Our review of The Complete Monterey Pop Festival: Criterion Collection (Blu-Ray), published September 24th, 2009, is also available.
Sex, drugs, rock and roll.
I don't know about you, but as the years go by I become more and more enticed by the music of yesteryear than today's melodic drivel. In an age of prepackaged pop stars (Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys) and hardcore shock acts (Marilyn Manson, Eminem), stuff like The Mamas and the Papas seem both innocent and a refreshing breath of fresh air. In 1967, filmmaker D.A. Pennbaker captured the spirit of the 1960s—and rock and roll—on film for all the hippie lovin' world to see. The Complete Monterey Pop Festival: The Criterion Collection is presented in a new three-disc edition from the good folks at Criterion.
Facts of the Case
Disc One—Monterey Pop: "On a beautiful June weekend in 1967, at the height of the Summer of Love, the first and only Monterey International Pop Festival roared forward—capturing a decade's spirit and ushering in a new era of rock and roll. Monterey would launch the careers of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Otis Redding, but thy were just a few among a wildly diverse cast including Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas and the Papas, The Who, High Masekela, and the extraordinary Ravi Shankar. With his characteristic verite style, D.A. Pennbaker captured it all, immortalizing those moments that have become legend: Pete Townsend destroying his guitar; Jimi Hendrix burning his."
Disc Two—Jimi Plays Monterey & Shake! Otis at Monterey: "Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding arrived in California virtually unknown. Returning stateside from London, where he had moved to launch his musical career, Hendrix exploded at Monterey, flooring an unsuspecting audience with his maniacal six-string pyrotechnics. Redding, venerable star of Memphis' Stax record label, seduced the "love crowd" in one of his best—and last—performances. These two concerts feature the entire sets of these legendary musicians, performances that have entered rock and roll mythology."
Disc Three—The Outtakes Performances: "In June of 1967, an estimated 200,000 people converged upon the northern Californian coast for one reason: a weekend of "music, love and flowers." Over three glorious days, 32 acts—spanning continents and genres—made their music known. But the constraints of filmmaking prevented director D.A. Pennbaker from including many remarkable performances. These rare outtakes, captured by Pennbaker's crew, offer another look at the weekend that used in a new era of music."
Plain and simple: if you like classic rock, you're going to love The Complete Monterey Pop Festival. This is a DVD set that is jam packed with more music than you can shake a tambourine at. Criterion has done a fantastic job of including tons upon tons of musical performances in this set. For music loves everywhere this is a DVD dream come true spanning Otis Redding to Laura Nyro, The Byrds to Tiny Tim—and seemingly everything in-between.
The first disc is a testament to the power of rock and roll. Pennbaker's camera work is like having a first row seat to some of the most spectacular musical acts from the past. The film is spliced together of different musical performances as well as images from the festival and its audience. There are even a few interviews with various folks and fans pontificating on stuff like "new wave bands" and the various intricacies of their favorite rock groups. And if you've ever wondered who had to clean the seats after all those butts sat in 'em…this film answers that inquiry.
The performances on this disc are all fine and will enthrall you depending on your personal tastes. Personally I loved seeing Simon and Garfunkel play "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" under a heavy barrage of red lighting. The Who is an always fascinating group, and this particular performance includes the oft imitated but never equaled destruction of their instruments. It's too bad that John Hiatt's song "Perfectly Good Guitar," a hysterical commentary on this idea of "hurting the one you love," wasn't included on this disc as well.
Disc Two is a double feature that includes concerts from both psychedelic legend Jimi Hendrix and R&B superstar Otis Redding. The first, titled "Jimi Plays Monterey," is a collection of Hendrix playing some of his best known hits including "Foxy Lady," "Wild Thing," "The Wind Cries Mary," "Purple Haze," and a cover of The Beatles "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band." The second concert, "Shake! Otis at Monterey," features Redding performing a batch of his hits including "Respect," "Try a Little Tenderness," and "I've Been Loving You Too Long." This second disc's concerts are both grand, though I enjoyed the Redding concert more than Hendrix's. I guess even in college I never got into the whole dropping acid/tie-dye thing that so predominantly envelops Hendrix's music. On a different note, I did go to a Grateful Dead concert years ago in a pair of dress slacks and a nice shirt. Guess who stuck out like a sore thumb? Anyhow, both of these concerts are great for fans—it's such a shame that both of these men have now passed into the great beyond. Like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, it would have been interesting to have heard what kind of music they might be making today.
