Monterey Pop

In an age where every no-hit wonder gets the deluxe DVD treatment, it’s an innocent delicacy to revisit the original rock concert film. With no narration, no context and not even titles identifying the artists, Monterey Pop manages to speak volumes simply by recognising its time and place. It was 1967, when counter culture became mainstream, when no one knew what was supposed to happen at these events, where passive folk, electric blues, destructive rock and raucous soul music met South African jazz and traditional Indian music without anyone blinking an eyelash. Though the film never lags, Monterey Pop is best known for capturing definitive performances by tragic icons Otis Redding, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, which remains some of the most thrilling concert footage ever shot. Janis Joplin is electrifying in ways that she never was in the studio, especially with the camera following her every twitch, moving with her, stomping with her, following each sideways glance. Like almost every performer, Hendrix only gets one song — his cover of "Wild Thing” — but he turns simple garage rock bubblegum into a free jazz flurry of sexual bravado. Sadly, the libido of his proto-noise rock has been lost on his avant-garde progeny and cheaply caricatured by his heavy metal stepchildren. Few — if any — other men could get away with humping his speakers and following it with the legendary lighter fluid sequence, a money shot which is "seminal” in more ways than one. The performer who gets the most screen time is Ravi Shankar, who closes the film with a 20-minute raga, which Pennebaker sets to panning shots of the mesmerised (or stoned) crowd and close-ups that double as iconic still photography. It's the perfect closing performance, embodying the idealism of the day, when audiences were trusted to follow threads through the experimental, the exotic and the familiar. Criterion's DVD transfer features a phenomenal 5.1 mix by Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer. The film originally appeared as one disc in The Complete Monterey Pop Festival, which added all sorts of cutting room footage and two short films devoted entirely to Redding and Hendrix. The single disc has commentary from Pennebaker and festival producer Lou Adler, as well as a featurette with the two of them in discussion. (Criterion/Paradox)