Monterey Pop was a D.A. Pennebaker documentary, made just after Don’t Look Back. It was the first major film made about a pop festival. THE event was most famous for being the breakthrough moment for Jimi Hendrix, who had just returned from the UK, ad Janis Joplin, who had recently arrived from Texas. The Who also featured, and it was a big factor in their stateside success.
Everyone was obviously stoned, and the Who were famously on acid during their gig, which Townsend swore off after an out-of-body experience on the plane ride home from Monterey. With the TAMI Show having started to mix rock and soul for a mainstream audience the previous year, Otis Redding’s performance (included in full on the disc, along with Hendrix’s set and most of the Who’s) was a major step forward. The last-gasp version of the Byrds is also here, although surprisingly they didn’t play any of their hits in their short set. The Grateful Dead performed, but there’s no footage of either them or Moby Grape (my personal favourite of the San Francisco scene).
The Beach Boys had been slated to headline, but Brian Wilson was on another planet at that point. Love, Zappa and Beefheart all turned it down, but many other West Coast favourites of the time were on the bill, including the Mamas and the Papas, Tiny Tim and Jefferson Airplane. The Monkees were also left out by organisers Lou Adler and John Phillips, but some of them attended; The Doors were also not invited to play who were perhaps too dark and cynical for the summer of love?
The main problem with the documentary is that Pennebaker was far more interested in Ravi Shankar than any of the bands, and although his sitar performance is great, you really want to see more of the rock and soul acts. The Mazels were part of the camera crew, and later went on to make the great 60s music festival documentary, Gimme Shelter.
It’s a fun documentary to watch, especially if you like to play “spot the famous people”: possibilities include Brian Jones and Nico on a date. It’s also interesting to see the Mod version of the Who, just before they moved into their rock opera phase, and the more psychedelic and slightly funkier version of the Animals. The disc includes an extra two hours of footage not used in the film—including some of the best music, such as the full Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix sets, which are on a separate disc. All in all, it’s a good documentary of the time.
The Criterion release includes many special features, such as new, extensive interviews with Adler and Pennebaker, and a commentary track by music journalist Charles Shaw Murray and Peter Guralick. There’s also short film called Chiefs by caneraman Richard Leacock, which played alongside Monterey Pop during its theatrical release.