Directed by D.A. Pennebaker
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 79/49/19 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; PCM 2.0 stereo, stereo surround English
MSRP: $ 69.95
Release Date: September 22, 2009
Review Date: September 14, 2009
Before Woodstock there was the Monterey International Pop Festival. Held over a three day weekend in June of 1967, the festival emerged as a love-in of the highest order, and the resultant documentary film became the first true rock concert movie filled with both famous names (the Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who) as well as musicians who were soon to become superstars of the modern rock era as a result of their exposure in this event: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding. A wonderful mix of performance styles and an eagle eye exploration of the counterculture revolution that was gaining great strength at the time of the festival, Monterey Pop and the later outtake short features Jimi Plays Monterey and Shake! Otis at Monterey make a fine document of one of the landmark events in the history of 20th century pop/rock.
Famous now as a documentarian of the culture of the last sixty years, almost unknown-at-the-time D. A. Pennebaker was engaged as the director of the film to capture the once-in-a-lifetime event organized by John Philips (leader of the Mamas and the Papas) and Lou Adler (the president of Dunhill Records). The film is only 79 minutes long, a short movie in which to squeeze three days’ worth of some of the most electrifying pop and rock acts available at the time, and yet one gets the feeling after watching it that many of its most memorable moments made the final cut even if the order of the performers’ appearances has been wildly juxtaposed for excitement and effectiveness. What’s more, with Pennebaker cutting away from the music occasionally to get brief glimpses at the people of the era, a sense of time and place is beautifully established. From the gorgeous Scott McKenzie “San Francisco” opening song to Ravi Shankar’s bravura turn on his sitar at the end, there really isn’t a dull moment in Monterey Pop.
The event itself was a nonprofit outing with each of the acts performing without compensation (which explains why some of the most well known names in pop and rock didn’t appear. Chuck Berry wanted $2.000. The Beach Boys couldn’t risk an appearance since Carl Wilson was draft dodging at the time. Dionne Warwick came down with a bad throat and had to bow out.) And you’ll notice that some well regarded rock acts of the period, namely The Byds and Laura Nyro, only show up in the outtakes section as their appearances were deemed disappointing and not worthy to stand alongside the electrifying Janis Joplin (watch Mama Cass Elliot gape at the young singer who’s spilling her guts on stage before thousands) or Jimi Hendrix or The Who’s Roger Daltrey, both of whom get so overwrought with their performances that they destroy their equipment.
Jimi Plays Monterey is a bit of a misnomer since the complete footage of his act doesn’t begin until 12 ½ minutes into the presentation. Before that is a fascinating look at a splatter painting in the making of the famous musician while his electric “Can You See Me?” plays on the soundtrack, a most impressive way to begin the film. There is also footage of Jimi playing in a small London venue before heading to the festival where he performs nine numbers, the most effective of which are “Like a Rolling Stone” and “The Wind Cries Mary.” His orgiastic climactic number “Wild Thing” which appears in Monterey Pop concludes this film.
Shake! Otis at Monterey suffers a bit from the late night hour in which he performed and some camera angles which obscured the singer with the blown out whites of the spotlight. He does get to showcase five numbers (only one of which made it in bits and pieces into Monterey Pop). And the singer's final song "Try a Little Tenderness" serves as the background for a montage of images filmed during the entire three day event.
The film has been framed at its theatrical 1.33:1 aspect ratio and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The hairs, debris, shifting contrast, and erratic color saturation levels of the original film have been left intact, so what you get here looks pretty much identical to a theatrical screening of the film: rough rather than slick but featuring superb black levels (when they’re not being deliberately crushed). Monterey Pop has been divided into 20 chapters. Jimi Plays Monterey has 12 chapters while Shake! Otis at Monterey has 5 chapters.
The user is offered a choice of three soundtracks for Monterey Pop: the original two channel stereo track (PCM, 2.3 Mbps), a remixed 2.0 stereo surround track (PCM, 2.3 Mbps), and a remixed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix which is the one I spent most of my reviewing time listening to. It features wonderfully immersive sound with instrumentation easily noticeable in various channels of the mix and only the slightest lack of bass fullness on the low end. The Hendrix and Redding films have two options: PCM 2.0 stereo and DTS-HD MA 5.1 which shares the same immersive sound (with only occasional distortion from the period recording) with Monterey Pop.
The audio commentary is by producer Lou Adler and director D. A. Pennebaker, and it’s a very interesting conversation between the two friends who comment candidly on the various performers and the challenges they faced putting the weekend together and getting it filmed.
All of the bonus features on both discs in the set are presented in 1080i.
There are over two hours of outtake musical numbers featuring the complete (or nearly) sets of many of the festival’s top acts (some of whom are only seen in highlights in the film proper and many not seen at all). Those represented on the outtake section are The Association, Simon and Garfunkel, Country Joe and the Fish, Al Kooper, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Electric Flag, The Byrds, Laura Nyro, Jefferson Airplane, The Blues Project, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Buffalo Springfield, The Who, The Mamas and the Papas, and Tiny Tim.
A 2001 video interview with D. A. Pennebaker and Lou Adler shows the same kind of camaraderie present in the audio commentary. The two friends talk about their starts in the business, how the Monterey Festival happened, John Phillips’ involvement in the celebration, the use of stereo recording, and how it was decided what went into the film and what stayed out. The feature lasts 29 ¼ minutes.
There are four audio interviews (which can only be chosen separately and not played as a group) with John Phillips, Cass Elliot (poor sound quality), David Crosby, and Derek Taylor.
The theatrical trailer runs 2 ¾ minutes.
There are five radio ad spots featuring excerpts from several of the famous musicians appearing in the film. They must all be chosen separately.
There is a step-through gallery of still black and white photographs by famed photographer Elaine Mayes. There is also a stills presentation with commentary by Mayes which runs for 12 ¼ minutes.
The viewer may step through the official program of the festival.
The enclosed 45-page booklet contains a generous helping of stills and portraits of the stars and a series of essays by film and music critics Michael Lydon (the best of the three), Barney Hoskyns, and Armond White.
Jimi Plays Monterey/Shake! Otis at Monterey
The Jimi Hendrix film contains an audio commentary by Hendrix expert Charles Shaar Murray who knows the intricacies of Hendrix’s music inside and out and offers a very worthwhile rundown of his career and his performance at the festival. The Otis Redding film contains two audio commentaries, both by Redding expert Peter Guralnick who uses the first one to critique Redding’s performance of five songs in the short film and the second to discuss his life and career both before and after the Monterey festival.
Pete Townshend speaks for 4 ½ minutes about his relationship with Jimi Hendrix and specifically setting the record straight about how the order of performance for The Who and Hendrix was decided for the concert.
The theatrical trailer for Jimi Plays Monterey runs for 3 ½ minutes.
Otis Redding's close friend and manager Phil Walden contributes an 18 ¾-minute video interview discussing his entry into show business and how he came to manage and be friends with Redding.
The enclosed 9-page booklet contains some stills from the films and an interesting biographical essay on the two artists by music writer David Fricke.
4/5 (not an average)
What a pleasure to finally find all of the footage for the Monterey Pop Festival in one box set and presented for the first time in high definition. Sound and picture are the best the films are ever likely going to look and sound. Highly recommended!