. Fact-filled for the fans and packaged well for the casual observer, “Hey Hey We’re the Monkees” breezes along with the briskness of one of the quartet’s classic comedies while managing to turn over every historical stone.
The story of the four “Ben Frank’s types,” as requested by the casting notice that brought together Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork, is a captivating tale of television, music and pop culture trying to mesh, with advice from avant-garde film and music’s de facto big business. Docu dissects the roles of creators Bob Rafelson and actor Jack Nicholson, Don Kirshner and the Monkees themselves, who move from simple singers and actors to pawns to celebrated legends.
Rafelson and Nicholson masterminded the TV side of the enterprise, which at its best has been viewed as an update of the Marx Brothers’ anarchic humor, and defined the Monkees for a generation. Kirshner handled one could say ruled with an iron fist the music side and earned the role of the villain for refusing to cede control, although it appeared in retrospect that he made proper decisions for the Monkees regarding recordings.
Special is made up of segments cleverly divided with instrumental passages from the group’s best-known songs addressing different aspects of their career, including the first TV season, touring with Jimi Hendrix, playing instruments and writing songs, meeting the Beatles, and the conceptual mistakes behind the movie “Head” and the TV special “33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee.” Each Monkee has a clear handle on his place in the history of music and television, making honest assessments and no apologies. As Dolenz admits, it was absurd that they made a cologne ad.
Highlights include clips from the foursome’s pre-Monkee days, a video for one of their best songs (“Mary, Mary”), solo Nesmith perfs and each musician’s favorite episode. Best of all, docu avoids plugging the new Rhino disc “Justus,” and concentrates on addressing issues that Tiger Beat and 16 magazines missed during Monkee-mania.
Technically, the special is a dream, courtesy of seamless movement from current interviews to clips and crispness in all of the sound.