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The Complete Monterey Pop Festival:
The Criterion Collection

Home Vision Entertainment

Starring Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, The Mamas and The Papas, The Who,
Simon & Garfunkel, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Ravi Shankar, and more

Directed by D.A. Pennebaker


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Review by Mark Bourne                    


It's now decades after the event. Jimi, Janis, Cass, Otis, Keith, and so many others aren't with us anymore. Still, somewhere out there are thousands of former "flower children" who can load up these three DVDs and show their children (or grandchildren!) what it was like back in the day. Back when they were there, man, at Monterey. Back when the Monterey International Pop Festival brought together an era-defining confluence of rock, blues, soul, ballads, psychedelia, and jazz that spoke for a generation in ways that scared hell out of the old folks. Whether you were there or not — even born or not — fans of the music that played for three days in June 1967 should jump on this superb Criterion release as if it were the last chopper out of 'Nam.

The concert

Over the June 16-18 weekend in the Summer of Love and Sgt. Pepper, 200,000 young people traveled to Monterey, a small coastal city about 80 miles south of San Francisco, to experience something good. Little did they know. The first and arguably greatest of the Woodstock-era outdoor rock concerts, the Monterey Festival altered the landscape of popular music while giving a public face to the "love, flowers, and music" youth culture that helped shape the fractious Vietnam War years. "Be happy, be free; wear flowers, bring bells — have a festival" entreated the program book. The country's social frictions, which would soon boil over in bloody ways, faded to the background while 100,000 Hawaiian orchids fluttered from an airplane over the peaceful gathering of the tribes. The Byrds' Chris Hillman told Billboard magazine that Monterey was "the best rock festival ever" not only because of its wide spectrum of talent — it didn't have the drug overdoses, mud, and lack of any amenities that marred Woodstock two years later. "There were no negatives at all. Everything worked, and it was such a well-run show that it set a precedent never to be equaled."

Many of the performers — such as The Mamas and The Papas, The Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane — were already familiar to this audience. Monterey is, though, best remembered for the new talent it introduced, breakout performers who would soon shape rock music for generations afterward. An underground legend in England yet all but unknown in his home country, Jimi Hendrix became famous at Monterey by bringing his guitar to a masterful screaming orgasm before setting his pink, hand-painted Stratocaster ablaze on stage. The Who were popular in England, but it wasn't until Monterey that Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, and drumstick-flinging Keith Moon's new sophisticated sound and equipment-smashing theatrics concluding "My Generation" were steel-press stamped into the American pop rock scene. Janis Joplin rips open her heart and soul to rise from relative obscurity in the Bay Area clubs. An established star with black audiences, soul singer Otis Redding found a permanent new audience with Monterey's largely white "love crowd." Similarly, Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar mesmerized his throng with a three-hour virtuoso set of something utterly new and transcendent.

(The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were two obvious omissions from the guest roster. The Beatles had quit touring in favor of studio work, with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band released two weeks earlier. Paul McCartney, though, was on the the Festival board, and it was his insistence that Hendrix appear on the bill. The Stones were not allowed to tour America thanks to the recent drug trials of Mick Jagger and Keith Richard. But Stones guitarist Brian Jones did attend. He introduced Hendrix's performance and, likely due in no small part to his flowing psychedelic attire, was hailed King of the Festival.)

Monterey marked the first rock benefit concert. All the performers played for free, and today the non-profit MIPF Foundation still receives income from Festival merchandizing such as recordings, photos, and, naturally, the films.

Then of course there was the audience. They arrived bedecked in beads and fringe and peace symbols, their faces and balloons and kites and banners and buses painted in cheerful colors and purple-hazy patterns, their heads adorned with flowers to literalize the Festival's unofficial theme song, Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco." And indeed, those who made sure to wear some flowers in their hair really found that "summertime will be a love-in there."

