“Monkees Imitate Art” aka “I WANNA LOOK AT LIBERACE!”
“Art for Monkees’ Sake” was directed by Alex Singer and written by Coslough Johnson. It debuted October 9, 1967. The episode title is a play on the French slogan, “Art for Art’s Sake” (l’art pour l’art) which means art for reasons of self-expression and not for any instructional, moral, or other useful purpose. The Monkees are most often comedy for comedy’s sake, and I love it.
Peter is at the Monkees pad, painting a very realistic picture of the bathroom door. Micky walks right into it and hits his head, aided by a little shaky-camera action. Mike suggests that Peter go to the art museum and check out the great painters instead. Peter takes his advice and goes to the museum where he paints copies of museum doors. Of course he does. Monkees guest cast actor Vic Tayback is back for the third time as Chuche, the museum guard. He makes the same mistake that Micky did, walking into Peter’s painting. He wants to thank Peter with a punch in the face but his partner-in-crime and fellow museum guard, Duce (Monte Landis) suggests they use Peter’s talent to help them steal a painting instead.
They set Peter up to copy “The Laughing Cavalier,” painted in 1624 by Dutch Golden Age painter Franz Hals. Chuche and Duce whisper their plan to steal the real painting and put Peter’s in its place. Meanwhile, Mike, Micky, and Davy worry about Peter. Mike considers the idea that he may have insulted Peter, but Micky says, “Well to insult somebody, they have to understand you.” Which is a slight to Peter’s intelligence, but on the other hand going through life never being offended would be a beautiful thing. Maybe not so dumb after all. At the museum, Peter has completed his copy, but he’s dressed the Cavalier in Mike’s green wool hat. Duce chides him, “I know it’s knitted, but it’s not needed.” They move Peter to the basement to fix the painting because the museum’s about to close.
Next morning at the Monkees pad, Mike, Micky, and Davy have breakfast with Mr. Schneider because Peter’s not back yet. (Mr. Schneider wears Peter’s pajamas.) They deduce that he’s in trouble. Peter, meanwhile, is reluctant to finish the painting, declaring, “I just don’t feel it.” Chuche wants to solve the problem with violence. Duce is more diplomatic; he explains, with his over-the-top fake Italian accent, that the Cavalier has lot of class, a lot of style etc.
Micky, Mike, and Davy are in the museum corridor. They decide to split up and check the various studios but head into each other instead of around each other, and there’s physical comedy as they try to get by each other. Silly and childish, but still funny. Also a meta-comment on the episode as the shape they make is a human sculpture. Mike redistributes the studio assignments and the three head away from each other.
Here comes one of my favorite bits. Micky finds a bearded artist at work in one of the studios. Before he can even ask about Peter, the artist interrupts to tell him, “You could never be an artist. You have no beard!” He scoffs at Micky’s suggestion that he use brushes, “A true artist must feel the painting in the canvas! In his soul!” Cut to a shot of the soles of his feet each doing a separate painting on the floor. Micky asks if he’s seen Peter, describing him as blonde, “weird looking.” The artist takes this personally and grabs Micky by the shirt with paint-covered hands. “You come in here to insult me! It’s because I’m a high school dropout.” He throws Micky out. The character beautifully and hilariously ran through all the stereotypes about artists: Egotistical, pretentious, hypersensitive, dramatic, emotional, and vain [Not to mention – under-educated. – Editor]. The artist does a little flamenco dance in front of the canvas. Fabulous scene with a funny actor playing the artist.
And considering how much I enjoyed that, the next scene gets even better. Mike enters another studio and finds formally dressed patrons waiting for a performance. They shush Mike who looks comically embarrassed and then surprised when Liberace walks in with a gold mallet and proceeds to smash the piano. Mike collapses on the ground and makes dismayed and incredulous faces while the rest of Liberace’s audience intensely and seriously watches. Mike tiptoes out and leaves them to it. Funny scene that has no plot purpose and is, dare I say, weird for weird’s sake. Liberace! For crying out loud.
I always figured that scene was a parody of rock-n-roll instrument-smashing. 1950’s rocker Jerry Lee Lewis was rumored to have destroyed and burned pianos. Pete Townshend had smashed his guitar at the Railway Tavern in Harrow and Wealdstone in September of 1964. The film, Blowup, featured The Yardbirds’ guitarist Jeff Beck destroying his guitar (after being told to emulate Townshend by director Michelangelo Antonioni). Jimi Hendrix famously set fire to his guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967. There may be more to this than destruction for destruction’s sake. Pete Townshend was inspired by artist and activist Gustav Metzger. Metzger, who died this past March, was responsible for the Auto-Destructive Art movement, an art form where artists would destroy objects in protest against the capitalist system and the threat of technology. Metzger organized the Destruction in Art Symposium that happened in London from September 9–11, 1966. The Symposium events included several piano destruction concerts, performed by artist Raphael Montañez Ortiz, which could be what these Liberace scenes are satirizing. It’s an interesting idea since these are counterculture ideas, but the audience watching Liberace has a “high society” look in their furs, diamonds, and tuxes.
The museum is about to close, so Duce and Chuche tie up Peter, Duce explaining the most important thing for an artist is “to suffer.” (Another artist stereotype.) On the museum main floor, the Curator chews out the guards, telling them to “be more punctual.” Out in the same museum corridor from the earlier scene, Mike, Micky, and Davy have failed to find Peter. Interesting shot composition, they stand in height order with Davy in the foreground. Davy asks if anyone checked the basement. Mike says “Nobody but a fool would paint in the basement.” You can see his mouth say “idiot” but they overdubbed “fool.” According to the Monkees Tripod site, this was Peter Tork’s request.
