Monterey Pop Movie Review
Shot in 1969 at an outdoor concert that precluded Woodstock, the film defies the stereotype of the general population at the time. Sure, some have painted their faces and smoke joints, but D.A. Pennebaker (The War Room, Moon Over Broadway) surprisingly chooses to show a broad spectrum of the audience. No matter who is watching, it all comes back to the talented musicians that stir your soul.
The excitement starts before the music even begins. A young girl is cleaning thousands of seats and when asked why by an interviewer, she replies that she feels lucky to do so. There are moments of organized craziness as John Phillips, leader of the Mamas and the Papas and one of the concert organizers, tries to get in touch with Dionne Warwick. And when one band is tuning up, a member remarks, "Finally, a decent sound system!"
You can tell just by watching these first few moments that this show isn't about vanity, it's about playing the music you love to those who have an appreciation for it, a two-way street. This interaction between audience and performer continues throughout the film and becomes infectious to the audience.
It's impossible to tear your eyes away from Janis Joplin as she belts out her ballad about love being a ball and chain. And while the lyrics to "Wild Thing" may not be all that complicated, watching Jimi Hendrix mime having sex with his guitar is as captivating as Otis Redding singing about love. Even if you don't recognize every band you see on stage, you can imagine being as enthralled by their work as the public sitting in those seats.
The only drawback to the film is the ending, which unfortunately I must reveal. All the other bands, big names then and still today, got approximately 7 to 10 minutes of screen time. In contrast, the last band on camera, a wholly forgettable one, gets an entire 18 minutes of screen time. For a film that's only 78 minutes long, that's too large of a chunk, especially when previous acts are much more stimulating.
All in all, Monterey Pop is a precious, rare look at a time period that still holds sway over us. The variety of music, as well as the beautifully shot performances, are easy to become immersed in. If there was ever any question as to why most of these bands were so popular, this is quickly dispelled. It's almost depressing to think that music this moving doesn't get made much anymore. Instead we're stuck with *Nsync, the Backstreet Boys, and Jennifer Lopez, all of whom should have stuck with modeling.
The film is now available on a standalone single disc or as part of the three-disc set, complete with extra footage and outtakes. You can also buy the extra footake (Jimi Plays Monterey/Shake! Otis at Monterey) separately. Each of these movies also has a bonus interview attached.