|'); document.write(''); //-->|
My first thought about Criterion re-issuing Monterey Pop on Blu-ray was, why? It was filmed on 16mm, and surely the fine restoration done to the 2002 DVD boxed set should be good enough. The answer is the audio. The original 16mm tracks were beset by flaws that Criterion's sound engineers corrected in a truly remarkable restoration job; but this new Blu-ray benefits from the new format's uncompressed, full-range audio capabilities.
The first and perhaps the best of the rock music performance documentaries, Monterey Pop is yet another of those miraculous movies where D.A. Pennebaker magically happens to be in the right place just as history is made. The three nights of the Monterey International Pop Festival marked a shift in pop away from solo performers and folk oriented music to album-based rock groups. The film is put together in Pennebaker's original cinema verité style -- no narration, no tricks, just what his cameras are able to capture. It's perhaps the first and last time that rock groups were recorded on film for what they were, instead of being hyped by image-building manipulators. As soon as the record companies saw the profit potential in rock documentaries, the lawyers moved in.
D. A. Pennebaker's camera team records performances at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival, along with audience reactions and a few glimpses of behind-the-scenes activity. A wide variety of acts appear -- pop artists and rock groups, English talent and jazz groups, and Otis Redding's soul act. This is the weekend when Janis Joplin blasted onto the scene, where the Who destroyed their instruments and Hendrix burned and smashed his guitar. Criterion's painstaking 3-disc package includes three substantial extras that make good use of thousands of feet of footage excluded from the final cut of the feature. Jimi Plays Monterey (49 minutes) and Shake! Otis at Monterey (19 min.) were both assembled in 1986. Assembled in 1997, The Outtake Performances has just over two hours' worth of vintage acts not seen before.
Almost completely free of the hype that has strangled pop music ever since the advent of MTV, Monterey Pop is a partly improvised attempt to record the length and breadth of three days of concerts. The battle plan of how to shoot rock concerts, perfected ten years later in Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz, had yet to be invented. Pennebaker and his co-cameraman manned self-described homemade cameras that maintained a crude synch between each other and the master audio recorder. They were unable to communicate much with each other and used a signal light to indicate which songs they were supposed to be filming. No attempt was made to film everything, and some of what came to be known as monumental performances were only captured by sheer luck. Pennebaker describes some of his cameramen-assistants as musicians first and cameramen second; they invariably record the right thing, but not always in focus or with a usable exposure. A couple of good performances on the Outtakes disc show the cameraman's ultimate nightmare: footage with big globs of hair stuck in the camera gate.
The audio on the original film release wasn't very good, at least not on the 16mm print Savant saw back around 1970; yet there are still audio flaws, some of them part of the stage system and some part of the recording. Several of the mixes are way off, with some instruments barely heard, and lyrics too low even though we see the performer singing. These occasional disasters only add to the feeling that the concert was a one-time-only happening, that every bit of what we see was a minor miracle. Several priceless moments, like most of Jimi Hendrix's crazy act, were captured from only one angle.
Savant listened to all of this era's music on the radio and attended a few concerts as a teenager, but I'm no expert on the subject of Rock in the sixties. That's the real value of this disc release - between the audio testimony of producer Lou Adler and director Pennebaker, and the authoritative essays in the 44-page insert booklet, I now know something of what it was all about. Monterey Pop now stands in stark contrast to Albert Maysles' grim Gimme Shelter. Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock remains the touchstone for the era, but some of it plays like a commercial for a hippie image that never really existed: Peace, Love & Music did not lead to a social revolution.
Yet some kind of sea change is apparent in the audience at Monterey Pop. The faces of the pretty girls of 1967 bring back illusory memories of a time when everybody seemed to be young and beautiful. Pennebaker begins the show with an open-faced girl saying how Far Out the festival is going to be. Because the musicians are often audience members themselves, present to enjoy what else is being offered, familiar faces keep popping up in the seats. Identified clearly are Juliette Greco and Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees. Savant 'sees' a guy who really reminds him of a young Sam Waterston, but I'm probably crazy.
Buyers wondering about the extra performances on the outtakes discs need not fear. Even though Pennebaker describes some of the acts as camera washouts, the only major name band missing seems to be the Grateful Dead. Among the acts seen only on the outtakes reel are The Association, Al Kooper, Laura Nyro, The Byrds and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Tiny Tim appears in an extra snippet taken in the below-stage commissary. In addition to new tunes, two songs only heard but not seen at the beginning of the feature are performed on camera: Combination of the Two by Big Brother and the Holding Company and San Francisco by Scott McKenzie.
The Criterion Collection's Two-Disc Blu-ray of The Complete Monterey Pop Festival is actually ten dollars less expensive than the DVD boxed set of seven years ago. The contents are essentially the same, as is the tasteful and pleasing packaging design. The manila-colored outer box has a nice washed-out color scheme. The festival's original cartoon art, a girl inflating a flower that goes 'pop', is hidden on the inside. The show is on two Blu-ray discs. The main insert booklet sports a reproduction of a 'best wishes' card from the Beatles, whose Sgt Pepper album had just come out.
Given the limitations described above, the Blu-ray image and sound are remarkable. Every trace of color and sharpness has been extracted from the 16mm negatives and the result given a thorough Criterion clean-up. The re-worked audio was engineered from the original 8-track recording. We're told that the outtake performances were mastered from 16mm reversal prints. Criterion's disc producer is Kim Hendrickson.
The Complete Monterey Pop Festival is quite a show. Keith Moon breaks and tosses scores of drumsticks, Janis Joplin receives a tumultuous reception from the crowd, and Jimi Hendrix conjures weird showoff feedback as if he were performing magic brought back from another planet. Ravi Shankar's slowly building number sculpts the crowd (seen only in true sync-sound cuts) for a finale that captures a transcendent moment in time, forever.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Complete Monterey Pop Festival rates:
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with reader input and graphics. Also, don't forget the
2009 Savant Wish List. T'was Ever Thus.