It's hard to write anything new and interesting about D.A. Pennebaker's Monterey Pop (1968)---and not just because the landmark documentary, set to turn 40 years old next year, has been analyzed and combed through countless times already. Then again, maybe that's just it: after all, 2006 marks the second time that Criterion's superb DVD treatment of the film has been released on disc. Needless to say, it's been getting the attention it deserves.
The first time out, Monterey Pop was included as part of the exhaustive Complete Monterey Pop Festival boxed set (2002), a pricey three-disc set also containing Jimi Plays Monterey, Shake! Otis at Monterey and a generous helping of outtake performances. This stripped-down version gives us the first disc only, containing Monterey Pop itself and the assortment of extras that accompanied it. For those new to the film, this single-disc version presents an easy way to get your feet wet before diving right in---that is, assuming you're somewhat familiar with Criterion's higher price points. All things considered, it's a great choice for those "on the fence".
Either way, this fly-on-the-wall documentary is a perfect time capsule; an opinion-free portrait of the three-day Monterey Pop Festival (held on June 16-18, 1967) that even remains impressive to those who weren't around yet. Boasting performances from Otis Redding, The Who, Simon & Garfunkel, The Byrds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and many more, it's a veritable "who's who" of 1960s pop/rock. Most of the featured performers were California locals---so even though bigger acts like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones couldn't make it to the party, it's obvious that the fans were happy to see so many of their favorite performers at the same festival. Though it's a bit more "distant" than most documentaries due to its general lack of narration, more is left up to the viewer's imagination without sacrificing the "you are there" feeling that Monterey Pop conveys so well. And honestly, what fan of 60s music wouldn't want to have been there?
Captured with all the style and flair that only live musical performances can really achieve, Monterey Pop isn't a technical breakthrough---after all, Pennebaker and company had the talent for getting great footage, but not the best available equipment---though it's one that would pave the way for countless other music documentaries to follow. For that, Monterey Pop deserves a special place in the history books, but it's already got that problem covered.
Thankfully, Criterion's excellent DVD treatment is nearly as impressive as the documentary itself, though fans of the film should be reminded that this single-disc release is completely identical to the first DVD of The Complete Monterey Pop Festival (aside from the packaging style, of course). At roughly one-third the retail price of the mammoth boxed set, this slimmed-down version still manages to present the main feature in grand fashion, boasting plenty of participation from Pennebaker and festival co-producer Lou Adler. All things considered, Monterey Pop in any form is still one of the better genre releases currently available on disc. Let's see how this one stacks up, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Monterey Pop looks excellent from start to finish. The earthy, washed-out color palette and abundant film grain---undoubtedly due to the original source material---suit the film's style perfectly, while digital problems (including edge enhancement, etc.) are virtually nowhere to be found. Needless to say, those holding on to their washed-out, faded VHS tapes will be extremely impressed.
Monterey Pop's soundtrack is available in a variety of options: the original 2.0 Stereo track is here for audio purists, along with a handful of brand-new remixed tracks presented in 2.0 Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and DTS. Remixed by legendary recording engineer Eddie Kramer (who worked with The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and many others), these new tracks really liven up the concert experience without altering the overall atmosphere of the documentary. Punchy, immersive and extremely clear, either of these new mixes are a great way to hear Monterey Pop again for the first time. Optional English captions are provided for the main feature only.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the 1.33:1 menu designs for this release are nicely-designed and easy to navigate. This 79-minute film has been divided into 20 chapters, while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. The actual packaging is especially nice, as this one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase along with a booklet (including an essay by film critic Armond White), a postcard and a Criterion back catalogue.
Though it pales in comparison to its boxed set big brother, Monterey Pop still delivers some interesting extras that fans will enjoy. First up is an Audio Commentary with festival co-producer Lou Adler and director D.A. Pennebaker, recorded in 2002 for The Criterion Collection. This laid-back track is a bit sporadic but very interesting, as the pair are on hand to reminisce about the festival experience, point out a few familiar faces and discuss a few post-production topics---like the creation of the main titles, for instance. On a related note, also included is a Video Interview (7 parts, 29:16 total) with Adler and Pennebaker which also includes additional clips of festival footage to sweeten the pot (below left).
Next up is a Scrapbook of images presented in slideshow format, including a series of Elaine Mayes photos and a visual reproduction of the original festival program (below right). There's also a selection of Audio Interviews featuring John Phillips (10 parts, 15 mins.), Cass Elliot (5 parts, 12 mins.), David Crosby (5 parts, 9 mins.) and festival publicist Derek Taylor (16 parts, 29 mins.). They're presented a bit haphazardly, but easily indexed by subject and/or response. Winding down, we also get the film's Theatrical Trailer (2:43) and five Radio Spots (3:04), as well as a text feature detailing the audio remix by Eddie Kramer. Overall, it's a perfect mix of supplements for more casual fans of the film.
Those who already own The Complete Monterey Pop Festival need not apply here, but those who don't have $80 to spare should consider this stripped-down (but still pretty darn "complete") version a welcome alternative. Boasting a terrific technical presentation and a handful of engaging bonus features, Monterey Pop is a strong, well-rounded disc bested only by its older brother. No matter your age or budget, those who love the music of the era should make it a point to own D.A. Pennebaker's landmark documentary on DVD. You honestly can't go wrong either way. Firmly Recommended.
DVD Talk Review Link: The Complete Monterey Pop Festival (by DVD Savant)
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.