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The Complete Monterey Pop Festival
Criterion 167
1968 / Color / 1:37 / 79 min. / Street Date November 12, 2002 / $79.95
Cinematography James Desmond, Barry Feinstein, Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles, Roger Murphy, D.A. Pennebaker
Film Editor Nina Schulman
Original Music The Animals, The Association, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Byrds, Canned Heat, Country Joe and the Fish, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Al Kooper, Hugh Masekela, Jefferson Airplane, The Mamas and the Papas, Laura Nyro, Otis Redding, The Quicksilver Messenger Service, Simon and Garfunkel, Tiny Tim, The Who
Produced by Lou Adler, John Phillips
Directed by D.A. Pennebaker

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The first and perhaps the best of the Rock Music performance documentaries, Monterey Pop is another one of those miraculous D.A. Pennebaker movies where he magically happens to be in the right place just as history is made. The Monterey International Pop Festival was three nights that marked a real change 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.

Criterion's painstaking 3-disc package includes three substantial extras that make good use of thousands of feet of footage that didn't get into the final cut of the feature. Jimi Plays Monterey (49minutes) and Shake! Otis at Monterey (19 min.) were both assembled in 1986. The Outtake Performances assembled in 1997 has just over two hours' worth of vintage acts not seen before.


A number of the performances at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival are recorded, along with the audience reaction, and a few glimpses of behind-the-scenes activity. There's a wide variety of acts - pop artists and rock groups, English talent and jazz groups, and Otis Redding's soul act. This is the film where Janis Joplin blasted onto the scene, where the Who destroyed their instruments, and Hendrix burned and smashed his guitar.

Almost completely free of the overpowering 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 the whole three days of concerts. The whole battle-plan of how to shoot rock concerts, done to perfection ten years later in Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz, had yet to be invented. Pennebaker and his 6 co-cameramen had six self-described homemade cameras and a crude method of maintaining synch between each other and their audio recorders. 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 is a huge improvement over a 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. It only happens a handful of times, and it adds to the feeling that we're seeing 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 on the radio and attended a few concerts as a teenager, but is 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 62-page book that's included, I now know something of what it was all about. Monterey Pop now stands in stark contrast to Albert Maysles' Gimme Shelter. Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock has great music, but plays like a commercial for a hippie image that never really existed.

As with all of these shows, watching the audience is a lot of fun. The looks on the faces of the audience and the pretty girls from way back then brings back memories everybody seemed to be so young. Pennebaker starts the show with an open-faced girl saying how Far Out the festival is going to be. Because musicians are often audience members themselves, seeing what else is being offered, familiar faces keep popping up in the seats. Identified clearly are Juliette Greco, at 64 minutes, 45 seconds, and Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees more than once at the end of Ravi Shankar's number. 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, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and in an extra taken in the below-stage commmisary, Tiny Tim. In addition to new tunes, two songs only heard 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 physical packaging for this DVD set is one of the most tasteful and pleasing Savant's yet come across. 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 three discs come in sturdy little folders of their own, and the matching book sports a cover that's a reproduction of a 'best wishes' card from the Beatles, whose Sgt Pepper album had just come out.

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 does weird showoff feedback with his guitar 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:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Monterey Pop: Audio in 5.1 and DTS; commentary by Lou Adler & D. A. Pennebaker; Audio interview John Phillips, Derek Taylor, Cass Elliot and David Crosby; Elaine Hayes photo essay; trailer, radio spots; still scrapbook. Jimi Plays Monterey Audio in 5.1 and DTS; audio commentary by Charles Schaar Murray; Trailer; Pete Townshend on Monterey and Jimi Hendrix. Shake! Otis at Monterey Audio 5.1 and DTS; Two Peter Guralnick audio commentaries; interview with Phil Walden, Otis Redding's manager.
Packaging: Card & plastic folders in card case
Reviewed: November 2, 2002

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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