Monterey Pop (1968): Pennebaker’s Legendary Docu of the Monterey Pop Festival 1967

Monterey Pop, D.A. Pennebaker’s legendary concert film, documents the Monterey Pop Festival of 1967.

Grade: A (***** out of *****)

Monterey Pop
Monterey Pop (1968 film poster).jpg

Theatrical release poster by Tomi Ungerer

Among Pennebaker’s several camera operators were Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles. The painter Brice Marden has an “assistant camera” credit, and Bob Neuwirth, who figured in Pennebaker’s Bob Dylan documentary “Don’t Look Back,” acted as stage manager. Titles for the film were by the illustrator Tomi Ungerer.

Featured performers include Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Hugh Masekela, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, the Mamas & the Papas, the Who and Jimi Hendrix, who set his guitar on fire, broke it on the stage, then threw the neck of his guitar in the crowd at the end of “Wild Thing.”

Songs featured in the film, in order of appearance:

Scott McKenzie – “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”*
The Mamas & the Papas – “Creeque Alley”* and “California Dreamin'”
Canned Heat – “Rollin’ and Tumblin'”
Simon & Garfunkel – “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”
Hugh Masekela – “Bajabula Bonke (The Healing Song)”
Jefferson Airplane – “High Flying Bird” and “Today”
Big Brother and the Holding Company – “Ball and Chain”
Eric Burdon & The Animals – “Paint It Black”
The Who – “My Generation”
Country Joe and the Fish – “Section 43”
Otis Redding (backed by Booker T. & the M.G.’s)–“Shake” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “Wild Thing”
The Mamas & the Papas – “Got a Feelin'”
Ravi Shankar – “Dhun” (“Dadra and Fast Teental”) – Studio version, played over film footage of pre-concert activity.

The order of performances in the film is different from the order of appearance at the festival–it was rearranged.  Many artists who appeared at the festival were not included in the original cut of the film, which had a 90-minute running-time.

ABC put up  $200,000 advance to get a film made for its new idea, “Movie of the Week series.” However, Monterey Pop never aired on ABC, as top exec Thomas W. Moore was reportedly a conservative Southerner. When he saw Jimi Hendrix fornicating with his amp, he allegedly said, “Keep the money and get out. Not on my network.”

Monterey Pop was shot on 16mm film, later blown up to 35mm for theatrical release.  Pennebaker recorded the audio on a professional 8-channel reel-to-reel recorder borrowed from the Beach Boys.

The last–longest and best–performance is Ravi Shankar’s “Dhun,” which concludes the docu, followed by lengthy standing ovation from the live audience there.

The movie’s theatrical release used a four-channel soundtrack that included two to three minutes of rudimentary surround sound. Dolby noise reduction was added in 1978 when the film’s fresh prints were struck.

After Leacock-Pennebaker, the original production company, dissolved in 1970, Pennebaker Associates acquired rights to the film.

Monterey Pop is still one of the best 1960s concert documentaries, because music and performance are central to it. Unveiled in 1968, Pennebaker’s vision of the 1967 event was instrumental in convincing potential organizers and participants that music was the way to mobilize the energy of a counterculture that seemed both inevitable and embattled.

French director Jean-Luc Godard was so taken with Jefferson Airplane’s performance in Monterey Pop that later in 1968 he set out to make a film titled One A.M. (for “One American Movie”) in collaboration with Pennebaker and Leacock. Godard shot a sequence of the Airplane, playing at high noon on business day on the roof of a New York hotel across the street from the Leacock-Pennebaker offices, with the tower of Rockefeller Center in the background. The high volume of the music brought the police, which put an end to the shoot.

The screening of Monterey Pop in theaters helped raise the festival to mythic status, inspiring new entrepreneurs to orchestrate more of them around the country (and the world).

Origins of Woodstock

In 1969, Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld pitched an idea for a recording studio in Woodstock, New York to businessmen John P. Roberts and Joel Rosenman. In the documentary Woodstock: Now and Then, Rosenman said the proposal suggested that the studio would encourage occasional rock concerts in town. Rosenman had watched Monterey Pop the day before meeting with Lang and Kornfeld.  Impressed by the film, he and Roberts agreed to bankroll Lang and Kornfeld in what became the legendary 1969 Woodstock Festival.

Critical Status:

In 2018, the film was selected for the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Credits:

Directed by D.A. Pennebaker
Produced by John Phillips, Lou Adler
Edited by Nina Schulman
Distributed by Leacock Pennebaker

Release date: December 26, 1968

Running time: 79 minutes

Note:

TCM showed the movie on September 7, 2020.