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Criterion’s Monterey Pop Blu-Ray: Feelin’ Groovy On A Budget

Mark Smotroff springs for a classic rock doc thanks to recently reduced prices.


Here on Audiophilereview.com I get to do some interesting things because my writings are, for the most part, not tied to the traditional ebb and flow of new titles churning out from the music industry. Sure, I cover “new” titles when they are warranted (mostly stuff I like and think you might enjoy too, Dear Readers). However, I also get to take timely looks at older stuff which may have slipped through the cracks.  As a collector-on-a-budget, I will sometimes call attention to items that are newly on sale as not all of us have fat wallets to be able to afford every fancy audio/videophile release at list price. So a cool bargain is probably the kind of news I hope you will appreciate. Thus, this review about the Blu-ray Disc edition of The Complete Monterey Pop Festival documentaries falls into that latter category.

AR-MontereyPopBluRay.jpgI’m going to assume that you basically know what the Monterey Pop Festival is and was. If not, I do encourage you to go search the Interwebs and read up on it as this event was a turning point in music history.  

That festival was documented by now-legendary filmmaker D.A.Pennebaker.  There have been numerous releases of this film over the years. Several years back, the great reissue video company, Criterion, put out what appears to be the definitive edition on Blu-ray Disc, featuring new transfers of the film supervised by Pennebaker himself and a soundtrack remix / remaster by legendary and original recording festival engineer, Eddie Kramer.

As I remember, the reviews for the set were generally solid. I’d always wanted to get this Blu-ray set but I didn’t because, quite frankly, it was a bit pricey. I had trouble justifying to myself spending upwards of $70 for essentially two discs, simply because this material was older and I had seen much of it before. 

So, I figured I wait for it to come on sale. It did finally. It just took a long time for that to happen! 

Criterion’s releases are rarely discounted. They sell premium titles for discriminating customers. I get it. They are sort of like the BMW of video reissue companies. These are not mass-market disposables. This is niche marketing of a very high quality archival product.

AR-Jimi[1].jpgSo imagine my pleasure when Criterion recently announced (via their email blast list) a flash sale of about 50% off on titles! I was so there! I ordered a bunch of cool movies (which I’ll be reviewing here as I make my way through them) including The Complete Monterey Pop Festival collection on Blu-ray disc. 

Generally I am very pleased with how this set looks and sounds, thanks to high resolution film transfers and loving remastering, remixing. There are many great features in this robust Blu-ray edition, including:

• Unreleased performances (two hours worth!) by The Association, Janis Joplin with Big Brother & the Holding Company, The Blues Project, The Byrds, Country Joe and the Fish, The Electric Flag, Jefferson Airplane, Al Kooper, The Mamas and The Papas, Laura Nyro, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Simon and Garfunkel, Tiny Tim (yes! Tiny was there!) and The Who.
• Audio commentary by and Video interviews with co-producer Lou Adler and filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker
• Audio interviews with festival producer John Phillips, publicist Derek Taylor, Mama Cass Elliot and David Crosby
• A photo-essay by photographer Elaine Mayes
• The Original theatrical trailer and radio spots
• A festival scrapbook
• A booklet with new essays by critics Michael Lydon and Barney Hoskyns (Blu-ray only) and Armond White

It’s all very groovy, ya dig?

]]>The sound on The Complete Monterey Pop Festival is offered in uncompressed Stereo as well as 5.1 surround options (including DTS HD Master audio). Both sound great, the surround mix delivering mostly (essentially) a big full-room stereo sound (if you will), with the rear surrounds used primarily for judicious concert venue ambience. 

AR-Otis[1].jpgHonestly, I couldn’t expect any more from a 1967 production. This version sounds and looks better than any I have seen or heard before.

There were a couple artists who were on in industry radar to receive a bigger push — Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding — so here we get performances of their complete sets.

That said, the most interesting use of the surround sound happens during Otis Redding’s set when he is getting the crowd riled up performing his rave up  “Shake.”  This is a call-and-response styled tune so every time he encourages the audience to sing along and yell “shake!” we hear the audience shouting back in the rear surrounds. It’s actually very effective and that moment really jumps out amidst the concert experience — it is pretty much what it might’ve felt like if you were sitting 10th row center. 

On the Jimi Hendrix set, I did get to do a little bit of an A-B comparison to the so-called “definitive edition” issued by one of the other studios on Blu-ray disc. To my eye and ear, the Criterion version is the clear winner, offering more defined image, truer colors, and a more detailed and higher fidelity soundtrack. I don’t have all the details as to why, but I’m sure the fact that the filmmaker himself supervised the film transfer process had something to do with it!

Now when you watch you can see Hendrix and his band’s splashy psychedelic stage outfits in a brilliant rainbow of shades not just a wash of colors. This burst of pop imagery complements the roar of the band’s proto-heavy metal sound. When Jimi sets his guitar on fire and he coaxes roaring feedback from those huge amplifiers, you can feel the rumble and crackle of wires melting, feedback blistering and the shock and awe of the stunned audiences’ collective minds and ears.

In the very cool two hours of outtake performances on the Blu-ray disc, you get to watch David Crosby coerce his bandmates in The Byrds (whom he was about to leave) into doing a raw and decidedly un-Byrds sounding rendition of Hendrix’s then UK hit “Hey Joe” (also recorded by The Leaves, Love and others). The crowd eats it up. Then you get to see Crosby fill in for the recently departed Neil Young in The Buffalo Springfield, showcasing the roots of the supergroup he would soon form with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash a couple of years later.

Many puzzle pieces come alive in this film.

I am thus really happy to have this complete set in as definitive edition as possible to date. It is an important piece of music history.

Without Monterey Pop there wouldn’t have been a Woodstock Festival a couple of years later.  Without Monterey Pop, quite possibly, the live concert experience as we know it today may not have existed, or it would’ve taken a very different form. Without Monterey, would Janis Joplin and Big Brother have been signed to Columbia Records? Without Monterey, America might not have learned about Jimi Hendrix in such groundbreaking manner (that show was technically his American homecoming debut as a UK star).

Plus, you get to see a mesmerizing piece of Ravi Shankar’s spectacular performance blowing the minds of everyone there, from The Monkee’s Mickey Dolenz to Jimi Hendrix himself. Its a really, really special moment that must be seen to be appreciated.

AR-Otis2[3].jpgNow you can tune in and turn on to how it all went down at Monterey Pop back in the day in 1967 in the film’s best-ever presentation and at a price that won’t break your bank. The Complete Monterey Pop Festival is one of those legendary concert film packages which you’ll enjoy sharing with your friends and family for years to come, so it is a worthwhile investment.

Ray Davies once sang: “Celluloid heroes never die.”

Neil Young once sang: “My my, hey, hey, rock ‘n roll is here to stay.”

Both of them were right.

Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written: www.dialthemusical.com.

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