At 1967's now-historic Monterey International Pop Festival, Otis Redding charmingly inquired from the stage, "This is the love crowd, right?" When Jimi Hendrix took the stage, he didn't ask about love. He humped his speaker stack before orgasmically riding his guitar. It's as good an example as any of the variety offered by Monterey Pop, a fest built atop an identity crisis. The San Francisco Bay Area contingent of the organizers looked with suspicion on commercial interlopers, while the Los Angeles contingent sought out greater star power. Looking back on a time when music mattered, it's all good—at least as seen through the lens of documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker in his film Monterey Pop.
On home video, The Criterion Collection has gathered the definitive collection of Pennebaker's footage, from the original film to two hours of outtake performances to the complete sets of Redding and Hendrix. Also on the bill (among many others): Janis Joplin, The Who, Ravi Shankar, Simon and Garfunkel, The Byrds, Hugh Masakela, Laura Nyro, Jefferson Airplane, and the Mamas and the Papas, whose John Phillips co-produced the fest with Lou Adler. With a 16mm camera crew including Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles and Pennebaker himself, the resultant footage provides an intimate, verité view of the happenings on stage and off. With all of the hoopla over Woodstock's fortieth anniversary, now is a good time to remember Monterey Pop, a calm musical love-in that didn't transfer the controlled chaos of some of the performances (notably the duelling antics of firestarter Hendrix and equipment-mauling The Who) into genuine chaos in the audience section of the venue.
Pennebaker begins his film by setting the stage by watching the crew literally set the stage but also by capturing the faces and behaviors of the crowd assembling for the weekend in Monterey, 120 miles south of San Francisco. The opening montage unfolds to Scott McKenzie's chart-topping hippie anthem "San Francisco," while the first performance in the film is that of The Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'." Particularly in hindsight, the California dream represented by the Summer of Love courses through the Monterey Pop Festival, which took place in June of that immortal season. The fest motto "Love, Flowers, and Music" sets the tone for Pennebaker's film, which observes placid music fans camping out, strolling the fairgrounds, and sitting in neat rows of chairs for two and a half days of music.
Musical calm came from acts like Simon and Garfunkel, who were then still "Feelin' Groovy," and the Mamas and the Papas, who countered with "Got a Feelin'," but many of the performances were electric, guitars or no. Fronting Big Brother and the Holding Company, Joplin earned a standing ovation for a set that culminated in a powerhouse vocal perfomance of "Ball and Chain" (Pennebaker catches Mama Cass agape throughout the number). Ravi Shankar's virtuosic "Raga Bhimpalasi" electrified the Sunday afternoon crowd (though Paul McCartney was on the fest's board of governors and his band's press officer Derek Taylor was a festival publicist, Shankar's friends The Beatles would not perform). Only six months before his death, twenty-five-year-old Otis Redding captivated the Monterey audience with his searing soul vocals, while twenty-four-year-old Hendrix—already famous in Europe—gave the performance that immediately launched him into the stratosphere of the American rock scene.
Gimmickry like the drug-friendly, swirling, bubbling psychedelic backdrops projected behind the bands, Townsend's hard-chopping destruction of his electric "axe," and Hendrix's burning of his own phallic, long-necked guitar enhanced the effect of Monterey Pop without detracting from its essence: the music, the power of personality, and the positivity of a communal gathering in loving celebration of art.
The state-of-the-art A/V treatment given to Monterey Pop in Criterion's The Complete Monterey Pop Festival makes the already fantastic (and otherwise equivalent) DVD set pale in comparison. The two-BD set includes all of the material found in the three-DVD set, but the BD set comes with HD upgrades all around: for the 80-minute feature on Disc One and the two complete performances sharing Disc Two: the 49-minute "Jimi Plays Monterey" and the 19-minute "Shake! Otis at Monterey."
Picture quality is top notch, with the transfers derived from original 16mm A/B camera reversals and the 35mm duplicate negative. Scrubbed off and rendered in full HD, the film retains its film-like character while presenting tremendous detail and clarity. Sound is obviously of utmost importance, and Criterion presents multiple options created from the eight-track source tapes: remixed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, original LPCM 2.0 Stereo, and remixed LPCM 2.0 Stereo. Likewise clean and crisp, these mixes satisfy the purist and provide a stunning lossless surround option for maximum fidelity and immersion.
All of the extras from the DVD set return here, beginning with a friendly and historically informative commentary by Monterey Pop Festival producer Lou Adler and filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, recorded together in conversation. Naturally, Adler focuses on the festival itself, while Pennebaker sticks to his methodology and remembrances of recording the action.
Of primary interest is the extensive collection of Outtakes. Included are:
Also on Disc One are a 2001 video interview with "Adler and Pennebaker" (29:22, HD); Audio Interviews with "John Phillips" (16:03, HD), "Cass Elliot" (12:19, HD), "David Crosby" (9:27, HD) and "Derek Taylor" (29:24, HD); the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:43, HD) and five "Radio Spots" (3:42, HD).
We get a section of Elaine Mayes Photographs from her coverage of the festival for Hullabaloo Magazine and her subsequent collection It Happened in Monterey, as a Still Gallery, "Photo-Essay with Commentary" (12:14, HD) and a text screen "About Elaine Mayes."
A navigable gallery presents the Festival Program, while a text screen explainins the MIPFF (Monterey International Pop Festival Foundation).
Disc Two's presentation of Jimi Plays Monterey includes commentary by music critic and historian Charles Shear Murray, which also comes with eight Additional Audio Excerpts from Murray.
A "Pete Townsend Interview" (4:35, HD) provides a fascinating excerpt of a chat conducted in 1987 for VH1. The excerpt concerns Townsend's memories of Monterey Pop and specifically of Jimi Hendrix; Townsend tells his side of the story about the dispute over who would go on first: Hendrix or The Who.
Last up for Jimi Plays Monterey is a "Trailer" (3:34, HD).
Shake! Otis at Monterey includes both song-by-song commentary by music historian Peter Guralnick and career-overview commentary by Guralnick.
Last up is "Phil Walden Interview" (18:44, HD), a 2002 chat with Walden, who was Redding's manager from 1959 until Redding's death in 1967.
The set comes with two booklets, one a 48-page glossy insert with essays by Michael Lydon, Barney Hoskyns and Armond White,, and the other a twelve-page glossy insert with liner notes by John Fricke. For fans of American popular music, The Complete Monterey Pop Festival is something of a mother lode, with Criterion's typically impressive deluxe treatment offering hours of enjoyment and enlightenment.
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