In the summer of 1967, on a weekend in June, The Monterey International Pop Festival was held in Monterey, California. Television network ABC put up $200,000 in advance to festival producer Lou Adler and documentarian D.A. Pennebaker to capture the festival to be aired later that year for ABC’s new “Movie of the Week” line of programming.
The completed film “Monterey Pop” never aired on ABC, as when the head of the network saw the footage he exclaimed “Not on my network!” and kicked Adler and Pennebaker out of his office. Fifty years later “Monterey Pop” is without question one the all time great concert films, Pennebaker and his crew captured amazing performances that have become legend. Jimmy Hendrix burning his guitar, Pete Townshend smashing him, and my favorite shot in all of the film, a stunned Mama Cass exclaiming “WOW” after watching a career making performance by Janis Joplin. For anyone who loves music, or if like me has a particular obsession with the music of the 1960s, this film is essential.
Simon and Garfunkel, Otis Redding, The Byrds, The Mamas and The Papas, The Who, Ravi Shankar, and Hugh Masekela are just a few of the names you can find the film. The new blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection comes with a second disc of two hours of outtakes with extended performances from bands in the film, and performances from bands that were cut out of the final film. The two-disc blu-ray set from Criterion is not the first time they have released the film, once on DVD and even a prior blu-ray set. This new edition, however, features an amazing 4K restoration of the film supervised by director Pennebaker that played in limited release this past summer.
I’ve seen “Monterey Pop” several times over my life, the first time was on Criterion’s original DVD release from 2002. Though the performances and film itself was electrifying, the visuals I saw then, compared to the new 4K restoration, are dull and dingy. This new restoration really brings out the color pallet of the film in a way that I haven’t seen in any other version. The restoration was created from the original 16mm A/B camera reversal. The grain pallet, the color, the whole look of the film is perfect and fitting. It’s the best I’ve ever seen “Monterey Pop” look.
Sonically, there’s a lot of pick from here. Luckily, the audio for the film was recored in then state of the art 8-track multi-track tape. The film was released to theaters in 1968 with a stereo soundtrack, which is preserved here sourced from the original 35mm magnetic master. A new stereo remix and 5.1 DTS-HD master audio tracks, made from the original analogue 8-track tapes are included as well. I sampled all three last night and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. They all sound wonderful, the 5.1 mix really opens up the soundscape, but never sounds artificial or hollow (looking at you early 2000s 5.1 mix from The Monkees DVD set).
Bonus features in this set are plentiful. In addition to that second disc of outtakes, you get Richard Leacock’s short film “Chiefs” that played in theaters with the film. Vintage Audio interviews with Fest producer John Phillips and publicist Derek Taylor, plus Cass Elliot and David Crosby. New and archival interns with Adler and Pennebaker, commentary from the 2002 release with the pair, trailers and radio spots, plus a booklet with essays and information on the restoration.
This new edition of “Monterey Pop” is without question the finest home video release to date. The film and music may be half a century old, but none of it’s magic or energy has been lost. It’s a legendary film with legendary performers, and it completely deserves that title. If you’re a fan of music this is an undeniable must own. A phenomenal set from start to end, which I’m going to go and watch again right now. See you next week.