Monterey Pop - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Monterey Pop Reviews

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Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
June 24, 2013
Well, it's good to see that D. A. Pennebaker can make a fly-on-the-wall music documentary that isn't kind of dull, as surely as it's good to see that there was a time when something featuring a title that said "pop", but not "traditional", didn't tell you that, chances are, the music is going to stink. Oh yeah, because I know when I think of lighthearted pop tunes, I think of Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat, The Who, Country Joe & Fish, Simon & Garfunkel, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Animals, Ravi Shankar, Otis Redding and, of course, the cheesiest of them all, Jimi Hendrix. I can see some granny of the '60s sitting around with a Frank Sinatra record in the trash and relaxing to the lovely sounds of Hendrix making the most insane of noises on an electric guitar and hollering out a cover of "Wild Thing", though that might just be because all I have to do in order to see that is find any given current granny, seeing as how the rock lovers of the '60s are probably grannies by now. Seriously though, I reckon the definition of pop music was a bit broader back in the '60s, so that means that y'all should calm down, because even though there were plenty of good pop songs in '60s, I for one am not objecting to rocking out for a solid... hour-and-a-quarter. Come on, Pennebaker, you made me sit through Bob Dylan just hanging out and doing nothing for almost 100 minutes (By the ways, I like "Dont Look Back", but come on, man), and now you're only giving me 79 minutes of the three days of one of the biggest events of modern music, while Michael Wadleigh is off making "Woodstock"... at least three hours long. Okay, maybe Wadleigh overdid it a bit, but hey, the point is that "Woodstock" was three hours or so very well spent, which isn't to say that this film isn't 80 minutes very well spent, because short or not and more poppy or not, this film is a good one. Still, while this film gives you a good show, and proves to be a good show by its own right, a length that is outrageous - though not in the same way the length of "Woodstock" was outrageous - isn't quite this final product's only problem.

The first sentence of the opener above features me proclaiming that this film is much more entertaining than such other fly-on-the-wall music documentaries by D. A. Pennebaker as "Dont Look Back", and sure enough, seeing as how this film doesn't have a whole lot of time to do much of anything outside of showcase music, there's plenty of liveliness within the final product, yet there are occasions in which things quiet down a bit, and slow momentum down in the process with a bit of meandering blandness that disengages, while making the dragged out notes in structuring all the easier to see. With all of my talk about how overly short the film is, it still has its share of moments in which it wastes what limited time it has a aimless filler, something that would have to drive this film, seeing as how we're talking about an intentionally narrative-less meditation upon an event, but sometimes outstays its welcome and leaves things to feel repetitious. I'm not asking for too much dynamicity here, because there's no fully pulling that off when all you're doing is showing people hanging out and listening to music for three days, yet where films like "Woodstock" took enough to spread things out and dilute monotony about as much as it could, this film crams so much together that it ends up scooping aimless filler into the pile as firm reminders of this film's not really having enough time to do much. Of course, it's not like there's any forgetting that this film is too short for its own good, because at just a minute shy of a pathetically mere hour-and-twenty minutes, this film condenses a hugely important three-day highlight in modern rock history into an almost offensively brief runtime that may give you a decent bit of insight into the Monterey Pop Festival, as well as some excess fat around the edges, but not as much as it probably should. The film would be too short to be memorable if it wasn't so good in a lot of ways, but at the end of the day, this film isn't as immersive as it could have been, and that leaves you to draw in on the natural shortcomings, of which there are many, because as a fly-on-the-wall documentary, this film has no real focal structure, wandering along with no narrative and simply focusing on life being lived by unknown Joes before the objective eye of the viewer who was never going to be able to invest too much into this film. Like I said, there's plenty that is good here, so much so that the final product rewards, yet if the film was tighter in some places and more fleshed out in other places, it perhaps could have succeeded, like something like "Woodstock", as a strongly immersive and in-depth study on an important event in music and the past time of gathering for music, rather than fall short of its potential. The film could have been more, and yet, it's still offers quite a bit, even if it's for much too limited of a time, overcoming shortcomings enough to reward as a thoroughly entertaining and, in some ways, rather well-edited documentary.

