The Complete Monterey Pop Festival -- Criterion Collection
Two years before Woodstock, the first rock festival kicked off the
Summer of Love and a master director was there to film it.
Oct 01, 2009
For three days in June 1967, more than 30 acts descended on the
Monterey County Fairgrounds, along with 200,000 fans, hundreds of
tents, and a documentary crew. The event became a turning point in
rock history, and the movie helped shape the new direction of music on film.
Though less famous than Woodstock, which came two summers later, it
was arguably even more influential, bringing together a slate of
artists from around the world, introducing huge acts to the U.S., and
inventing the idea of the rock festival.
Unknowns shared the stage with established stars like Jefferson
Airplane and the Mamas and the Papas (Papa John Phillips was one of
the festival's organizers), and some of those unknowns -- notably the
Who and Jimi Hendrix, popular in the U.K. but unheard of in the
States -- vaulted to stardom after their Monterey debuts. Black
performers like Otis Redding and Lou Rawls got rare exposure to a
white audience, and the Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar was
introduced to America.
On hand to film the experiment was pioneering documentary maker D.A.
Pennebaker (fresh off his Bob Dylan classic Don't Look Back). He
first distilled the hours of footage down to a documentary released
in 1968, and released two shorter follow-ups in the '80s. The
Criterion Collection release includes all three and adds hours of
extra footage, a trove for fans of the era, but also a great document
for anyone interested in rock music.
The original documentary weaves in some handlheld "direct cinema"
footage (a technique Pennebaker helped invent) of the kaftans and
giant god's eyes, but mostly quiet moments of people sleeping in
tents and eating corn on the cob, less chaotic than the images that
would define Woodstock for movie audiences two years later.
But the focus is solidly on the performances, with no introductions
or narration. Rather than following the chronology of the show it
jumps from song to song, day to night, a free association trip
through the three days. The camera pulls in tight on the performers'
faces, with shots of the psychedelic lightshows that played behind the bands.
Most of the acts only get a single number, but the list of standouts
is impressive: the Who's "My Generation," which ends with Pete
Townshend bashing his guitar to splinters; Big Brother and the
Holding Company, with Janis Joplin singing, covering Big Mama
Thornton's "Ball 'n' Chain"; Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You too
Long"; Jimi Hendrix's "Wild Thing," which ends with Jimi lighting his
guitar on fire, one of the indelible visual moments of the era.
Another signature moment is an excerpt of Ravi Shankar's four-hour
sitar performance, his first major exposure in the United States.
The only complaint is that at just 79 minutes, featuring just 13 of
the 33 bands that played and completely without context, it feels too
short, like there's more of a story there than Pennebaker tells.
Fortunately, the extras and essays go a long way to fix that.
Extras: Typical for Criterion, the extras are exhaustive and pretty
amazing. (Their treatment of Gimme Shelter, the excellent Maysles
brothers documentary of the Rolling Stones at Altamont in '69,
bookends this perfectly.)
Two hours of extra footage feature music from 16 acts like Simon and
Garfunkel, The Byrds, and Buffalo Springfield, along with extra
tracks from the Who, Jefferson Airplane, and the Mamas and the Papas.
(There are some missteps; do we really need a single song from Tiny
Tim, never mind five? And notably missing are Janis Joplin's earlier
set with Big Brother and the Holding Company, who had initially
refused to be filmed, and The Grateful Dead, who never gave permission.)
Audio commentary and a video interview from show producer Lou Adler
and Pennebaker give extra insight, along with audio interviews with
John Phillips and other performers, a photo essay that can be watched
as a 12-minute slideshow with commentary by the photographer, the
original theatrical trailer and radio spots, a "scrapbook" featuring
the original festival program, and a booklet with photos and essays.
Jimi Plays Monterey
After some older archival footage and a John Phillips voiceover about
discovering Hendrix and bringing him to the festival, we get his
whole Monterey set, including "Foxy Lady," "Like a Rolling Stone," an
apocalyptic version of "Hey Joe," and, of course, "Wild Thing." It's
easy to focus on the Hendrix legend and forget just how good he
really was; everything here reminds you, from the ease of his
behind-the-back solos to his playing with feedback by flying his
guitar through the air.
Extras: Audio commentary by music critic and historian Charles Shaar
Murray, the theatrical trailer, and footage of Pete Townshend talking
about Hendrix at Monterey.
Shake! Otis at Monterey
Clocking in at just 19 minutes, the bare bones Shake! is just Otis
Redding's five-song set from Monterey. Though this was his first real
exposure to white audiences, from the crowd's reaction it's obvious
he was ready to cross over. His energy is infectious, his voice
amazing, and the backup, from fellow Stax stars Booker T. and the
MGs, incendiary. Six months later he died in a plane crash at just
26, three days after recording what would be his biggest hit,
"(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay."
