The Complete Monterey Pop Festival Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Marvelous Time Capsule

The set includes the films: Monterey Pop, Jimi Plays Monterey, and Shake! Otis at Monterey.
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During the Summer of Love, the weekend of June 16-18, 1967 to be specific, the Monterey International Pop Music Festival was held.  Thankfully for all those of us unable to attend director D.A. Pennebaker led a team of cameramen to record it, and an equal amount of gratitude goes to The Criterion Collection for releasing The Complete Monterey Pop Festival, consisting of the films Monterey Pop, Jimi Plays Monterey, and Shake! Otis at Monterey.

Although surprisingly short in length considering three days of music is encapsulated into 79 minutes, Monterey Pop is a solid film.  It opens with scenes of preparation, such as co-organizer John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas trying to get Dionne Warwick on the phone and David Crosby impressed with the venue's sound system, although The Byrds didn't make the cut. 

Then, the performances start with no relation to the way they occurred at the concert.  The Mamas and the Papas, who closed the final night, begin with "California Dreamin'," a fitting song that captured the mood of many young people of the times who were intrigued by what the Golden State offered. 

Revealing the eclectic nature of the participants, Canned Heat plays the blues ("Rollin' and Tumblin'"), Simon & Garfunkel play folk ("The 59th Street Bridge Song"), and Hugh Masekela and his band play world music-influenced jazz ("Bajabula Bonke").  During Maskekela's set, lighting effects dance across the screen, which either occurred live on the stage or were added later.

Jefferson Airplane is the first band to get two songs in the film ("High Flyin' Bird" and "Today").  Also coming out of the San Francisco scene is Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring singer Janis Joplin with a captivating vocal on "Ball and Chain."  One of the cameramen caught Mama Cass watching Janis and she is awed.  Clive Davis is also in the audience and legend has it the band was signed to Columbia Records based on this performance.

The Who ends "My Generation" in their typical destructive way.  Country Joe and the Fish play a great psychedelic instrumental "Section 43."  Otis Redding is backed by Booker T. and the MG's and horn section The Mar-Keys.  The film cuts into the last couple of minutes of "Shake!" before he belts out the ballad "I've Been Loving You Too Long."

This is The Jimi Hendrix Experience's first major American gig and he delivers something special during his rendition of "Wild Thing," simulating sex with the guitar, setting it a blaze, and, following Townshend's lead, smashing it to pieces.  Some girls in the crowd look stunned and unsure of what they just saw.  It's hard to imagine The Troggs ever played it again after this. 

Ravi Shankar closes out the film with an 18-minute performance of "Raga Bhimpalasi."  They didn't have all of the footage, so they showed the concertgoers and audience members.  Hendrix and Monkee Mickey Dolenz can be seen in crowd, digging what they hear.  As it starts, it's hard to believe that the film is going to close out with sitar music after all the iconic performances we have seen, but Shankar delivers the goods.

Two hours of outtakes augment this collection well, not only expanding sets but presenting artists that didn't make the film's final cut, such as The Association, Al Kooper, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Electric Flag, The Byrds, Laura Nyro, The Blues Project, Buffalo Springfield (who were joined by David Crosby), and even Tiny Tim who performed in The Hunt Club, the festival's green room, illuminated only by candlelight. While it's understandable these pieces may not have fit Pennebaker's vision, it's fantastic these performances are allowed to take their rightful place in history and be enjoyed. 

The commentary track by Pennebaker and concert producer Lou Adler is interesting as they discuss what went into not only the film but the three-day festival as well, revealing some of the politics to get a show like this done.  It was fantastic hearing Pennebaker say he would leave long takes on artists and not cut away because many shots is not better than one great shot.  A video interview from 2001 with Adler and Pennebaker, focused more on Adler, covered some of the same ground. There are also audio interviews of Phillips, Cass Elliot, David Crosby, and Derek Taylor.  Elaine Mayes explains her approach to photographing the event.  She worked for "Hullabaloo" magazine and her work was later collected for It Happened in Monterey.

Released in 1986, Jimi Plays at Monterey (49 min) and Shake! Otis at Monterey (19 min) present expanded sets.  Jimi is narrated by Phillips and shows seven songs including his performance of "Wild Thing."  His "Hey Joe" blows away The Byrds seen in the extras.  The film also includes a London Club performance of "Sgt. Pepper's."  Extras include a Pete Townshend interview from 1987 and commentary by critic Charles Shaar Murray from 2002.  Shake! is a great tribute to Redding who died soon after this appearance.  It presents two commentaries by Peter Guralnick from 2002, song-by-song and career overview.  There's also an interview from Redding's manager Phil Walden.

All the footage was originally shot on 16mm.  Blowing it up to 35mm resulted in a lot of grain being evident.  It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1.  There's a wide range of color on the scene, not surprising for the times, with limited levels of brightness.  A great deal of dirt and debris got onto the print throughout and it really needs some restoration work to clean it up, but the historical significance and technical limitations trump the fussy videophile's concerns.

The audio of Pop comes in original uncompressed stereo, remixed uncompressed stereo, and DTS-HD 5.1 mixed by engineer Eddie Kramer from the original 8-track tapes.  The original uncompressed contains hiss and is best left to the purists.  Kramer's work cleans that up. 

For fans of classic rock and the '60s, The Complete Monterey Pop Festival is a marvelous time capsule.

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