Monterey Pop Screen 89 of 9 reviews

Monterey Pop

1968

Monterey Pop Poster
  • A vital, anarchic document, high on music, color, and god knows what else. Seeing Janis, Otis, Jimi, and The Who perform is astonishing: they seem not only to play the music, but be possessed by it. But now that the Summer of Love is history, I find the brief moments where we get to know the faces in the crowd—seekers grasping brief idealistic transcendence—to be more interesting/provocative than half the numbers.

  • The effect is one of estranging intimacy, bringing us impossibly near to these sublime beings onstage and yet somehow ensuring that they remain forever mysterious, magical, and untouchable.

  • The first true rock-doc and arguably the best, D.A. Pennebaker’s 1968 Monterey Pop preserved a number of remarkable performances by a stellar roster of British and Bay Area bands (namely the Animals, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Country Joe and the Fish, Jefferson Airplane, and the Who). Even greater breakthrough revelations were supplied by soul singer Otis Redding and, setting his guitar on fire (literally) in the course of performing “Wild Thing,” Jimi Hendrix.

  • Who was this woman? How did she display such intensity and then immediately transform into a little girl, skipping offstage? This scene shows us Janis, completely in the moment, channeling her emotions, captivating the audience, taking the viewer into another world, raising questions, and leaving everyone wanting more. It’s pure performance and pure filmmaking.

  • A new era in popular music deserves a new era in filmmaking. That’s the basis of the perfect, fortuitous match-up between rock and cinema in Monterey Pop. When Pennebaker came on board to cover the 1967 festival, director Pennebaker (then age 42) was older than most of the participating musicians, yet he shared with the organizers a vanguard belief in encouraging American pop culture’s—not simply youth culture’s—divergence from the old, familiar performance and theatrical traditions.

  • The film is resolutely performance-driven, and iconically so: Michelle Phillips singing inaudibly during "California Dreamin'," Keith Moon going apeshit in the chaotic midst of "A Quick One While He's Away," Jimi Hendrix bringing his guitar to multiple orgasm and then administering a Ballardian smash-and-burn. This last spectacle flummoxes Pennebaker enough that he makes a non-sequitur cut to Mama Cass serenely crooning a ballad.

  • This is part of the irony of watching a document of decades old popular music – nothing ages as quickly as pop culture. However, one thing does remain constant; watching the closing sequence of the film, with Ravi Shankar performing ‘Raga Bhimpalasi’, it’s clear that whether they’re played on a guitar or a sitar, then as now, crowds get really excited by lots of notes being played as fast as they possibly can.

  • Directed by D.A. Pennebaker, and filmed by Richard Leacock, Pennebaker, and other independent filmmakers, the film possesses a quality of nostalgia beyond the fact that it was made way back in 1967. Otis Redding shouts: "We all love each other, right?" But Otis is dead—along with Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and probably half the people who appear in the film. But where else can you hear "Feeling Groovy" or "California Dreaming" anymore?

  • Invaluable as a historical document, but frankly kind of awful as a movie—ungainly and graceless, with (ironically!) no sense of rhythm. I skimmed through the outtakes on the Criterion set afterward, playing songs pretty much at random and often skipping ahead to the next one halfway through, and the experience wasn't much different from that of watching the film itself, though at least I was spared a lot of undifferentiated crowd shots.

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