Disc Three includes over two hours of outtakes from the original film. The following artists are included on this disc: The Association, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Blues Project, Buffalo Springfield, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Byrds, Country Joe and the Fish, The Electric Flag, Jefferson Airplane, Al Kooper, The Mamas and the Papas, Laura Nyro, Quciksilver Messenger Service, Simon and Garfunkel, the never equaled Tiny Tim, and The Who. In a way, this third disc feels like the Monterey Pop Festival Part II. A wide variety of performances are included here—this disc has everything from The Byrds crooning Bob Dylan's "Chimes of Freedom" to the strange Tiny Tim's falsetto voice of "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" in only the illumination of a pocket lighter. Pennbaker and his crew were able to capture some more great acts here, including a fantastic performance of "Somebody to Love"
Taken as a whole, each of these DVDs are a veritable time capsule of a feeling and disposition that, I suppose, will never come again. Today's concerts and acts are most often the product of heavy marketing with money being the sole incentive for all parties involved. While there are a few exceptions, generally the music of today doesn't hold up to the sounds of the 1960s. In an era of terrorism and war, The Complete Monterey Pop Festival is a welcome musical escape.
All three discs' features are presented in 1.33:1 full frame transfers. Generally speaking, these transfers are very clear without too many imperfections marring the image. Criterion struck these prints from new high-definition transfers, and fans will be pleased with how bright the colors are and how solid the black levels appear. Both discs One and Two look much better than the outtakes on Disc Three—a few of those performances (especially the poorly lighted Tiny Tim segments) are somewhat rough with specks of dirt and scratches penetrating the image. Otherwise, I was happy with how nice these thirty-plus year old transfers were.
The soundtracks are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround as well as DTS 5.1 Surround, newly engineered by Eddie Kramer. Wow! Fans will be thrilled to hear these sound mixes like never before—for those of you in possession of a home theater system you're in for a real treat. While there are a few limitations in the source elements (I did hear a small amount of hiss in a few rare spots), overall these are excellent soundtracks that are loud, wild, and bombastic. It's nice to see Criterion put in the work on these mixes for the fans. No alternate subtitles are available on any of the discs.
There are a gaggle of extra features included on this three disc set, each spread across the various discs:
Four Commentary Tracks, including D.A. Pennbaker, Lou Adler, Film Historian Charles Sharr Murray, and Music Historian Peter Guralnick: There are a ton of commentary tracks spread across disc one and two, each one focusing on various aspects of the Festival and its performers. I will admit that I only watched about twenty minutes of each—there is so much information packed onto each of these tracks that it was hard to keep up. If you're a fan of this set or just love music, these commentaries are worth your time.
Scrapbook: This includes some photographs by Elaine Mayes and a facsimile of the original concert's program.
Audio Interviews: There are four various interviews you can listen to: David Crosby, John Phillips, Cass Elliot, and Derek Taylor. Each of these are then broken up into various chapter which allow the viewer to hear each participant discuss such topics as their role in rock and roll, other singers, and what they though of the Monterey Pop Festival. Once again, worth the time for serious rock and roll fans.
Theatrical Trailers: Just what it sounds like, each one presented in rough looking 1.33:1 full frame transfers.
The Remix: This is a batch of text based pages that focus on engineer Eddie Kramer and the film's newly remixed soundtrack.
Radio Spots: Once again, just what it sounds like—five radio spots, each featuring music by Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, etcetera, over the spoken announcer.
Pete Townsend Interview: An interview segment from 1987 with The Who guitarist Pete Townsend. Here Townsend waxes nostalgic about the Monterey Pop Festival and his recollections of the event.
Phil Walden Interview: An interview with Otis Redding's former manager Phil Walden, shortly after his surgery for Cancer in 2002. Uniquely interesting if you're a big Redding fan. Otherwise, this can be skipped.
Video Interview with Low Adler and D.A. Pennbaker: This interview was conducted in 2001 and features each filmmaker discussing how they got involved in the Monterey Pop Festival, what they thought of the film, and the impact many of the performers had on their lives. This is a fairly informative—if a bit bland—interview segment with lots of history about the film and the festival.
64-Page Book: Also included in this set is a rather extensive 64 page booklet that reads like a short novel—it's filled with interviews, recollections on the concert, and other information about the Monterey Pop Festival.
If you're a rabid fan of this kind of music (and you know who you are), then The Complete Monterey Pop Festival: Criterion Collection is easily worth your money. The transfer are grand, the audio mixes excellent, and the supplements plentiful. For the rest of you, I can definitely recommend this as a rental. And did you hear the news? There's good rockin' tonight!
The Complete Monterey Pop Festival: The Criterion Collection is absolutely free to go and rock the house! Case dismissed!
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• Four Commentary Tracks
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