The film

Also present was seminal documentarian D.A. Pennebaker with a phalanx of cameras and crew that included "Direct Cinema" pioneer Albert Maysles (eventually of Gimme Shelter fame). Born in 1925, Pennebaker was more than a decade older than the "never trust anyone over thirty" generation he had begun chronicling in Don't Look Back, a cinéma vérité portrait of Bob Dylan. When ABC TV hired him to film the Monterey event for a television special, no one could have predicted that "not family-friendly" footage such as Hendrix's sexually charged performance would keep Pennebaker's reels off the air. With those ties cut, Pennebaker worked with festival coordinators "Papa" John Phillips and recording mogul Lou Adler to assemble the footage into a feature film. He edited three days and thirty-two acts into 1968's Monterey Pop, a beatific 79-minute document that set out to catch the look, the feel, and especially the sounds of a seminal moment in American popular culture.

In the mid-1980s, Pennebaker restored some of his most electrifying "lost" footage in two mini-documentaries: Jimi Plays Monterey preserved the full Jimi Hendrix Experience at its peak, and Shake! Otis at Monterey highlighted Redding's entire rafter-rattling brand of R&B.

The DVDs

Now after 35 years, Criterion's The Complete Monterey Pop Festival presents Pennebaker's original film struck from a gorgeously restored print. A second disc holds both Jimi Plays Monterey and Shake!, and a third delivers more than two hours of first-rate outtake footage, including more from The Who and numerous acts who never made it into the final cut of Pennebaker's film at all, such as The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. Moreover, new commentary tracks, archival video and audio interviews with performers, and a terrific 64-page booklet contribute to one of the all-time great DVD releases. Criterion has put together a release essential for concert film collectors and those for whom the late Sixties are worth remembering with affection and perhaps a little awe.

Disc 1: Monterey Pop

Pennebaker himself supervised this disc's beautiful restoration and remastering, transforming the original 16mm A and B rolls into a high-def digital transfer that's clean, crisp, color-corrected, spotless, and grain-free. The audio is, of course, absolutely vital, and it's a stunner — renowned recording engineer Eddie Kramer, a 30-year veteran studio guru, crafted each room-filling, newly remastered mix on hand here. Extraordinary stadium ambiance shines through in the clear-as-crystal, balls-to-the-wall Dolby 5.1 option, and even that's surpassed by a phenomenal DTS 5.1 option. The rear channels surround you with vocal and instrumental presence and audience cheers. For purists, the cleaned-up original 2.0 stereo mix is here too.

Monterey Pop opens with a sweet-faced young girl extolling the groovy love vibes to come. Then we're backstage with John and Michelle Phillips on the phone with Dionne Warwick (who'd dropped out at the last minute), and out front while the audience arrives. With final preparations underway, McKenzie's "San Francisco" establishes the occasion's anthem, followed by The Mamas and The Papas' "Creeque Alley." In this disc's commentary track, Adler tells us that one of their goals as festival producers was to give the best possible venue experience to the performers, who worked gratis (Chuck Berry refused his invitation because he wouldn't be paid). The hope was that years later the musicians would look back at Monterey as a really good gig. Everything from hotel accommodations to backstage food was top-notch, probably the best the musicians had experienced so far in their careers, and that held true for the stage equipment as well. In these first few minutes of Monterey Pop, a pleased David Crosby observes, "Groovy, a decent sound system at last!"

Pennebaker's vérité style, with its with hand-held cameras and tight close-ups on the performers' intensity, is plenty familiar nowadays, but here it's also not too slick or overproduced, arrows sometimes aimed at later projects such as Michael Wadleigh's documentary Woodstock. Here that "real feel" is a raw-edged and ever-moving virtue. Cameras pan over or zoom into the audience, or across the booths and blankets that turned the fairgrounds into an exotic marketplace. We watch lovers dance or kiss, follow a bald head painted like a hippie phrenologist's dream, and visit a police chief who notes that there's talk of the Hell's Angels and Black Panthers coming down. Pennebaker exhibits an affectionate eye for the pretty girls, in particular one expressive short-cropped blond he returns to several times, and he keeps our sense of days passing by intercutting pre-concert sleepers in their bedrolls or an Illinois girl happy with the privilege of wiping thousands of folding chairs before a day's events begin. But his emphasis is squarely on the bands. Pennebaker keeps us at arm's length through a film that doesn't strive for the intimacy of Woodstock; instead of a documentary emblemizing the "youth movement's" melding of music with counterculture politics, here we have a dynamic record of a three-day concert, pure and simple.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel (looking barely old enough to shave) prove that the Greenwich Village acoustic sound isn't dead yet with "The 59th Street Bridge Song." Simon, a member of the Festival's board of directors, had wanted "Sounds of Silence" to represent the duo in the film, but Pennebaker felt that "feelin' groovy" better fit his ideal of the more playful pop music sound. Less famous today, regrettably, are Canned Heat, who pump down-and-dirty energy into the Mississippi blues standard "Rollin and Tumblin'," and South African Hughy Masekela's head-snapping, brassy "Bajabula Bonke (Healing Song)."

