I’ll just come clean right off the top here and admit that this was my first time watching D.A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop and although it’s definitely a great film, it’s probably my least favourite of the three big music festival documentaries to come out of the late sixties/early seventies. There’s something about the grandiose cluster-fuck nature of Woodstock that appealed to me — along with the split screens of course — and Gimme Shelter’s cynicism was the perfect end to the short lived era of ‘Peace and Love’. I think the thing that drops Monterey Pop down a notch or two is the fact that it’s too devoted to the performances; an accusation that is obviously a personal one, as I would imagine most people watching this film are hoping for exactly that. Perosnally, I’m more interested in the logistics of the festival and the people who attend it, and although the film does touch upon this, it’s so secondary that it takes up a fraction of the already short 79 minute running time.
Monterey Pop does boast some now classic performances that aren’t short in theatrics. There’s the iconic image of Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar ablaze on stage and of course, Pete Townshend destroying his Gibson as the Who annhialate the unsuspecting audiences ear drums, sending chunks of instruments hurdling towards the crowd. It all adds up to a sold concert film that just doesn’t do much to subvert or transcend the subject matter, but definitely sets the groundwork for others to build upon.
Criterion has given Monterey Pop the full HD treatment with a faithful transfer, remastered Dolby Digital and DTS-HD Master audio and a load of supplemental materials. Fans of Criterion’s past releases will be pleased to hear that the D.A. Pennebaker supervised digital transfer retains its filmic qualities with a fine sheen of grain and no unnecessary artificial digital enhancements. Really a great package overall. Of course, if you end up picking up the The Complete Monterey Pop Festival box set, you’ll also get an additional blu ray disc including the short films ‘Jimi Plays Monterey’ and ‘Shake! Otis at Monterey’, both of which have also been remastered in HD. This is a must have for documentary fans and classic rock aficionados.