The thieving guards hang Peter’s fake in the museum. Micky, Mike, and Davy finally find Peter tied up and gagged in the museum basement. They compliment his “copy” of “The Laughing Cavalier” but Peter explains, “The man who painted that was brilliant.” Monkees in unison say: “That means they’ve switched the paintings.” Cut to a shot of Peter’s copy in the museum with Peter’s rather obvious signature in white paint.
Up on the main floor, the Monkees try to tell the Curator and the guards that the paintings have been switched. The Curator doesn’t believe them and, as Peter points out, the guards are the thieves. The Curator explains it’s impossible to steal the painting. He explains that by day two guards watch it, by night he turns on the alarm, which triggers a cage if anyone disrupts the invisible beams. He goes to demonstrate and springs the mechanism. As Micky says, “Caught like a rat in his own trap.” The Curator’s hysterical performance as he sobs on the floor is delightful insanity. The actor, Arthur Malet has a quirky/manic line delivery, like someone on the verge of a comedic nervous breakdown. He played a role with a similar effect on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in the infamous episode, “The My Friend the Gorilla Affair.”
The Monkees decide to switch back the paintings themselves. This leads to the “Mission: Ridiculous” sequence. Mike does overdubbed narration to introduce the team members as they each make a physical-comedy-laden entrance: The Manchester Marauder, (Davy) The Connecticut Counterspy (Peter), The Towering Texan (Mike), and the Los Angeles Leopard (Micky). The high point is Mike absent-mindedly electrocuting himself for several seconds on the rooftop antenna. This sequence is clearly meant to parody the Mission: Impossible weekly series, a show about secret agents using elaborate schemes to solve international crimes, which ran from 1966-1973. The Monkees begin their mission and sneak in through the museum roof on a rope ladder, while Chuche sleeps.
Davy wears goggles that allow him to see the invisible beams and nothing else. He stumbles around and knocks over a sculpture. He slips out the painting copy but Peter forgot the real painting up on the roof so he goes to retrieve it. Their noise alerts Chuche who comes out to see what’s happening. The Monkees imitate statues in order to fool him, and Chuche steals their cheese sandwiches. Peter and Micky tiptoe around the museum floor, following Chuche while Mike and Davy finish the switch.
They make their escape up the ladder but not in time, as Duce is now coming down the ladder towards them. I love Mike’s polite but still irritated response, “This is our ladder sir, we were going to escape.” Duce gets to the museum floor and pulls a gun on them. Everyone scrambles around and this launches a romp to “Randy Scouse Git.”
About the song, this was written by Micky Dolenz and inspired by the Monkees trip to England. The verses describe a party Micky attended that was thrown by the Beatles while the chorus “Why don’t you cut your hair, etc.” reflects bigoted remarks aimed at a fictional long-haired youth. The last part relates to the title, “Randy Scouse Git” which is taken from a British television show, Till Death Do Us Part which was the U.K. version of the American television show, All in the Family. The loud, narrow-minded father character, Alf Garnett, would insult his son-in-law calling him a “randy scouse git.” [American translation: “Meathead” – Editor] The Monkees record label in the U.K., RCA records, would not release the song unless Micky gave it an alternate title, so he named it literally “Alternate Title.” It became a #2 hit in the U.K. All four Monkees play on this one, Micky singing and playing drums and timpani, Mike on guitar, Peter on piano and organ, and Davy on backing vocals.
The romp is well edited; mixing Rainbow room footage with the Monkees and bad guys running around the museum. The song’s frantic energy suits the romp nicely. Chuche finally gets to punch someone behind a curtain, unfortunately revealed to be his partner Duce. Best moments include more Liberace piano smashing, a funny shot of Mike, Micky, and Davy holding up a frame around themselves, and Micky and the bearded artist fighting each other. At the end, the cage of crazy falls down on the Monkees and the guards and they fall asleep on top of each other.
In the morning, the curator is giving a tour to museum visitors and sees the cage filled with Monkees and crooks. With confusion and embarrassment, he describes them as “a new exhibit; an assemblage of iron and human beings.” Next is a tag sequence at the Monkees pad. Micky frames his painted shirt and Mike sings a little of “Papa Gene’s Blues.” Peter has given up painting and taken up carpentry. Micky sits on one of Peter’s new projects and collapses onto the ground. This is followed by the “Daydream Believer” (John Stewart) Rainbow Room performance clip. I love Davy dancing in front of the rainbow stripes, doing the “Davy Jones” where he leads his body with his ribs instead of his hips. I also enjoy the Monkees around the piano together, and the finale when they ham it up and step in front of each other. Just for fun, here’s a “literal” version of “Daydream Believer.” After the tune, we’re treated to a little more piano smashing as Liberace happily finishes his performance, and the society audience politely claps.
That was one of those episodes that I had thought of as funny but maybe not a standout. The more I look at it, the more I like it though, so I guess it’s a “grower.” The story itself is nothing special; silly to be sure, but no more so than the bulk of the other episodes. Fortunately there are extra touches in this episode that blend well with the comedy. The best two scenes have little to do with the story. Micky with the artist is side-splitting and a rare chance for him to be the straight man, reacting to someone else’s craziness. The surreal bit with Liberace, besides a great bit of stunt-casting, is The Monkees at its off-the-wall and satirical best. I also enjoy all the moments where people become art: The shot composition of the Monkees in the corridor, the tangle of bodies at various times, the “framed” Monkees and the finale with all the characters in the cage. Director Alex Singer has a knack for that. He posed them cleverly in the fashion-oriented “Monkees à la Mode” as well. Once again it seems in these early season 2 episodes the show creators were still invested in making an entertaining show.
by Bronwyn Knox
Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.