Jefferson Airplane with Grace Slick were better in a studio than on stage, though their set of "High Flyin' Bird" and "Today" gives us a rare look at the group live. (Their performance in this film so impressed French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard that in '68 he shot footage of the group performing a rooftop concert atop a New York hotel. The police arrived and stopped the performance, so Godard's film, titled One A.M., for "One American Movie," was never completed.)

We're there on stage when Cass Elliot and her fellow Mamas and Papas start with "California Dreamin'," then later when they come back singing "Got a Feelin'." In one of the film's highlights, Mama Cass Elliot stares in open-mouthed rapture, and so do we, as Janis wails "Ball & Chain" like a woman feeling in her bones every word she sings. In an audio interview elsewhere on this disc, Cass dubs Janis Joplin the star of the Festival, and here it's easy to understand why.

Eric Burdon and the Animals offer a straight-ahead rendition of The Stones' "Paint it Black," followed by The Who igniting smoke bombs and smashing their kit at the pow! kaboom! climax of "My Generation." Their destructive finale was already old-hat for them in England, and there had been some backstage tussling over whether they'd appear before or after Hendrix, who also had a big finish in mind.

Country Joe and the Fish's "Section 43" represents the San Francisco psychedelic rock scene (two years before the band achieves its immortality with Woodstock's "Fish Cheer"). Then Otis Redding shouts "We all love each other, right? ... Let me hear you say YEAH!" and shows the white boys how to kick down the doors with "Shake" and "I've Been Loving You Too Long."

After Rolling Stone Brian Jones introduces Jimi Hendrix and joins the awestruck audience, the cameras are right there on stage when the master, clad like a messiah from outer space, dry-humps his Marshall amps, drives full-thrusters into "Wild Thing," and ends with his famous fire-ritual exit. The broken guitar neck he hurls into the audience is now on display in Seattle's Music Experience museum.

Closing out the film is a long set from the third day's meditative afternoon of Indian ragas, Ravi Shankar's 18-minute "Raga Bhimpalasi," which builds into a blurred-fingers frenzy of Eastern rhythms that blisses out the 7,000 people seated at Shankar's bare feet. Shankar, by the way, nearly backed out of this historic gig. The legendary sitarist, who had just been introduced to the West through his association with George Harrison and The Beatles, admired Hendrix's virtuosity as a musician, but Jimi's movements with the guitar — and finally burning it up — were too much. Then when The Who broke their instruments, Shankar was so disturbed that he decided not to play at all. After discussions, it was arranged that Shankar would play a separate three-hour afternoon session with no one before or after. Up there with Jimi and Janis, that session is one of the things people talk about when they talk about Monterey.

The commentary track

Aside from the movie itself, Disc One's full-length audio commentary with Pennebaker and Adler is packed with first-hand information. The wealth of memory from the two men is remarkable. Their fluff-free dialogue focuses on what went on behind the scenes of the Festival's inception and organization, plenty of observations and reminiscences about performers as we see them, some of the editorial thinking behind who did or didn't make the final cut, the film's influence on later work by others, and the troubles and rewards of pulling the whole thing off.

