The second re-release of Monterey Pop opens with its director D.A. Pennebaker’s introduction. It’s 2017, he’s 91 now, the man bringing insight to the work. The introduction shows archive photos and footage of him. He’s someone I assume is a square capturing hippies in their natural habitat. It’s three minutes of him talking about some of the people who helped him make the documentary. Some of his contemporaries wanted to learn how to make concert documentaries as much as he did. And he brought those people along with him. It’s a collaborative work between him, his assistant directors and the performers.
But nothing can prepare us for this memorable trip and the musicians who have made it worthwhile. The acts met exceeded his expectation and it’s a wonderful thing to share that experience for generations. The film takes 10 minutes before it shows us a musical performance but it’s worth the wait. The camera closes in and out on the performers’ faces, seamlessly shifting from one angle to another. Pennebaker and his crew captures how different these acts are. There are ones that they have to keep up with like Jimi Hendrix and to the ones who are calmer.
The crew are never out of step with the acts. There’s also occasional work of light and shadow, adding an intimate effect to the music. Sometimes the camera shifts away form the performer and switches to an audience member or two. It’s indicative of the personal interaction between the musicians and their fans. At other times we see the psychedelic slide shows that go with the music. It’s hard to write about a classic or try to. But it’s good to point out specifics as to what the crew do differently here.
It’s not a chronological film, as it shows the performances out of order. I’m trying to figure out a pattern to Pennebaker’s new chronology. For now I’ll say that the acts get more rock as the film goes on. There are segments in the film where one act follows another and again there’s a seamless quality to it. But there are moments where they’re less concerned about finding the right angle and lets the music speak for itself. Personally it made me rediscover new things about singers like Janis Joplin. She’s smoother and more controlled than I remember her being. She and Ravi Shankar shut the house down, a marvel to see on film.
Playing a handful of one off screenings around Toronto, including tomorrow night at both the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema and the Revue Cinema.
- Release Date: 6/17/2017