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Category:    Home > Reviews > Rockumentary > Monterey Pop (Criterion DVD Set)

The Monterey Pop Festival (Criterion DVD set)


Picture: C     Sound: B-     Extras: A     Film: B



For anyone who never actually lived through the 60’s, but cannot help but love the music of that era with a passion there are three DVD’s that are a must.  The Criterion Collection’s presentation of Gimme Shelter, Woodstock, and finally The Monterey Pop Festival, now available from Criterion as well.  This set is not altogether new to Criterion as it was also one of their basic LaserDisc titles, but those days are as long gone as the 1960s, and now we can enjoy this on DVD as an important new set.


In 1967 during the Summer of Love there would be an evening of music that would act as a precursor to the 1969 Woodstock Festival.  What is important about this concert is the meshing of the earlier rock n’ rock of the 1960’s, and the new psychedelic & furious sounds of the latter rock of the decade.  Forging this front would be Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and The Who, among many others.  Often times it is difficult to see where certain styles or periods merge, but if anyone had their guess the starting point of the new rock movement would be right here…at Monterey. 


Luckily, this whole experience was captured in a Rocumentary concert document by D.A. Pennebaker, who also approved this new DVD set, and is a vital part of the quality that is presented here.  Stated as The Complete Monterey Pop Festival this 3-disc set contains the entire film, plus footage of Hendrix, Otis Redding, as well as the outtake footage that never made the final cut of the film.  Pennebaker says that it is impossible to pull together everything that went on in those three days in June, but this is as close as it gets.  Much of the material was lost and they only had enough film to capture only select songs from certain artists.  Jimi Hendrix stole the show and received the most amount of film time, but other groups were completely cut.  Some of the footage was also lost due to problems with the film such as poor sound or poor lighting.  Although we may never get the entire event this Box Set certainly comes as close to it and thankfully Criterion has pulled together some terrific supplement to compliment the amazing restoration on this important film.


It is nearly impossible to give this entire set one overall grade when it comes to video and audio simply because each segment is quite different.  All three discs are presented in their original aspect ratio’s of 1.33:1 and are high definition transfers that were created from the original 16mm, as well as the 35mm blow-up duplicate negative.  However, the footage on the Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding parts were all taken from the 35mm duplicate negative.  All of the transfers were supervised by Pennebaker, which allows us to believe that the final product looks about as good as it is going to get. 


The footage for the film itself on Disc One looks very good with very minimal amounts of grain, considering the fact that the film was shot with handheld cameras for most of the duration and was shot in 16mm. The Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding segments look much better since they used the 35mm duplicate negative for these parts.  The detail and color depth is much better on this part than on the actual film. It is nice to be able to compare back and forth the difference in quality. 


The outtake performances are the lowest in quality in both audio and video.  These segments are completely from the 16mm reversal and stereo is the only audio option with exception of a few songs that have an optional 5.1 mix.  The optional mix is only in Dolby Digital and not DTS unlike the other two discs, which give the option of either stereo, Dolby 5.1 or DTS.


Each of the three mixes are quite different and would be recommended based on what the viewer wants to hear.  Assuming that all options are available to the viewer based on their receiver capabilities the stereo mix is very adequate for killing almost all the ambience in the mix and focusing just on 2-channels of powerful music.  The downside to this mix is that the vocals are less articulate because they are competing in the 2-channels with the rest of the instruments.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix spreads the music across the front 3 speakers with most of the vocals coming from the center channel and the band stretched in the front left and front right speakers.  Eddie Kramer wanted the 5.1 mixes to have the feel of someone sitting at the concert, so almost all crowd noises and reverb are coming from the surrounds.  The 5.1 mix is quite smooth, but for those listeners who are more interested in a refined sound setup with more bass and aggression than the DTS 5.1 mix is for you.  The vocals seem to pierce through the mix even more so in the DTS mix even with the enhanced amount of low-end presence.  The volume remains surprisingly consistence throughout all three mixes, aside from the fact that there are more speakers being involved.


The Monterey Pop Festival itself only runs 79 minutes therefore making everything aside from this an extra. Therefore, Disc Two of Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding, as well as disc three of all the outtake performances are also supplements. The first disc includes all 79 minutes of the film with optional commentary from the Festival Producer Lou Adler and director D.A. Pennebaker.  Most of the commentary is devoted to talking about the decisions that were made as to what footage was used and where it was used.  Adler comments more specifically on how the festival came to be and how he ended up with Pennebaker as the director.  As with many festivals such as these and hearing how they formed it’s amazing that they ever did with some of the horror stories that coincide with their birth. 


There is also a new video interview conducted in the summer of 2001 between Adler and Pennebaker, which lasts about 30 minutes.  The footage is in color and is really good quality in both video and content.  The two discuss even more so their involvement with the Festival and with each other.  Inside the interview the two discuss things that they both didn’t even know about each other, so this is quite a treat.


Four audio interviews are also presented on disc one by John Phillips, Cass Elliot, David Crosby, and Derek Taylor.  John Phillips was very responsible for getting the entire festival underway and his segment runs about 15 minutes and is indexed for easy access to certain parts.  He also mentions his involvement at the time with The Mama’s and the Papa’s. 


Cass Elliot talks for a little over 10 minutes and discusses Janis Joplin and The Who as well and mentions how terrible their performance was since they were the last act of the Festival.  One reason was the fact that the band was tired out from doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes work of the festival.   Specifically, John Phillips, who was running around making sure everything was coming together.  She is absolutely right about their performance and she is singing almost every tune very monotone and partially flat. 