"I was the most ignorant person there," says Pennebaker, a New Yorker who knew nothing about the bands he was hired to film. "It was a strange kind of Martian adventure for me." During Shankar's set, the filmmaker notes that his intention had been to devote the footage to the audience's reactions to the exotic Indian music, therefore two inexperienced cameramen filmed Shankar on stage. "It turned out to be," Pennebaker recalls, "the most extraordinarily dramatic piece of music we ever ran across." Mama Cass Elliot pressured him to cut the lengthy instrumental by saying that nothing could possibly follow it. It took encouragement from writer Truman Capote for Pennebaker to retain the piece, which closes the film with a tremendous standing ovation.

Some of the reminiscing is more personal than historical. For instance, Pennebaker recalls how, the year before recording this track, he got out of a speeding ticket when he appeared before the traffic court judge and she recognized his name; she told him he could park anywhere he wanted and never be fined in her court — she had been at Monterey, knew his connection with the movie, and associated him with that life-changing event in her life.

Supplements

A treasure box labeled Supplements begins with a new half-hour video interview in which Pennebaker and Adler interview each other about the Festival's roots in a meeting with Paul McCartney at Cass Elliot's house, the aborted ABC deal, Pennebaker's Don't Look Back, and more. Excerpts from four informative archival audio interviews with John Phillips, publicist Derek Taylor, and performers Cass Elliot and David Crosby fill out details of their experiences with the Festival.

Clicking the Scrapbook menu opens a fine selection of ancillary items. For starters, we get an extensive click-through catalog of photos by Elaine Mayes, who shot the Festival for Hullabaloo magazine. Her images, which come with captions, capture performers whose stage time didn't make Pennebaker's final cut. She also provides a 12-minute photo essay with her commentary (recorded in 2002 and a must for the serious photojournalist) plus a text bio. The Festival's massive original program is a fascinating full-color time capsule, so we get it in a click-through page-by-page facsimile of its photos, artwork, and essays written by some of the Festival's organizers and participants, even Leonard Bernstein on the worthiness of pop as a musical form. A clickable Text option lets you read the essays and poetry blown up and reformatted for your screen.

Finally, Disc One holds the film's original theatrical trailer; five rather ragged-sounding radio spots with Hendrix, Joplin, Redding, and The Mamas and The Papas; and The Remix, click-through text pages on Eddie Kramer and the exemplary work he did on this DVD set's audio tracks.

Disc 2: Jimi Plays Monterey and Shake! Otis at Monterey

I: Jimi Plays Monterey (49 minutes)

Jimi Plays Monterey isn't just a collection of previously excised footage. It's a standalone documentary, introduced by John Phillips, culminating in a lengthy cut of Hendrix's revolutionary Monterey performance. It opens with Hendrix's early years as working sideman "Jimi James" in Greenwich Village bars before he's discovered and coaxed to England by Chas Chandler of The Animals. Early footage of The Jimi Hendrix Experience performing in London ("Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "Wild Thing") includes Hendrix mingling with the rock royalty that he had immediately and explosively joined — Marianne Faithfull, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison.

Then, accompanied by Eric Burdon and The Animals' ode to the Festival, "Monterey," we're taken to the concert that graduated Hendrix from a rumor to a legend. Starting with Howling Wolf's "Killing Floor," Hendrix goes on to "Foxy Lady" before audaciously making Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" all his own. Then comes B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby," "Hey Joe," "The Wind Cries Mary," and of course his reinterpretation of The Trogs' "Wild Thing," complete with hand-painted pink Strat, the lighter fluid, and one tossed match. It got everyone's attention.

As with Monterey Pop, here Jimi Plays Monterey comes in a splendid new high-def transfer supervised by Pennebaker. Again, audio options are Dolby 2.0 stereo, DD 5.1, and DTS 5.1, all engineered by Eddie Kramer.

Music critic and historian Charles Shaar Murray dishes out a spirited audio commentary track. A lively encyclopedia of all things Hendrix and the rock scene of the time, Murray has the enthusiasm of a long-time fan and keeps us informed on Hendrix's casual guitar fluency, showmanship, and thunderous energy. We're pointed to examples of Hendrix's astonishing technique, other musicians' influences on Hendrix and his own on those who came after him, the background of the "teeth routine," and shots of the shocked audience who'd never seen or heard anything like this before. Murray isn't a stuffy academic, and keeps a brittle British wit showing through. (He describes The Troggs as the "most magnificently simple-minded rock group of all time prior to the invention of The Ramones.")