"Woodstock" owes much of its being so strong to Michael Wadleigh's, Martin Scorsese's, Stan Warnow's Yeu-Bun Yee's, Jere Huggins' and Thelma Schoonmaker's outstandingly stylish editing, whose lively snap and taste in screen splitting that gave you a feel for the immensity of the environment proved to be deeply immersive, thus leaving this film unable to top "Woodstock" even when it comes to editing, which isn't to say that Nina Schulman's efforts as this film's editor aren't colorful enough to stylishly pump up liveliness and sustain the entertainment value that may lapse a bit when editing leaves too much fat around the edges, but wouldn't be as firmly sustained as it is without the subtly clever editing. Really, there's not much that's technically remarkable about this film, but the final product does have its stylish moments to help in breathing life into entertainment value that, before being complimented, must first be established by what is done right in the fly-on-the-wall "story"telling. There's no real structure to this documentary, just meditations upon the happenings that defined this major and apparently thrilling event, and while such a fly-on-the-wall type of documentary focus can never work so well that you end up with an excellent final product, it can either work as adequately immersive, or fall pretty flat, so this film takes big risks, and more often than not, it overcomes them, providing plenty of filler footage that may occasionally get to be excessive, but is generally effective in giving you a feel for the environment of the Monterey Pop Festival that immerses you into the event. The film could be a bit more aware of its surroundings, even though such meditations tend to slow things down about as much as they help in immersing you, but you get enough sights of the people and places that could be seen at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, California, on these infamous three days to feel as though you had something of a place in the environment, and yet, when it's all said and done, this event was about the music, and this film makes sure that you don't forget that. Sure, the recordings of the musical performances that stand at the center of this documentary's focus have dated a bit, and for that matter, there are some questionable spots within the performances themselves, but really, the music at this event would have to be good if the festival was going to be a major note in live music history, and as sure as sunshine, through all of the technical shortcomings and occasional hiccups, this film offers plenty of fine tunes - whether they be of a thoroughly entertaining nature (Canned Heat and Otis Redding), groovy nature (The Mamas & the Papas, Jefferson Starship, Country Joe & Fish and Ravi Shankar), or of a thrillingly rocking nature (The Animals, The Who and, last, but not least, Jimi Hendrix) - that embody the diversity, style, soul and considerable inspiration that made the mid-to-late '60s such an instrumental era in the shaping of modern music. Needless to say, this film could have incorporated a whole lot more of the entertaining music that helped in defining this generation, but what musical material you get in this film does a lot to drive the liveliness that director D. A. Pennebaker does a lot to make sure never slips too far. As I said, Pennebaker isn't consistently successful in battling back bland spells, and would have made the final product much greater if he had spent more time fleshing out immersion value, yet when it's all said and done, while the final product leaves much to be desired, it offers enough to reward as an entertaining documentary.

When all of the rocking is over and done, you're left with a rock film that goes too shaken by bland occasions, bloated moments and way too much briefness - which leaves you to meditate upon the natural shortcomings that you should have come to expect from structureless fly-on-the-wall documentaries - to be as rewarding as it could have been, but through decent areas in editing, a degree of immersive intrigue within the meditations upon non-music happenings, and many a strong musical performance that adds, "Monterey Pop" boasts enough memorable entertainment value to prove to be adequately satisfying as an in-depth showcase of the happenings that occurred at a major event in the history of live music.

