Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Monterey Pop (June 17th and 18th at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[MONTERY POP screens Saturday June 17th at 7:05 pm and Sunday June 18th at 4:30 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

Music (and film) producer Lou Adler, who helped stage the Monterey International Pop Festival, proudly boasted that a "phenomenal" 1,100 media people covered the event (press arrangement handled by the ex-publicist for the Beatles), thus guaranteeing that the weekend of June 16-18, 1967 would go
down in history as the apex of the "Summer of Love." From that mix of cultural revolution, undeniable talent, and stage-managed corporate hype came MONTEREY POP, first in a cycle of widely-released,
mass-audience "rockumentaries."

The feature directed by D.A. Pennebaker skims highlights of the three-day, 33-act festival. First the hippie music fans arrive, one predicting that the concert in Monterey, California, will be "a love-in...like Easter, Christmas and your birthday all at once!" Even the many police patrolling the Monterey County Fairgrounds are shown smiling benignly.


When the songs begin, one witnesses live performances that encapsulate the era: "I've Got a Feeling" by the Mamas and the Papas; "Rollin' and Tumblin'" by Canned Heat; "59th Street Bridge Song" by Simon and Garfunkel; "Bajabula Bonke" by Hugh Masakela; "High Flying Blind" and "Today" by Jefferson Airplane; "Ball and Chain" by Big Brother and the Holding Company; "Paint it Black" by Eric Burdon and the Animals; "My Generation" by the Who; "Section 43" by Country Joe and the Fish; "Shake" and "I've Been Loving You Too Long" by Otis Redding. The Jimi Hendrix intro to "Wild Thing" is the stuff ofrock legend--Hendrix jamming on his electric guitar with no hands by twirling it through the air and letting the wind vibrate the strings.

From time to time the camera cuts to the festival-goers, a happy aggregate of Haight-Ashbury habituees, caught on celluloid before Hollywood mutated the counterculture into camp hippie stereotypes (or Charles Manson mutants). There's a pet monkey with "love" painted on its forehead, a concession stand giving away "free rocks," and a pretty girl from Champagne, Illinois, who finds herself unexpectedly on the all-volunteer cleanup detail.

During the finale, as Ravi Shankar plays an Indian raga, a montage unites all ages and races among the transfixed onlookers.

It's a very selective presentation, conspicuously lacking footage of the infamous moment when Laura Nyro was jeered off the stage for singing doo-wop. Neither are there overt signs of the rampant
drug use or political infighting behind the scenes (San Francisco "activists" threatened a simultaneous counter-festival to protest Monterey, a foretaste of today's bursts of "liberal" intolerance),. Compared to D.A. Pennebaker's previous feature DONT LOOK BACK, the warts-and-all portrait of Bob Dylan, MONTEREY POP seems very much an authorized presentation of its subject. It was indeed a commercial hit, allowing moviegoers a vicarious taste of the once-in-a-lifetime concert gathering and paving the way for the rather more involving and complicated WOODSTOCK and GIMME SHELTER. (3 out of 4 stars)

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