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DVD Review: The Complete Monterey Pop Festival

By Glenn Abel

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Pop art "Monterey the rock festival still stands in the shadows of the bigger and gaudier Woodstock, but "Monterey Pop" the film has no rival as a time capsule of late-'60s rock."

Smarter, hipper and more musical than other rock films of the era, "Monterey" was, remarkably, the work of a filmmaker without a clue. New Yorker D.A. Pennebaker knew nothing of the bands he was filming or of the world-changing events unfolding before his cameras in 1967. "I was the most ignorant person there," Pennebaker recalls in his commentary. "It was a strange kind of Martian adventure for me."

The Criterion Collection's carefully crafted three-DVD set brings together a fully restored version of the original film, a new disc jam-packed with outtakes and the two spinoff films starring Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding. "The Complete Monterey Pop Festival" retails for $79.95.

Audio and video easily pass the acid test. Restoration efforts (detailed in the set's splendid booklet and in the extras) yielded a 5.1 sound that's updated yet true to the time -- check out some of the old-style stereo separation and the AM radio punch of the percussion. Rear channels give off stadium ambiance, instrument echoes and audience cheers, making for an open, you-are-there vibe. In contrast, the audio on Criterion's 1988 laserdisc sounds like a decent unidimensional bootleg."

Likewise, the video taken from the original 16mm negatives looks flower-child fresh, with almost none of the deterioration that plagued the previous video. Significant color correction is evident, and grain has been banished. (Audio and video on the outtakes have significantly rougher edges, including a lot of hair on the lenses.)

"Monterey Pop" captured the hippie music scene at a time closer to the Newport of Dylan than the chaos of the big Eastern rock fests. Many acts were folkies making the transition to rock, accomplished performers right at home on Monterey's small, traditional stage. The mixed bag of performers included hitmakers the Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat, the Who and Buffalo Springfield.

Festival and film producer Lou Adler says Monterey was the tipping point between the gentler "old guard" and the new wave of guitar-fueled psychedelia. "The film had a lot of the energy of what was coming," he says.

Several of the era's biggest acts -- notably the Beatles and Stones -- failed to make the scene in Northern California, leaving the glory to a pair of mostly unknown performers: Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. The DVD's revved-up audio and video powerfully echo the shock of new from Joplin's "Ball and Chain" and Hendrix's "Wild Thing."

Time has been kind to many of Pennebaker's creative decisions. The inclusion of international acts Hugh Masekela and Ravi Shankar gives the film a contemporary musical tone. Otis Redding makes the cut, not Lou Rawls. Editing avoids the frantic cuts of rock cliche.

Pennebaker ("Don't Look Back") speaks at length about Indian musician Shankar's raga that is the thrilling but challenging finale. The plan that day was to focus on the audience reacting to the exotic Indian music, so Shankar's stage cinematography was left to two inexperienced cameramen. "It turned out to be the most extraordinarily dramatic piece of music we ever ran across," the director recalls. During editing, Pennebaker says, he resisted pressure from Mama Cass Elliot to cut the lengthy instrumental, saying nothing could possibly follow it. Writer Truman Capote, of all people, encouraged Pennebaker to retain the number and the ensuing ovation that provides the film's touching final moments.

The cinema verite enhances many of the film's charms: When Eric Burdon sings "Paint It, Black," Brian Jones walks among the crowd, unheralded. You either get it or you don't -- the camera moves on either way.

Adler, who partnered with Mamas and Papas frontman John Phillips to produce the festival, tells how a peace broke out between the rival rock factions of L.A. and San Francisco to allow the event. Monterey was financed by network TV, with young ABC exec Barry Diller envisioning a musical special. Once fest organizers realized what they had, they deliberately screened Hendrix's R-rated performance for the ABC suits -- and were allowed to go elsewhere.

Outstanding outtakes on the set include Paul Butterfield, the Electric Flag, the Byrds and Laura Nyro. A bonus three-song segment from the Who features drummer Keith Moon at the peak of his crazed powers. The Mamas and the Papas close the show and the bonus disc with what would be their next-to-last concert.

Extras include audio interviews with the late Phillips and other key performers, Pete Townshend discussing his famous backstage flap with Hendrix, and Tiny Tim performing in the green room, a piece of theater as trippy as anything ever produced by Haight Ashbury.

Order the DVD here at a 25% discount

Glenn Abel is Executive Editor, Electronic, at The Hollywood Reporter

Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter

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