Here also are the original theatrical trailer for Jimi Plays Monterey and a video excerpt, Pete Townshend on Monterey and Jimi Hendrix (4:35). Part of a longer piece videotaped for VH1 is 1987, the excerpt gives Townshend's bittersweet version of what happened backstage when he and Hendrix, who both knew that they planned to wreck their guitars in front of the audience, used a rancorous coin-toss to decide who was going to go on first.

II: Shake! Otis at Monterey (19 minutes)

Backed by Booker T. and the MGs, Otis Redding was a polished showman who had just returned from a tour of Europe, where he'd learned to play R&B and soul for white audiences. It's one o'clock in the morning when Otis hits the stage. It has started to rain, but when he launches into Sam Cooke's "Shake" he takes command of the elements with fast, foot-stompin', hands-in-the-air rhythm & blues in its classic, purest form. After the propulsive "Shake" and "Respect," he slows things down with the soulful "I've Been Loving You Too Long." Then he transforms The Stones' "Satisfaction" into a natural R&B showpiece before closing with "Try a Little Tenderness," which Pennebaker places over a montage of audience shots from throughout the Festival, notably more of the pretty girls who personified Redding's dedication to "all the mini-skirts out there."

Shake! Otis at Monterey, lovingly remastered and remixed exactly like Monterey Pop and Jimi Plays Monterey, comes with two audio commentary tracks by soft-spoken music critic and historian Peter Guralnick, author of the book Sweet Soul Music. The first is on Redding's Monterey performance, song by song; the second on Redding before and after Monterey. Also here is a 19-minute interview, recorded in 2002, with Phil Walden, Redding's manager from 1959 until Redding's death six months after Monterey in December '67.

Disc 3: The Outtake Performances

Often a performance was cut from Monterey Pop simply because it didn't represent the group's best efforts — a singer sang off key, say, or that elusive onstage "magic" just didn't happen. Sometimes the footage itself turned out to be subpar. And Pennebaker just had to make many difficult editorial (meaning aesthetic, political, or personal) calls.

Therefore, for some aficionados this third disc will be The Complete Monterey Pop's mint on the pillow. In 1997 Pennebaker assembled 123 minutes of performances not included in the original film, and much of it is material worthy of a longer recut of Monterey Pop. However, while it's evident that some visual composition has taken place — for instance, musical numbers intercut with audience shots or Monterey's crashing sunset surf — this footage is in more of a raw, unrestored state. Likewise, the audio is a clean and strong DD 2.0 stereo, with only two cuts enhanced with optional 5.1 mixes.

The main menu bar's Artist Index lets you access bio info on each of the bands plus easy-click jumps to their performances. The two cuts remixed to 5.1 are accessible from here.

The multitudinous pleasures here are not solely historical. When Pennebaker edited Monterey Pop, he cut out numerous guest announcer introductions and almost all interaction between the bands and their audiences. One benefit of this disc's "grab bag" approach is that we get a lot of that back, starting with The Association's humorous (and unselfconsciously pretentious) self-intro before they dig into their hit "Along Comes Mary." When David Crosby, then of The Byrds, introduces "He Was a Friend of Mine" by saying that multiple assassins murdered JFK, that witnesses had been killed and information suppressed, he strikes one of the few political notes of the Festival.

In some cases, this lineup merely offers a chance to see performed songs now trapped in the timeless limbo of "Classic Oldies" radio stations. Laura Nyro's pleasant but bloodless "Wedding Bell Blues" can stand for all such heavy-rotation staples. On the positive side, we get Simon & Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound" and the fine presentation of "Sounds of Silence" that Simon had wanted included in Pennebaker's feature film. Soon after comes Jefferson Airplane's bona fide classic "Somebody to Love," and Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," a more relevant battle hymn of The Sixties than Scott McKenzie's cloying airiness ever was.

