Although the Woodstock Music & Art Fair is usually what most people think of when talking about the hippie subculture, the Monterey International Pop Music Festival, two years earlier, should and will be remembered as the true "Summer of Love." And it was better organized with a clear, thought-out message of peace, love, and cultural/political awareness. Serving as the template for other similar concerts — like Woodstock — the three-day music event was essentially an exposition of this hippie counterculture revolution by celebrating a variety of music, establishing it as the new movement of creative expression. The first such rock festival was a massive success with estimates over 50,000 attendees.
The Monterey Pop Festival left a significant impact in the world of music and the rock genre, even if many today can't really see or fail to appreciate that fact. Certainly, the weekend-long show in the middle of June 1967 will be cherished most for its performances from the likes of Jefferson Airplane while their fame was still in its infancy. Already-established groups, such as Simon & Garfunkel and The Mamas and the Papas also participated alongside others which many contemporary listeners would hold in lesser regard. But even if some don't care for the style of music shown, there remains something rather special in hearing the influential psychedelic-rock sounds of Country Joe & the Fish played on the same day as Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long."
Of course, the concert and the documentary film that released the following year will be forever immortalized as the first major performance of Janis Joplin, singing "Ball 'n' Chain" with Big Brother & the Holding Company. The event also introduced American audiences to the wild exploits of The Who, the act which famously shocked audiences as Pete Townshend destroyed his guitar by smashing it against the stage floor. Behind the scenes, and which director D.A. Pennebaker chose not to include in his movie, the festival, too, marks the beginning of The Byrds's disintegration as David Crosby made some highly-controversial, impromptu remarks in-between songs and sang vocals for Buffalo Springfield.
Pennebaker's music documentary interestingly shows some amazing memorable acts, like Townshend's angst-filled finale, but intentionally ignores others like Crosby's antics or the entire set by The Grateful Dead, along with several others. The reasoning, I'm sure, is not meant to be hurtful or due to the director's personal preferences. There's a certain mood and attitude Pennebaker clearly strives for — one which would represent the festival's goal. While not always successful, the film expresses what Pennebaker saw as the concert's most important moments with genuinely vested interest in each group's unique sound. Towards the end of the movie while Ravi Shankar plays the raga Madhuvanti on stage best demonstrates this, leaving an impression of peacefulness and unity.
But beyond these precious recollections of a momentous event in rock history, the one performance which has arguably made the festival and Pennebaker's film worth celebrating after four decades is The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The concert not only brought the group into prominence, but also perfectly captures the intense, enigmatic style which quickly made Hendrix a legend. The then 24-year-old guitarist set his guitar on fire and smashed it into pieces, which he threw into the audiences — an act that has become iconic of rock's rebellious character and immortalized the incredibly gifted Hendrix.
Pennebaker's 'Monterey Pop' enshrines the three-day musical festival not only as a culturally significant event but also preserves the talents and music of the bands who participated for future generations to enjoy.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Blu-ray edition of 'The Complete Monterey Pop Festival' comes courtesy of The Criterion Collection (spine #167) as a two-disc package with separate spine numbers (#168 and 169) and a cardboard slipcover. They are both Region A locked, BD50 discs housed in the label's standard clear keepcase.
The first features the 79-minute concert film with a variety of supplements and accompanied by a glossy 44-page booklet with color pictures and three insightful essays: Michael Lydon's "Monterey Pop: the First Rock Festival"; Barney Hoskyns's "The Meeting of the Twain"; and Armond White's "Monterey Pop: People in Motion." The second disc contains two short films by D.A. Pennebaker showing Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding in concert. Along with couple more supplements, it too is accompanied by an 8-page booklet with the essay "Bold, Beautiful, and Black" by David Fricke.
There are no trailers or promos before being greeted by the distributor's normal menu options.
Considering its age and the conditions under which it was filmed, 'The Complete Monterey Pop Festival' looks surprisingly good on Blu-ray. Struck from a combination of the original 16mm A/B reversal and the 35mm duplicate negative, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode does show significant damage and degradation, but for the most part, the transfer is a passable presentation for a memorable moment in music history.
Approved by D.A. Pennebaker and presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the quality unfortunately fluctuates between scenes and even within the same picture frame. Scratches, dirt and hair can be somewhat of a distraction, but along with the prominent grain structure, it adds an amusing cinematic value which most viewers can appreciate. Though it expectedly doesn't compare with other high-def releases from the same era, definition is strong with plenty of visible detail, especially in daylight and brightly-lit sequences. Black levels are incredibly dark and accurate, but contrast is rather dull and lifeless, all things considered. Colors have a nice boldness to them without feeling exaggerated, giving fans the best possible presentation of an unforgettable concert event.
The real winner in this Criterion release is without a doubt the three separate audio options, each sounding excellent in their own right. The first two offerings are in uncompressed PCM stereo (one unrestored while the other restored) and the third is a DTS-HD Master Audio remix for modern 5.1 sound systems. All three were made from the original 8-track tapes with the supervision of legendary music producer and audio engineer Eddie Kramer.
Preference between them will be purely subjective, but after listening to all three, I enjoyed the restored stereo track best as it is closer in quality to the original design. The first untouched PCM 2.0 track is sadly the weakest, sounding generally flat and monotone throughout. While the new DTS-HD MA soundtrack tries to emulate the feel of a live concert with lots of activity in the rear speakers and a healthy dose of bass, the whole thing tends to also sound a bit artificial and spread out far too wide, clearly manufactured to appease modern listeners.
The second lossless presentation comes with an excellent and beautiful soundstage, generating a spacious and demanding presence that's full of energy. The fronts fill with a variety of tunes and melodies like a broad wall of sound, spreading across all three channels with perfect balance and differentiation. Each instrument and note struck is plainly heard thanks to an amazingly sharp, extensive mid-range and a deep but appropriate low-end. Every song played is richly-detailed and feels like it was only recently recorded. Vocals are right on target in the center of the screen while the rest occupy the other two speakers. This is really a terrific stereo mix which music fans will completely love.
Criterion repackages their collection of bonus material from the previous three-disc DVD release for this Blu-ray edition.
The Monterey International Pop Music Festival made rock history by being the first event of its kind. Documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker immortalizes this momentous three-day concert with his 'Monterey Pop' movie, featuring some of the most memorable and even iconic performances by legendary groups. As a special home video release from The Criterion Collection, the label brings 'The Complete Monterey Pop Festival' with hours of bonus material and behind-the-scenes footage, including two short films on Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding. The Blu-ray edition of this unique box-set arrives with the best video and audio presentation possible, making this two-disc collection a must-have for music lovers everywhere.