
Complimentary food is provided on all domestic flights. The menu varies from flight to flight, and the sales pitch “guarantees you’ll always be offered something delicious.”
All Economy passengers receive complimentary tea, coffee and water on all Virgin Australia flights. The male flight attendant poked a plastic box under my nose, which I passed along to the passenger beside me, and another to the passenger in the window seat. But that’s where it ended and I remained empty handed as he proceeded to serve other rows. I guess everyone gets tired of their job eventually. I decided not to demand my rations as the ‘snack’ appeared to resemble a slice of ham wrapped in flatbread, with an entire surface area of about 1.5 inches square. The next trolley did offer me a cup of tea, which I accepted. Black with one sugar. Meals are also available for purchase from the retail menu.
Virgin Australia also offers a selection of complimentary beer, wine, cider and soft drinks on all Australian domestic flights with a scheduled departure time between 5pm and 7pm, Monday to Friday.

THE VERDICT
Not the most pleasant of flights, and considering Virgin’s shift to being a ‘full service airline’, other airlines of the same mantra perform much better. This is a pity as the Virgin brand is much loved by me. Should the airline be a ‘budget’ carrier, I would have rated this experience much better. Inadequate vetting of carry-on luggage, poorly co-ordinated boarding of passengers and a less than observant flight attendant meant I was pleased to deplane from this sub 2 hour experience. At least the passenger in the row in-front didn’t recline her seat.

 
Tested by Tim Stackpool, travelling to a speaking engagement.