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Monterey Pop DVD Review

Monterey Pop

July 20, 2006

Director: D.A. Pennebaker,
Starring: The Mamas & the Papas, Canned Heat, Simon & Garfunkel, Eric Burden & the Animals, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix,

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DVD Review

Shot on a weekend in June of 1967 at the height of the Summer of Love, Monterey Pop (1968) was documentarian D.A. Pennebaker’s look at the first and only Monterey International Pop Festival. Not only did this concert capture the essence of where rock music was in the 1960s but it also hinted at where it was going by launching the careers of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding. Many bands played over these three days, like the Grateful Dead, the Mamas & the Papas, Simon & Garfunkel and the Who but due to time constraints and inexperience we only get a sampling of some of these artists.

However, Pennebaker wisely showcases the big hits of these acts so we get to see the Mamas & the Papas perform “California Dreamin’” which was their signature song. If they felt a little polished then Canned Heat proved to be the complete opposite with a raw, soulful rendition of the bluesy “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” They come across as an incredibly tight band and it feels as if they could’ve jammed all day. It’s a shame that there wasn’t more footage of them included in this documentary.

Simon & Garfunkel look like they are on sedatives with their way too mellow version of “Feelin’ Groovy” that acts almost as a lullaby. Although, to the filmmakers’ credit, they don’t show Jefferson Airplane performing “White Rabbit” – that would be too easy – instead we get the introspective and very moving rendition of “Today.”

Pennebaker was fresh from the success of his cinema verite doc on Bob Dylan entitled “Don’t Look Back (1967) and applied the same thrilling, people-in-motion style to Monterey Pop. This readily apparent in the Who’s energetic rendition of “My Generation” as Pennebaker tries and fails to contain the anarchic spirit of the band. How do you do justice to the whirlwind that was Keith Moon? People forget that this was the band’s first major American appearance. The song devolves into chaos as Pete Townsend smashes his guitar and Moon kicks over his drum kit. This has since become a cliché but back then it was pretty shocking behaviour and in hindsight acts as a violent sign of things to come as the Manson murders and the Altamont Music Festival stabbing, documented in Albert and David Maysles’ Gimme Shelter (1970), would bring an end to the peace and love vibe of the ‘60s.

Otis Redding, with his energetic style, seems almost out of place with his raw soul charisma but his in-between song banter about love demonstrates how perfectly he fit in with these other acts. He then delivers a powerful rendition of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” that is absolutely electric and Pennebaker captures this feeling so well. This gig would mark his first major public performance and he sadly died a few months later in a tragic plane crash.

Perhaps the most iconic image and performance from this film features Jimi Hendrix (in also his first major American appearance) tearing it up with a blistering version of “Wild Thing” that utilizes his trademark feedback to kick things off and the ends it with the now legendary burning of his guitar.

Monterey Pop acts as an alternative to the bloated, overrated celebration of ‘60s music, Woodstock (1970). Pennebaker’s doc comes in at a lean 79 minutes and still manages to capture the spirit of the times: the idealism and optimism of the ‘60s, conveying the belief that anything could happen and Pennebaker’s sometimes experimental style conveys these notions. Monterey Pop is a fascinating snapshot of the times in which it was made and is ultimately a hopeful love letter to the ‘60s.

Special Features:

Originally, released in a box set with two hours of bonus performance footage and Pennebaker’s short films Jimi Plays Monterey (1986) and Shake! Otis at Monterey (1986), Criterion has re-released it separately but with all of its extras intact.

There is an audio commentary by co-producer Lou Adler and filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker. Adler talks about how the concert came together. It was done for charity with bands playing for free and so they wanted to provide them with the best sound system, living conditions and so on. Pennebaker didn’t want to have any voiceover narration and instead let the music speak for itself. He also talks about why he picked the songs that are in the film. The two men end up telling all kinds of filming anecdotes and offer their reflections on what the festival was like and all about in this engaging track.

“Adler and Pennebaker Interview” was conducted in the summer of 2001. The two men talk about how they got their respective starts and how the Monterey Festival came together in this informative extra.

“Scrapbook” features a collection of photographs taken by Elaine Mayes including an optional commentary where she talks about how she got into photography and her personal philosophy. She also gives her impressions of this festival which goes well with her pictures of the concert. Mayes’ musings about her craft are particularly interesting. A nice touch is the inclusion of the festival’s program.

There are audio interviews with several participants including John Phillips and David Crosby. Phillips gives his impressions of Janis Joplin and how nervous she was before going onstage. Crosby talks about the revelation of seeing Hendrix perform and how masterful his guitar playing was. Interestingly, Crosby was offended by the Who smashing their instruments but at least he knew that they could play them.

There is a theatrical trailer and five radio spots.

Also included is information on the Monterey International Pop Festival Foundation and how the concert raised money for worthwhile causes.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 89%

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