Extras: Two audio commentaries by music historian Peter Guralnick (a
track-by-track voiceover and a discussion of Redding before and after
Monterey) and a video interview with Redding's manager.
After their closing number on the final night, Mama Cass Elliot of
the Mamas and the Papas told the crowd, "We're gonna have this
festival every year, so you can stay if you want!" But it ended up
being the one and only Monterey Pop Festival, and what seemed like
the beginning of something was already almost the end; Redding,
Hendrix, and Joplin were all dead by 1970, with Mama Cass and the
Who's Keith Moon not far behind. But Pennebaker's movies live on as a
document of the moment, and Criterion's treatment gives them the
context and backstory to explain what that moment meant to the people
who lived it.
The Complete Monterey Pop Festival: Criterion Collection is available
now from Criterion.
THE COMPLETE MONTEREY POP Criterion Blu-ray Review
by Andre Dellamorte
September 28th, 2009
Concert films often work best when they're about one band. The Last
Waltz and Stop Making Sense are great, because you can either like
the artist or not, but it's about their moment, that moment, when
they record the show they're doing. The problem with gig shows, like
Monterey Pop, is that not all musicians are created equal. So they
have to be about the moment, and the experience. My review after the jump.
Monterey Pop brings together a number of performers, but only a
couple will make you lose your minds. But four such performances are
enough to make a film like this, and it's worth celebrating the film
for those, and though the film shows where pop music was at that
moment, some artists are better than others. The show starts with
some Mamas and the Papas, and the song "California Dreaming." A
dreamy, perfect 60's song, it sets things off on the good vibrations
front, especially after a montage shot to "San Francisco." The Mamas
and the Papas feature John Phillips, who some people might feel
differently about these days. Then you get so modest performances by
Canned Heat doing "Rollin and Tumblin" and then Simon and Garfunkle
doing "Feelin' Groovy."This is followed by Hughy Masekela's "Bajabula
Bonke" (Healing Song), which mixes some jazz with African styles to
show the diversity of the period. Not bad. Then you get two songs
from The Jefferson Airplane "High Flyin' Bird" and Today." Very San
Fran, very Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
But then comes Janis Joplin doing "Ball and Chain," Joplin's always
been one of those performers lionized after an early death, but this
performance is undeniable. She's alive, she's got the blues down, and
it's electric. The Animals (with Eric Burden) doing "Paint it Black"?
Not so much. But then comes The Who doing "My Generation" and killing
it. The film starts picking up steam at this point, but then hands
the film over for one song to Country Joe and the Fish doing "Section
43." It's head music of the time.
But then the two most killer acts of Monterey hit the stage. Otis
Redding, doing "Shake" and "I've been Loving You Too Long," and then
Jimi Hendrix doing "Wild Thing" where at the end of the song he ends
up lighting his guitar on fire and then smashing it. Things round out
with the Mamas and the Papas doing "Got a Feelin'" and then Ravi
Shankar's "Raga Bhimpalasi," which runs for seventeen minutes and
closes out the show. If you like a good sitar jam, this shit rocks.
Like any festival, there's ups and downs, but this seems to go
chronologically, versus building a good set list. It's more about the
fest and the period, but it's not a great movie as a movie, but
fascinating as a period piece. The fest was setup by Lou Adler, and
the film was made by D.A. Pennebaker, and they reminisce about making
the film on the commentary track. It's solid, but nostalgic. It's
about a moment where a lot of cultures were coming together,
overlapping seamless, as black and white cultures were borrowing so
much that their art influenced each other to greater ends.
Criterion's Blu-ray presents the concert in full frame (1.33:1) and
in an uncompressed version of the original stereo mix, and an
uncompressed Stereo remix. For those who like it louder, there's a
DTS-HD master audio 5.1 track. That was the way I went for most of
it, and it's nice, though the crowd often ends up in the rears. The
picture quality of the film is excellent considering the 16mm source.
As for extras, they are legion. In the Outtakes section, the songs
are arranged by day.
Day one has songs by "Along Comes Mary" by The Association, and
"Homeward Bound" and "The Sounds of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel.
