Monterey Pop (1968)

monterey pop poster 1968 movie
9.0 Overall Score

Great piece of Americana from a difficult period for the country

Would have been nice to be shot in widescreen format

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monterey pop mamas and the papas california dreamin

Monterey, California Dreamin’

In Monterey, California, something is building.  People are coming from all over the country to see artists coming from all over the world.  The Monterey International Pop Festival kicks off a movement and embodies the rising love in that is taking the younger generation.  With performers like The Byrds, the Who, Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Otis Redding, the Mamas and the Papas, and Jimi Hendrix, Monterey is about to explode and change the concert world.

Directed by D.A. Pennebaker, Monterey Pop is a concert film of the Monterey International Pop Festival which ran from June 16, 1967 to June 18 1967 at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, California.  The movie was paid for by ABC as an ABC Movie of the Week though it was rejected by the network once the finished product was seen by Thomas W. Moore.  The film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry in 2018.  The Criterion Collection released a multi-disc remastered version of the film and supplemental performances (Criterion #168-169).

monterey pop janis joplin

A Janis explosion?

Woodstock always stands high in the world of concert films and a movie about the “Peace and Love generation”.  Before Woodstock existed (and a direct path to Woodstock), Monterey happened…and the festival has a different tone and feel from Woodstock which makes it a special part of American history.

The movie is what happens when a concert goes right.  Woodstock was a success in spite of all the problems and something like the Rolling Stones’ Altamont Free Concert (chronicled in Gimme Shelter) shows what happens when a festival goes wrong.  The festival in Monterey seemed to go perfectly.  There was little conflict, there was good music, and there was harmony.  It shows a period where people of all types and backgrounds can get together for a concert by having a broad range of performers.

The film looks good.  It was shot in a standard perspective which is unfortunate since it feels so big and it could have easily filled the screen…but it also was something new.  It feels like Monterey Pop is an experiment itself in concert films.  It is a great blend of performance and audience that unlike Woodstock is shortened in length.  In addition, Albert and David Maysles cut their teeth on this film and went on to make more great documentaries (including Gimme Shelter).

monterey pop jimi hendrix guitar fire

Come on, baby, light my fire!

The trickiest thing about a concert film is what to include and what to eliminate.  If you look at the full roster to the Monterey International Pop Festival and some of the songs performed, the producers make some odd exclusions from the final film.  Fortunately in the age of collections, director’s cuts, and supplemental material, many of the performances cut from the film can be seen (and are worth seeking out).

Monterey Pop is a film for music lovers, but also lovers of trying to understand a period and time which was so confusing.  The movie is almost just as much about the audience as the performers (something that Woodstock expands on).  It is also about a meeting of ideas and concepts that took a generation by storm.  The short films Jimi Plays Monterey and Shake!  Otis at Monterey were released in 1986 and expanded on the individual performances with additional footage…all together Monterey Pop is a great concert to attend if you were born then or years later.  Peace, love, and harmony continues to rule.

Related Links:

Woodstock (1970)

Gimme Shelter (1970)

The Last Waltz (1978)

Summer of Soul (…or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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