The Complete Monterey Pop Festival, Blu-ray (1967/2009)

by | Oct 20, 2009 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival, Blu-ray (1967/2009)

Three Documentaries directed by D.A. Pennebaker
Artists include: The Mamas and the Papas, Canned Heat, Simon and Garfunkel, Hugh Masekela, Laura Nyro, The Association, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Country Joe and the Fish, Otis Redding with Booker T. and the MGs and the Mar-Keys, Ravi Shankar, The Blues Project, The Byrds, The Electric Flag, Al Kooper, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Tiny Tim
Studio: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection 167 (2 discs) [Release date: 9/22/09]
Video: Mostly 4:3 color (1.33:1)
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DD 5.1, PCM Stereo
Extras: Restored hi-def transfers from the 16mm originals of all 3 films – supervised by Pennebaker, The Outtake Performances – 2 hours of performances not included in the feature film, Audio commentaries by Pennebaker, Festival producer Lou Adler, music critics & historians Charles Shaar Murray and Peter Guralnick, Video interviews with Pennebaker & Adler, and with Otis Redding’s manager, Audio interviews with John Phillips, Festival publicist Derek Taylor, and performers David Crosby and Cass Elliot, Photo essay by Elaine Mayes, Original theatrical trailers and radio spots, Pop Festival Scrapbook, Illustrated booklet with essays by critics Michael Lydon, Barney Hoskyns, Armond White & David Fricke
Length: feature – 79 minutes; Jimi Plays Monterey – 49 minutes; Shake! Otis at Monterey – 19 minutes; Outtake performances – 2 hours
Rating: *****

Wow! – a terrific hi-def/hi-res remembrance of the very first rock festival, and I was there!  With all the attention going to the Woodstock DVD & Blu-ray reissue package as well as the movies, it’s only natural that the festival that began it all two years earlier also be re-exposed to everyone who wasn’t there or wasn’t paying attention. The range and variety of performers was mind-boggling, and the festival itself was quite small compared to the immense gatherings – good and bad – that were to follow elsewhere.

This landmark documentary by D.A. Pennebaker looks terrific considering it was shot on 16mm and often under very difficult lighting conditions.  I was surprised that the Wally Heider Studio of San Francisco made 8-channel tapes of all the festival performances.  The analog soundtrack for the Blu-ray was remastered at 24 bits and Pro Tools HD was used to manually remove all the clicks, thumps, buzzes and hum.  The original footage had been enlarged to 35mm for showing theatrically in the late 60s, and the HD transfer to Blu-ray used both the 35mm and 16mm – whichever happened to look the best in the transfers. Various systems were of course used to remove the dirt, grain, noise and other problems with the original footage. The images are somewhat more detailed on the Blu-ray than the earlier DVD Criterion set, but considering this all started out with 16mm footage it’s not that much of a transformation. However, the soundtrack is a whole new situation, with the lossless DTS-HD surround often delivering a real feeling of being right there on the festival grounds in Monterey.  There are some discrepancies between the sound and screen images; often only the lead singer or guitarist is heard and the other performers seen onstage are enthusiastically doing their thing but as far as the viewer is concerned, doing it silently. The other big difference between the standard DVD set and the Blu-ray is that the Blu-ray is actually cheaper due to the huge storage capacity of the discs! The DVD set requires three discs – the third one is devoted to the two hours of Outtake Performances – but here that is combined on a single disc with both the short documentaries on Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding.

There were very few musical duds during the Pop Festival.  Laura Nyro and Hugh Masekela seemed to be the least successful, although Nyro seems to hold her own during the Outtakes. Lou Adler describes how there was almost a fight backstage between The Who and Jimi Hendrix about which one would go onstage first. When Hendrix came in second he vowed to outdo the wild Britishers, and he did.  Both made a high art out of destruction of their instruments.  It’s clear why the Hendrix and Redding performances rated separate films of their own.  None of the performances in the feature film outplay their welcome, but then maybe of them are only seen doing a single number. There have long been complaints that although in the reviews of the festival at the time, and in those in the 60-page note booklet, the Grateful Dead performances were credited as gangbusters, yet the band doesn’t appear in either the feature or the Outtakes!  Evidently something went wrong and they weren’t even filmed or the footage was unusable; it couldn’t have been clearance problems since the Dead are known for their encouragement of fans to audio and videotape them freely. Also, there is only a single tune from Janis Joplin in the feature – rather surprising since she was one of the most amazing hits of the weekend. I was disappointed the Paul Butterfield Blues Band didn’t get a number in the feature film since they were one of my personal favorites.

Let me close by alerting readers to one of the other of many extras of this set: the terrific candid shots of the beautiful people attending, on the festival grounds and closeups in the audience. The Ravi Shankar raga which closes the feature film (just part of his 3-hour performance) is heard on the soundtrack, but for some time it is accompanied only by quick shots of festival attendees.  Finally we are shown Shankar and the other two players for the exciting conclusion of the piece and the film.  I recognized several of the standout people because they’re also in a Super 8 Monterey Pop short I made myself. Hard to miss a bald-headed guy whose entire head is covered with colorful illustrations of various sections of the brain…

– John Henry

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