Monterey Pop was an excellent example of the definitive rock documentary movie in that it was able to stand back and film a concert and allow that event to speak for itself – that is, apart from the obvious limitations imposed by condensing 72 hours of music into 80 minutes of film.
No commentary was added, no inferences were drawn, no perfunctory conclusions arrived at.
Monterey as a venue, of course, became synonymous with peace and love – those twin peaks all the rage at the time. However, the movie of the 1967 concert does show that violence was also a major influence of the era.
Monterey provided something for everyone. The festival was produced by John Phillips (Papa John) and Lou Adler (Mamas and Papas producer) and the movie itself was a celebration of Californian life and music styles as lived in the late 60s.
The lasting impression is one of a huge pop orgy. For instance, the performance of the late Janis Joplin with the camera capturing her lunatic dancing feet and the microphone absorbing her perfect control is a never-to-be-forgotten experience. It was an incongruous event – so did it prove an incongruous movie.
Trying to be at one and the same time a reflection of late 60s rock & roll and a paean to the Flower Power movement, the sight of Jimi Hendrix squirting petrol on his guitar and then setting fire to it (pictured above), the unforgettable experience of The Who smashing up their instruments after a frenetic rendition of My Generation and throwing the debris among the astonished audience (pictured below), were rather hard to take after the movie’s opening to the words, “You’re sure to meet some gentle people there . . .”
However, looked at as a brilliant jukebox medley, the programme was irresistible. Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin – Combination Of The Two and Ball and Chain; Scott McKenzie – San Francisco; The Mamas and the Papas – Creeque Alley and I’ve Got A Feeling; Canned Heat – Rollin’ and Tumblin’; Hugh Masekela – Bajabula Bonke; Jefferson Airplane – High Flyin’ Bird; The Who – My Generation; Country Joe and The Fish – Section 43; Ravi Shankar – Ragar Bhimpalasi; Otis Redding – Shake.
If – as many said was true – the movie’s strength was in D.A. Pennebaker’s editing, it was ample proof that pop would always be too diverse a sound to launch under one banner . . . particularly one of ‘simple’ peace and love.
D. A. Pennebaker