Day 2 offers "Not-So-Sweet Martha Lorraine" by Country Joe and the
Fish, Al Kooper doing "(I heard her say) Wake Me, Shake Me," The Paul
Butterfield Band doing "Drifting Blues in two different cuts (5 min
vs. 8 min.). Then comes Quicksilver Messenger Service doing "All I
ever Wanted to Do (was love you)," followed by The Electric Flag
doing "Drinkin' Wine." The Byrds get three songs with "Chimes of
Freedom," "He Was a Friend of Mine," and "Hey Joe" along with David
Crosby talking conspiracy re: the JFK shooting. Laura Nyro does
"Wedding Bell Blues" and "Poverty Train." Jefferson Airplane closes
out Day 2 with "Somebody to Love." Since Jimi Hendrix and Otis
Redding are available on a separate disc, Day 3 does not feature any
additional material from them, but it does have The Blues Project
doing "The Flute Thing," but more importantly Big Brother and the
Holding Company doing "Combination of the Two" with a 5.1 remix
version included. Buffalo Springfield do "For What its Worth," but
The Who do "Substitute," "Summertime Blues," and "A Quick One While
He's Away," with the final track also remixed into 5.1. The Who are
pretty spectacular, and these are great tracks. Rounding out day 3 is
The Mama's and the Papa's with a six song set: "Straight Shooter,"
"Somebody Groovy," "I Call Your Name," "Monday, Monday," "San
Francisco (be sure to wear flowers in your hair)" and "Dancing in the
Street." The band was on the verge of breaking up, so this is an end
of the road performance. There's also four songs by Tiny Tim. Lou
Adler and D.A. Pennebaker offer additional remincings in an interview
(29 min.), while John Phillips (16 min.), Cass Elliot (12 min.),
David Crosby (9 min.) and Derek Taylor (29 min.) all offer their
thoughts via audio interviews. There's a trailer, five radio spots, a
photography gallery, and a program gallery, and pieces on the
festival and remixer Eddie Kramer.
If you buy the Complete Monterey Pop you get two bonus films, or you
can buy the all separately. The bonus disc contains Jimi Plays
Monterey, and Shake! Otis at Monterey. As I suggested previously,
these are two of the most electric performances of the first film,
and likely two of the best from that fest. Jimi Plays Monterey is
longer, running 49 minutes, though with more padding. There's an
early Hendrix appearance where he plays Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts
Club Band, and with it and a number of the other songs here ("Like a
Rolling Stone," "Wild Thing") it shows that one of Hendrix's great
gifts was taking songs written by people in Blues style - but
obviously made by white people - and making them grungier, sexier.
This is presented in full frame (1.33:1) and in an uncompressed
Stereo soundtrack, or a DTS-HD master 5.1 version. Regardless of the
Mix, this is one of the great Hendrix performances, and arguably
better than his Woodstock appearance. This comes with a commentary by
music critic/historian Charles Shaar Murray, which talks about the
importance of this gig, and Hendrix's all too brief career. There's
also an interview with Pete Townsend about the show and his
professional rivalry with Jimi (5 min.). This also comes with a trailer.
Shake! Is only nineteen minutes long, but Otis is one of the great
soul performers, and I've already watched this set three times just
because it's that good.. He talked about being nervous before the
show, as he knew that if he knocked this one out of the park, he'd
find a whole new audience. He kicks off with "Shake," originally a
Sam Cooke song, which Otis had also done on his album "Otis Blue,"
but here he just lights it afire, and the crowd eats it up. He sings:
"Shake it like a bowl of soup!" one of the great lyrics of all time.
He follows it with a song he wrote, but is now known as Aretha
Franklin's crown jewel, "Respect." I've come to love Otis' version a
little more, not that there's anything wrong with Franklin's cover,
but it's about empowerment, where Redding's version is more about
"Look, woman, I worked all day, you better fuck me tonight." And
that, mixed with the drive of the rhythm section makes for a more
delicious double entendre. He follows it with "I've been Loving You
Too Long," and brings it down a bit, but the crowd is on his
fingertips. He gets the band to give him a thump/ugh at a break, and
does it twice in a row, to which the crowd loses their minds. It's
hard to argue with their reaction. This is a man at the top of his game.
He follows it up quickly with his cover of "(I can't get no)
Satisfaction," and though the Stones wrote it, Redding makes this his
own. With the horns echoing the desperation of the chorus, it becomes
the songs the Stones were covering in the first place. Again, sex is
a driving force of these songs, and you can feel it in the bass
lines. Otis wraps it up by dedicating a song to all the miniskirts he
dated. "Try a Little Tenderness" closes out the night. If you don't
like this song, then well, you probably don't like fucking. There's
two commentaries on the piece, by Peter Guralnick, with the first a
song-by-song take on his set, and the second a career overview of the
artist. Also included is an interview with Redding's Manager Phil
Walden (19 min.). This is available in 5.1 DTS-HD audio, or the
uncompressed Stereo master. The film is in full frame (1.33:1) and it
looks as good as it can.