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THE COMPLETE MONTEREY POP FESTIVAL

Review by Michael Jacobson

Performers:  Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, The Who, The Mamas and Papas, The Association, Simon and Garfunkel, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, The Animals, Ravi Shankar, et al
Director:  D. A. Pennebaker
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Stereo
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  See Review
Length:  270 Minutes (complete)
Release Date:  November 12, 2002

“Wild thing, I think you move me…”

Films ****

The Monterey Pop Festival is alive and well.  In its day, it was the first rock festival of its kind, then it became the first live concert movie in Monterey Pop.  Now, 35 years later, it has become one of THE best DVD sets ever released.

Criterion’s 3 disc set The Complete Monterey Pop Festival proves, if nothing else, that the only studio capable of unseating Criterion is Criterion.  For years, I’ve personally ranked their deluxe special edition of Brazil as the best overall DVD on the market.  CMPF has unseated it joyfully. 

Although we always organize our reviews to discuss one aspect of a disc at a time, it’s almost impossible to separate the factions for this release.  You’re going to see some overlap; bear with us, it’ll be worth it.

For starters, you get all three of director D. A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop films, starting with the legendary Monterey Pop and rounding out with his two special releases from 1986, Jimi Plays Monterey and Shake!  Otis at Monterey.  And if that isn’t enough to set your musical spirit on fire, this set also includes a third disc of over TWO HOURS of outtake performances NOT included in the films!

And the music…oh, what music!  Some of the biggest artists of the 60s gathered for this festival, bringing their best chops with them.  The Monterey Pop film’s only real drawback is that it only showcases one song per artist (but as mentioned, that’s easily remedied by the other inclusions in this set!).  But start with the first movie, and you’ll thrill to The Mamas and Papas’ “California Dreamin’”, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song”, Otis Redding’s “Shake”, Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company’s “Ball and Chain”, and much more, including two of rock’s most explosive (and destructive) performances:  The Who wreaking havoc with “My Generation”, and the inimitable Jimi Hendrix literally setting his guitar on fire while churning out a heavy-crunch version of “Wild Thing”.

Jimi’s performance will leave you wanting more, and with this set, you get it.  Jimi Plays Monterey gives you the guitar legend’s full 49 minute set that ended with “Wild Thing”, but included many of his best songs and covers alike:  “Purple Haze”, “Foxy Lady”, “Hey Joe” and “The Wind Cries Mary” mix beautifully with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, “Like A Rolling Stone”, and much more.  Listening to Hendrix is enough to cement his legend as a musician, but watching him live makes it iron-clad.

If you prefer a little less rock and a little more soul, this disc also includes Shake!  Otis at Monterey.  Otis Redding adds to “Shake” with other R & B classics, like “Respect”, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, “Satisfaction” and the stirring “Try a Little Tenderness”.  Otis and Jimi are both showstoppers, and Pennebaker was right in determining they each earned their own spotlight film!

As mentioned, for a bonus, there is a third disc with over two hours of performances not included in the movie releases…we’ll discuss those further down.  Put all three discs together, and you have hours and hours of fantastic live music…great bands doing what they do best, preserved on film for all time and with glorious video and audio presentations (again, more on that further down).

This collection is the definitive answer to the generation who asks us with a straight face, “What’s the matter with N SYNC?”  Yeah, just TRY and put one of your manufactured pretty-boy bands up on stage with the monsters of Monterey.  I give them two minutes before the true giants of rock and roll have them cowering with ears covered and crying out for mercy.  This is as good as it gets.

BONUS NOTE: This DVD is dedicated to the late great John Phillips, a sentiment we wish to echo with our review.

Video ****

On to the goods, and there are plenty of them.  Is your brain telling you that the music at Monterey was great, but the video quality was poop?  Get ready for a psychedelic surprise:  these digitally remastered transfers are a visual smorgasbord.  Every light, every color, every dreamy rock and roll moment looks pristine and gorgeous from start to finish.  The print has been cleaned up remarkably, and tone and definition have been brought out in ways never before seen.  Contrast levels are strong without being grainy, and each shade accents the other without bleeding or loss of definition.  A top notch treat!

Audio ****

You’re going to think you died and went to rock and roll heaven…leave it to Criterion to break out the goods for a film like this.  You thought Gimme Shelter sounded good?  Wait til the Monterey Pop Festival comes blasting through your system in your choice of Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 soundtracks.  The subwoofer never stops pounding the bass through; the front and rear channels open up the music and make it come to vibrant, dynamic life in your living room.  These are bold new remixes that make an already good thing even better.  These discs sound so good, they’ll bring tears to your eyes!

Features ****

The features are plentiful…I believe we mentioned a third disc of outtake performances?  And not just one or two here, a handful there…we’re talking over TWO HOURS of great bands making great music that sorrowfully ended up on the cutting room floor.  How good do you think the three Monterey film release are, when you consider that tunes that DIDN’T make the cut include The Who doing “Substitute” and “A Quick One”, The Mamas and Papas doing “Monday, Monday” and “I Call Your Name”, Buffalo Springfield playing “For What it’s Worth”, Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love”, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” and “Sounds of Silence”, and more?  That’s practically a CD’s worth of 60s greatest hits…and those were the songs that were left out!  The only drawback, which is minor, is that these performances didn’t get the benefit of a 5.1 remix, but the standard stereo offerings are still plenty good.

The set also includes commentaries galore.  You can watch Monterey Pop while listening to director D. A. Pennebaker and festival producer and music business giant Lou Adler, or you can listen to music critic Charles Shaar Murray discussing Jimi Plays Monterey, or another music critic, Peter Guralnick, talking about Otis at Monterey.  Good commentaries all, but the drawback is actually having to switch over to them from the music…very hard to do!

There are also new video interviews with Adler and Pennebaker, and with Phil Walden (Otis Redding’s manager), plus audio interviews with Papa John Phillips, publicist Derek Taylor, and performers Cass Elliot and David Crosby.  Rounding out are trailers, radio spots, a photo essay, and an incredible (and thick) scrapbook filled with essays, pictures, and band and production credits.  Put together all of these features with the program content, and you’ll be rocking and rolling for days on end.

Summary:

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival is not only far and away the best DVD release of the year, but very possibly the best DVD ever put on the market.  With hours of incredible music remastered for Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1, a stunning new digital video transfer, and endless extras designed to make sure you don’t miss one sight, sound or smell of this legendary festival, this Criterion set deserves a place of honor in your library.  This is a bold, imaginative and inspiring use of the medium...your eyes and ears will thank you.