There was a time when no major groundbreaking events were captured on film. The thing is, it’s sometimes hard to know when something of historical significance is going to occur. Major events such as World War II and the fall of the Berlin wall were planned in advance (so to speak), so it was easy to set-up a camera and capture the event. Spontaneous events, however, were mostly passed over. As technology has progressed, however, it has become easier to capture important and notable moments on the fly. September 11, …001 has taught us that fact in graphic and horrible detail.
That’s part of what makes this disc so very unique. At the time, who would know how popular Otis Redding would become, or that he would die an untimely death in the weeks following his performance? What’s more, who could have predicted the unbelievable phenomenon that was Jimi Hendrix? Obviously these men were talented musicians, but the kind of lasting fame they eventually garnered, especially Hendrix, could never have been predicted.
Originally released only as part of Criterion’s Monterey Pop Festival box set, the performances presented here were recorded live at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. This monumental film is usually regarded as the defining event in the “summer of love”. While elements of both of these shows were included in D. A. Pennebaker’s original film, the versions included on this disc represent the performances in their entirety. The result is the difference between hearing one single on the radio and spending time with an entire album of classic music.
This disc features not only Otis Redding’s first ever performance in front of a predominantly white audience, but also Jimi Hendrix’s first performance in the United States. It is fascinating to see the way that the audience responds to th artists; Hendrix in particular. Some are quiet out of amazement, some are undeniably puzzled, and some are worked into a frenzy of excitement. You can place me squarely in the latter category. It is simply thrilling to see Hendrix perform in front of an audience that has no idea what they are about to experience. The man is a force. As well-known as he is, it is amazing to think about how many people of today have never seen him perform live. This is a brilliant opportunity to see the man lay it all on the line. I can’t think of a single reason why anyone should pass up an opportunity to purchase this amazing release.
The audio on this disc was remixed by none other than Eddie Kramer himself. The inclusion of Kramer, who worked with such legendary artists during his career as Led Zeppelin and The Beatles (not to mention Hendrix) was an inspired choice, and one that payed off in spades. He has done an amazing job of pulling as much sound as possible out of these old master tapes, and the result is really surprising. The fact that this mix is presented in both Dolby Digital and DTS formats just goes one step further to assure viewers that Criterion is committed to providing the best audio track possible. This track is the very reason why their discs cost so much more than your average DVD release.
I was surprised that the video quality on this disc is a good as it is. That’s not to say that it is anything spectacular, but it is certainly much cleaner than I was expecting it to be. The films have undergone a painstaking re-mastering process, and it shows. The result is a picture quality that falls somewhere between the sharpness of a modern film and the warm nostalgia of the 1960’s. Grainy when it should be grainy, clear when it should be clear, and completely visceral. Rock and roll shows are supposed to be a little dirty and a little grainy. The video here fits the bill beautifully.
For such a short program, Criterion sure has packed in the extras. First up is that all new 5.1 audio mix by legendary recording engineer Eddie Kramer that I discussed in the audio section. An inspired maneuver to say the least. I was truly shocked to find three commentaries included here. The Jimi Plays Monterey program features a commentary by music critic and historian Charles Shaar Murray. The much shorter Shake! Otis at Monterey program features two commentary tracks, both by music critic and historian Peter Guralnick. It’s nice that instead of taking out a few key comments, both complete tracks are included. All three tracks are simply fantastic, and work to change the films from concert films to documentary films.
Also included here is an excerpt from an interview with Pete Townsend on Jimi Hendrix. This is especially interesting considering the feud between the two legendary guitarists. The story goes that neither musician wanted to follow the other one on stage, and a fight almost broke out over the issue. In the end, Townsend won the coin toss, but Hendrix won the audience.
There is also an interview with Otis Reding’s manager, Phil Walden, as well as a trailer for the Jimi Plays Monterey portion of the disc. The whole thing wraps up with an all-new essay by David Fricke, Senior Editor at Rolling Stone Magazine. The sum total of all these extras is a seriously loaded disc tat should make any music fan swoon.
We don’t have any film of Buddy Holly’s last performance before he boarded that ill-fated Beechcraft in Clear Lake, Iowa. We don’t have a recording of the final notes played by Stevie Ray Vaughn before his similarly-fated trip in Michigan. The sounds of The Who’s first club date are known only to those that attended the smoky club that evening. The first U.S. performance of Jimi Hendrix and the first performance of Otis Redding before a predominantly white audience are captured here, however, in amazing clarity and with impressive audio quality. Throw in a ton of great extras, and you have yourself an important historical document that beautifully illustrates why The Criterion Collection is such a vitally important member of the film restoration community.
Special Features List
- New 5.1 mix by legendary recording engineer Eddie Kramer, presented in Dolby Digital and DTS
- Commentary on Jimi Plays Monterey by music critic and historian Charles Shaar Murray
- Two commentaries on Shake! Otis at Monterey by music critic and historian Peter Guralnick
- Excerpt from an interview with Pete Townsend on Jimi Hendrix
- Interview with Phil Walden, Otis Redding’s manager from 1959 to 1967
- New essay by David Fricke