The 60’s have become something of a caricature of themselves. Take a girl with straight hair and flowers, throw in a “groovy” and a “man”, add some grainy photography, and you’re all ready to go. It is sometimes hard to remember that there was a time when this was not a kitchy formula, it was just the way that it was. This film is so authentically steeped in 60’s hippie culture that it almost doesn’t seem real when the footage starts rolling. Once the film begins to sink in, though, the viewer is completely drawn in …o this world than many of the modern era may only know from oldies radio, of all things.
The Monterey Pop Festival was a large music festival held in Monterey California in 1967. The bill included not only some of the top acts of the day, such as the Mammas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, Jefferson Airplane and The Who, but it also launched the careers of such legends as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding. The weekend festival was a defining moment in the history of rock and roll, as well as of the hippie movement.
This film is a priceless time capsule of a wildly memorable period in American history, as well as a turning point in rock music. It seems too good to be true that film cameras would be there to capture such a monumental moment in music history, yet here it is, nonetheless. Even the wild, free-form filmmaking style is a testament to the festival and of the era. It’s one thing to document an event, but it is quite another to capture the essence of the mood and the philosophy of an entire generation through film. For historians and music fans, I can think of no better way to spend an hour and a half of your life. It is time that I will gladly spend with this priceless historical document again and again.
Criterion has outdone themselves with this release. Of course, the original stereo mix is here in a cleaned-up version for the purists. The really amazing thing, though, is that there is newly-produced 5.1 mix as well (presented in both Dolby Digital and DTS formats). This new mix was created by recording engineer Eddie Kramer, who counts such artists as The Beatles, Peter Frampton, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones to his credit, just to name a select few. This new mix is not only both tasteful and fascinating, but it is also something of a modern relic in itself. More information on this process is included in the form of a text essay located within the disc’s supplemental section. Not only was this a brilliant move by Criterion, but it is an excellent example of just how amazingly on-target this company is with each and every one of their releases.
The video quality here hits that perfect balance between period and restoration. While grain has been reduced, and unwanted blemishes have been cleaned up, the images still carry with them that great feel of late 60’s film stock. Colors are just a bit too overblown, the grain is warm and inviting, and the film moves tastefully in and out of focus. Even so, the video is surprisingly clean and clear, leaving nothing but the authentic beauty of the original production. Criterion, you’re simply too good to me.
As if this excellent film wasn’t enough, Criterion has been kind enough to assemble a wonderfully rich collection of extras as well. It all starts off with a Commentary by Director D.A. Pennebaker and festival producer Lou Adler. It’s a real treat to hear form this storied filmmaker and the shows promoters at the same time. In fact, it is almost 60’s overload. Be forewarned, lighting incense during this commentary may just push you over the edge, leading you to stop bathing and cutting your unkempt hair altogether.
The two also team up on a rather lengthy video interview conducted in 2001. As would be expected, this is yet another fascinating segment that really helps to fill in the “story behind the story” as it were.More interviews are also in store, though they show up in audio only. These bits feature festival co-producer John Phillips, festival publicist Derek Taylor and performers Cass Elliot and David Crosby.
As if that in itself wasn’t more than enough added content, there is also a photo essay of the weekend festivities and a Monterey Pop scrapbook. The whole thing wraps up with the film’s original theatrical trailer and radio spots, which are something of a rare artifact in themselves. All told, this is an impressive body of extras that overwhelmingly trumps any reservations that viewers might have about the film’s relatively short running time.
Honestly, my first suggestion is for viewers to just go ahead and pick up Criterion’s Complete Monterey Pop Festival, which includes this disc plus Jimi Plays Monterey / Shake! Otis at Monterey. If this film is great, then the extended collection is even better. However, if you are not a big fan of Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding, or if you are daunted by the price point of the boxed set, then this is probably the best place for you to get your music fix. I really can’t recommend this disc enough. For my money, this film should be shown in High School classrooms right along with the chapter in History about Vietnam and flower power. A generation’s art is a window into their soul, and there is not a single aspect of this disc that is not treated with the utmost respect and care.
Special Features List
- Commentary by Pennebaker and festival producer Lou Adler
- Video interview with Adler and Pennebaker
- Audio interviews with festival co-producer John Phillips, festival publicist Derek Taylor and performers Cass Elliot and David Crosby
- Photo essay by photographer Elaine Mayes
- Original theatrical trailer and radio spots
- Monterey Pop scrapbook