When I opened my Christmas presents on Christmas morning, I was most excited for what my boyfriend got me. I was excited because my boyfriend has intimate knowledge about my obsession with physical media and the gifts he was giving me were roughly Blu-Ray shaped. When I tore into the wrapping paper, I held in my hands the Criterion Collection release of the Complete Monterey Pop Festival (this includes the full concerts the director shot of both Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix). I was surprised that he would get me something so obscure and then I glanced at the totally groovy Jimi Hendrix poster hanging on the wall next to me. I realized then that I was given the best gift I had gotten in years.
This movie is basically hippie porn for me. Filmed over a couple of days, D.A. Pennebaker (of Don’t Look Back and The War Room fame and a great documentarian) focused his lens not just on the magnificent performances but also the crowd of people who chose to witness these monumental events. We see hippies of every shape and size enjoying the music and themselves. But at the end of the day the documentary is about the music. We see amazing performances by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Who, Ravi Shankar, and Otis Redding. He uses these great performances as a backdrop for small experiments with his camera and editing. The most impressive sequence is of Otis Redding performing. There is a light that shines directly on him. Pennebaker places the camera behind him so as Otis is getting into the music and begins to bob up and down and sway, the light disappears and reappears in a rhythm that seems in time with the music. Pennebaker also knows when to not worry about cutting away or do some fancy camera trick. For Ravi Shankar’s performance, he keeps his camera squarely on him, his bongo (I think they are called something else in India, but I can’t find the technical term) player, and their hands as they play truly fascinating music. Only every once in a while does he cut away from these master musicians to show the reactions of the crowd.
If you are fascinated by sixties hippie culture and the magnificent music this time period produced, you must watch this documentary. (And also go to the Experience Music Project in Seattle. It has a very comprehensive documentation of this time, especially Jimi Hendrix who is from Seattle and a demi god in my eyes) I was fortunate enough to watch this documentary with some friends who had never seen Jimi Hendrix light his guitar on fire or watch Janis Joplin fall back on her heels as she gets into a song. Hearing their expressions of awe at the sight on the screen, gave me untold joy. I hope this movie will give you untold joy as well.