Film Review – ‘Monterey Pop’ (Criterion Blu-ray Edition)

Film Review – ‘Monterey Pop’ (Criterion Blu-ray Edition)

In the summer of 1967, the first and only Monterey Pop Festival was captured on film in the original feature ‘Monterey Pop‘, which is restored to a 16-bit 4k digital standard approved by director DA Pennebaker. The festival features some notable acts from the “summer of love” and the new wave of rock and roll. The film is remarkable for the time in which it was made. In the special features, Pennebaker talks to the camera about how the camera operators carried huge reels of film and were position alongside the acts on stage. This allows for close-ups of instruments, of audience members and the elaborate backdrop. It doesn’t look that different from a television broadcast of any modern music festival – the camera and editing decisions were obviously well considered.

We see Jimi Hendrix as he smashes up his guitar and sets it on fire. Pennebaker makes comment on the shot of the girl watching this and her mesmerized expression captured in the original film. The 1967 film is full of this kind of thing; audience members are caught on camera in a way I haven’t seen before. Their body language speaks to us, they are completely in the moment of the concert, at times dancing with flowers in their hair, at other times super-focussed on the musicians and the performance.

There are over two hours of bonus performance material from bands like The Who, Simon and Garfunkel, Jefferson Airplane, and many others. The other special features – namely the interviews with DA Pennebaker and festival producer Lou Alder – shed a lot of light on the organization and practicalities of filming the festival. The set as a whole is fantastic as an in-depth look at the original festival and a must-watch for any fan of that era of music. I tried counting how many turtleneck jumpers there were, but lost count.

One thing hinted at (and briefly shown) in the new Criterion interviews with Alder and Pennebaker is the anniversary concert held fifty years later in 2017… We do not really see much of this though. I felt that there is some more space offered up for an explanation of the cultural impact of the original festival and how the anniversary show relates to this. There’s some excellent work done elsewhere in this area. Different subject matter entirely, but the Vice / Netflix documentary ‘Jim and Andy‘ offers a fantastic look at how Jim Carey’s early work informed the rest of his life. Something similar here would’ve been truly great – a more deep look at some of the cultural influences reflected in further work of the artists and key players perhaps. Though, I do accept that such a feature may still be made.

Having said all of that, there are plenty of things to be really excited about in this set. The bonus features, interviews, commentaries, restored digital transfers of ‘Shake! Otis at Monterey’ and ‘Jimi Plays Monterey’, and a booklet of critical essays. There are hours of material to explore.

Zach Roddis |

History, Music, Documentary | USA, 1968 | 12 | 18th December 2017(UK)| Criterion Collection | Dir.D.A Pennebaker | Buy:The Complete Monterey Pop Festival – The Criterion Collection [Blu-ray] 

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