Rock(,) and Roll Film

8 Oct 2013: Monterey Pop (DVD, 1968, D. A. Pennebaker)

Short and sweet, this early rock concert film features little of the wild camera pans and zooms of later works and not much in the way of frenetic editing either: it’s the performers themselves – their abilities, movements and emotions – who energize the proceedings, rather than the film crew or the post-production staff. Few of the three-days’-worth of acts at the festival are seen, and those that are mostly get one song apiece to show their chops. Most don’t disappoint, and several are spectacular: Janis Joplin, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding and Ravi Shankar are the standouts, the first three getting by on dynamism and intensity alone, the second two adeptly augmented technically by a blinding white light blocked and unblocked by the shifting Redding and well-composed and -edited juxtapositions of Shankar and his tabla master, the latter performance the highest, and, appropriately, the ending, point for the film. The opening montages might lead one to think that this is going to be a simple sort of period exploitation piece of flower children with typical hippie anthems by the Mamas and the Papas and Scott McKenzie playing over scenes of bright loving youths in sixties attire (clueless to their impending doom!), but once the musicians begin, the film concentrates on them rather than on the crowd, and when it returns to the latter later, we respect them more as engaged with and respectful of the music, some afraid of the mania and power of Hendrix, some intoxicated by (and all giving a conclusive standing ovation to) the spellbinding improvisations of Shankar and company.

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