David Crosby’s segment is also near 10 minutes and he mentions leaving The Byrds and working with Stephen Stills even though none of the footage from both bands CSN or The Byrds made it into the final cut of the film, but you can see The Byrds on the cut footage on disc three.  Crosby was shocked at Hendrix’s performance because this was his first time seeing him as with most people up until this point. Up until now most people had seen the performances of Jimmy Page or Eric Clapton, but no one had seen anything like this. 


Derek Taylor’s was the festivals publicist and his audio interview is the longest of the four.  It runs at least 30 minutes and has chapter stops just like the others.  Each chapter is dedicated to a specific topic and is made easy to access.  His comments are more rooted on what it was like being at the festival and what the reactions were of the people to the festival.  He also talks about the use of the marijuana, which is no surprise. Or is it? 


A new feature to the DVD market is a photo essay, which can be used two ways. You can access the photos with or without commentary from Elaine Mayes.  The photos are divided by day and the commentary is divided by topic as she discusses the concept with the pictures.  If you access the pictures with commentary it plays out for you and scrolls by as Mayes talks about each shot.  If you chose to view the pictures without commentary you can go at your own pace.  Her photos are in black and white and she tries to captures most of the performers in their natural poses not their on-stage poses.  She allows the light to reflect off the subjects, and attempts to get beautiful high-contrast shots and the results are magnificent. 


As if there weren’t enough material already presented on Disc One of this set there are even more features.  There is a very thorough text segment on the entire remix that Eddie Kramer did and details each of the processes used in order to restore Monterey to its present condition.  There is also a mini biography on Kramer that is also in text form. Disc one also features one theatrical trailer and some radio spots as well. 


Disc Two of the Monterey Pop Box is Jimi Hendrix’s performance and Otis Redding.

The two talents divide this section even though the Hendrix portion is the longest running 49 minutes versus the 19-minute Otis Redding portion.  Although once you access the Hendrix section it won’t be long before you see why so much time was devoted to this man! The Hendrix performance includes songs such as “Foxy Lady”, “Hey Joe”, and one awesome version of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”.  Music critic and historian Charles Shaar Murray, who really knows the material quite well, provide audio commentary for this section.  He discusses each song and the placement of the song as well as the instrumentation and how Hendrix was taking orchestra parts and playing them out on his guitar.  He recited how each solo was played and the various types of blues rhythms and styles that he was repeating or attributing to.  And if you couldn’t tell he is extremely tripped out on acid in his performance.


Shake! Otis at Monterey is somewhat disappointing unless you are a die-hard Otis Redding fan.  He performs “Shake”, “Respect”, and a version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, which should have been left for the Stones.  Otis’s section contains two commentaries one by music critic Peter Guralnick and the other commentary by his manager at the time Phil Walden who would not be his manager much long after Monterey.  Every portion of Disc Two contains a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix, a Dolby 5.1 mix and a DTS mix, which is a sweet surprise.  Hendrix’s section seems to have the most amount of restoration done because the detail is far sharper. 


Disc Three contains nothing but outtake performances starting with day one, which featured The Association, and Simon and Garfunkel.  Day two (afternoon) performers are Country Joe and the Fish, Al Kooper, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and The Electric Flag.  Day two (evening) is The Byrds, Laura Nyro, and Jefferson Airplane.  Day three The Blues Project, Big Brother and Holding Company, Buffalo Springfield, The Who, and The Mama’s and the Papa’s to close the show.  Topping of the outtakes is Tiny Tim playing four sings that were featured in the festivals green room. 


The performances on this disc are a mixed bag.  All of the mixes are in stereo with the exception of two tracks.  The Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away” and Big Brother and Holding Company’s “Combination of the Two”, both of these tracks are available with an alternate Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, which is similar to the comments earlier in the review, which give more credit to the enclosed feel of the 5.1 with more ambience, and reverb in the rear and music spread in the front channels. 


Probably the best portion of this segment would be Buffalo Springfield's “For What It’s Worth”, The Who’s “Summertime Blues” or Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence”.  Total runtime on this disc is two hours and its great to see some of these performances even the ones that are bad simply because not everything was able to make it into the final film, so here we see what was left out and in some cases we are glad that they were. 


The final supplement is the huge 61-page booklet inside the box.  The booklet features an introduction by Pennebaker as well as four lengthy write-ups about the Festival from various writers and critics.  The writers are Michael Lyndon, Jann Wenner, Barney Hoskyns, and Armond White.  The pages are also scattered with psychedelic and processed photos of the Festival most of them are very rare.  The entire booklet is bound in paperboard and detailed in artwork reminiscent of the 60’s.  The box set is also fashioned in the same cardboard paper with black and white photos stamped onto them like a postcard. 


After making your way through the entire film and all the supplements is nearly impossible to have anything to say about this festival other than “wow”.  It’s also interesting to think that this was one of the birth spots of a rock era that would still be reminiscent even in the music of today.  Unfortunately there are very few occasions like this nowadays to capture the evolving sounds of rock.  It is also sad to look back and think of how many of these talented people are no longer with us.  Monterey will live in the minds of these artists, the people that were there, and with this awesome box set from Criterion hopefully in those who are reluctant enough to own this rare experience.



-   Nate Goss


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