The Who get 16 minutes, half of which is a tasty portion of a Townshend rock opera, "A Quick One While He's Away" (use the Artist Index to find its oomphed-up new 5.1 mix). Also given the Artist Index 5.1 treatment is Janis Joplin's "Combination of the Two," one of the highlights of these discs. When The Mamas and The Papas close the show with a 20-minute set, we get not only the ethereally adorable (and one month pregnant) Michelle Phillips in her only solo ("Somebody Groovy"), but also Cass Elliott charming the audience with her rapport and her lovelorn hello to John Lennon, for whom she recorded "I Call Your Name."

Here's what's on board — some great footage of great bands in action, mixed among curios that now are just footnotes in rock music's collective memory:

Concluding the disc is a nifty snippet tossed in from the archives. Lit only by the flame from a Zippo cigarette lighter in the below-stage commissary called The Hunt Club is Tiny Tim (10m: 32s). Tiny Tim was a falsetto-voiced, ukulele-playing novelty act in Greenwich Village clubs and was familiar on TV by being a regular on Laugh-In and other variety shows (he was later married on The Tonight Show in front of Johnny Carson and a studio audience). Pennebaker captures an impromptu performance of this guileless eccentric strumming and singing some old ditties from the vaudeville era. He's sort of an Antimatter Universe Leon Redbone.

But what about Moby Grape?

The true-blue Monterey cognoscenti have, no doubt, already noted the bands who played the Festival but aren't represented on any of these discs. Audiences there saw Moby Grape, Lou Rawls, Johnny Rivers, Steve Miller Band, and others, most notably The Grateful Dead, all MIA except for the Mayes photo collection and a very quick glimpse of The Dead in Jimi Plays Monterey. Everything from camera failures to permissions disputes kept some of the Festival unpreserved. According to some accounts, the Dead refused to allow Pennebaker to film their set, which happened Sunday night smack dab between The Who and Jimi Hendrix. Pennebaker himself offers a different take within the exhaustive little book accompanying this DVD set. Other bands were filmed but refused to sign releases for the movie. Janis Joplin's manager tried to refuse full permission, but her band basically winked at Pennebaker, who recorded their Disc Three set when the manager's back was turned.

The book

Deserving its own special mention is the thorough 64-page tome prepared for this release. Cut to the same dimensions as each disc's packaging, this well-produced collection of artwork, photos, and essays spotlights then-and-now perspectives of the Monterey experience, all behind a colorful cover greeting created for the Festival by The Beatles.

A 2002 statement by Pennebaker addresses the absence of some bands, acknowledging that "It'll never be complete...here's the best we could put together." The meat of the book comes from reprints of feature articles about the Festival. Michael Lydon's in-the-moment account written for Newsweek only forty-eight hours after the event, "Monterey Pop: The First Rock Festival," is printed here in full for the first time. Next, "Bloody Battle Over Monterey Pop Festival" is Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner's retrospective from one year later. It presents a darker view of what went on behind the scenes as it exposes the local and business politics that destroyed the possibility of another Monterey Pop Festival. (The photos of alleged "open fornication" don't make it into the book.) Looking back after 35 years, music writer Barney Hoskyns sees Monterey as a pivotal moment for the L.A. and San Francisco music scenes and for pop music in general. Finally, film critic Armond White quickly looks at Pennebaker's Monterey Pop as a pioneering record of the moment. The book concludes with comprehensive production credits plus details about the DVD transfers.

The packaging

Criterion's painstaking quality standards reach all the way to the packaging. Each disc gets its own book-hinged digipak with a tastefully illustrated paperboard cover. Enclosing them is an attractive and sturdy paperboard box. (Note too, while you're there, the fun bit of original Festival cartoon art hidden inside the box's spine.)

Wild thing, I think you mooove me

Criterion's The Complete Monterey Pop is not just a beautifully produced record of an event important when viewed through the lenses of popular music, cultural history, and simple nostagia. It also represents everything we love about DVD and home theater systems. This one's among the greats, and it'll be a long, long time before we see a concert film as mindfully presented as Monterey Pop. Maybe you won't feel like wearing flowers in your hair. But if you think you can't groove to these vibrations, man, then it's time to put away the Austin Powers movies, crank up the volume, and find out what feelin' groovy was really all about.

—Mark Bourne



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