3/5 - Good
Super Reviewer
August 23, 2009
This film documents the titular music festival that was said to be a precursor to Woodstock. Such claims of inspiration seem a bit dubious as this was clearly a much more modest endeavor than that legendary 1969 concert. This festival was not done on a giant stage in front of millions of mud covered hippies. Rather, this seemed to have occurred in a variety of indoor venues over a couple of days. Similarly, the documentary of this isn?t nearly as wide in scope as the Woodstock documentary. There is not much documentation of the crowds or the scene, this is strictly interested in filming musical performances, what?s more, each act only gets one song for the most part. So basically we get a handful of high energy performances by some great musicians, but as a film it?s not all that special.
August 18, 2015
An influential and important concert documentary that uses some very interesting cinema verite editing techniques. The film includes tons of great performances by some great performers, these performers include artists like Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Simon & Garfunkel , Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Ravi Shankar, Otis Redding, and more. This film is directed by the great documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, who also directed the Bob Dylan doc "Don't Look Back."
August 7, 2012
One of the greatest music festivals of the rock era. Historic performances by Janis Joplin, Otis Redding. The Who and Jimi Hendrix's legendary sets which culminated with The Who obliterating their instruments and Jimi's sacrificial burning and smashing of his guitar after an utterly explosive performance which left the audience stunned and confounded. The film concludes with Ravi Shankar's thrilling and mesmerizing raga to an enraptured and wholly elated crowd. Marvelous! I would recommend the extended version The Complete Monterey Pop as it contains seperate discs of Jimi Hendrix's and Otis Redding's performance films and a disc of outtakes.
½ March 5, 2011
as a collection of performances, this is fairly decent. I want to hand-pick the artists I really enjoy and get full sets from them, but of course in a project of this sort that is impossible. Some of the performances felt so-so, but there is a surprisingly large number of really cool stuff featured here.
April 9, 2010
I liked a good deal of the performances, especially The Who and Janis Joplin, but too many groups (Hugh Masekela, Country Joe & The Fish) were just too weird for me to enjoy.
½ January 4, 2010
Even the best of concert films (*cough* Stop Making Sense *cough*) depend on how much you like the music involved. And with a festival/omnibus concert film, it's guaranteed you're not going to like all of it. This is pretty much evenly divided among stuff I love, stuff I like, stuff I hate and stuff I couldn't give a shit about. Jefferson Airplane, The Mamas and the Papas and Canned Heat can all go to hell. The Animals and Hugh Masekela and a couple of other ones were just boring. I love Simon & Garfunkel, but I hate "59th Street Bridge", so that was a wash. As for the highlights: Janis Joplin is someone I'm lukewarm on, but her performance was blistering. The Who's appearance was all too brief (and rather sloppy) but is well supplemented by the outtakes elsewhere on the disc. Hendrix of course was a terrific showman, and Otis Redding was phenomenal (and the most interestingly filmed sequence of the movie, shooting directly behind him with the spotlight sometimes blinding the viewer). Looking forward to the longer versions of their sets on the other disc. But the best is wisely saved for last: an astonishing, electrifying 17-minute raga by Ravi Shankar. I felt that some of Pennebaker's editing decisions were rather arbitrary and sometimes just wrong. Frankly I think the guy is a little overrated, but there's a few nice touches here.
May 9, 2008






May 4, 2009
Greater than the sum of its parts, Criterion's THE COMPLETE MONTEREY POP FESTIVAL boxed set is a fantastic home video experience.
August 17, 2008
Most like to call Woodstock the definitive rock and roll doc, and while it is good, it still cannot hold a candle to what D.A. Pennebaker's footage of the Monterey Pop festival captures.The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane bring the home pride, The Who scare the heck out of everyone, Janis Joplin sings with an abandonment not seen by anyone since (leaving Mama Cass in awe), Otis Redding brings gritty soul to the hippies and Jimi Hendrix blows everyone away with a iconic set.
December 6, 2007
This is one of the most incredible things I have ever witnessed. Never have I wished I could go back in time more than after seeing this. To witness The Who smashing up their shit for the first time in America, or Jimi Hendrix as high on LSD as one can get while referring to his bass player as "Bob Dylan's grandma," or watching Janis Joplin belt and wail like never before. And then to close the show Ravi Shankar shows up for a 20 minute postlude to a psychadelic purgatory of legendary musicians.
½ November 10, 2007
A precursor to Woodstock, noted as the first organized rock festival. Featuring amazing acts from the 60's such as Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Mama's & the Papa's, and The Who...just to name a few.
July 9, 2007
First of the 1960s concert films, the Summer of Love and everyone shows up for this show. Great performances by Jimi, Janis, the Who, and Otis Redding.
July 8, 2007
just rating the original film and not the bonus features: very cool showing of the festival, could have only been better if it focused more on some of the top acts like hendrix, the who, and otis redding... but the bonus features will do that.

still though, i hate hippies and the flowers they rode in on.
½ July 7, 2007
If the Maysles's Gimmer Shelter shows the death of the love-in 60s, Monterey Pop shows it at its best, my beautiful moment. Every performance is fantastic. However, it did make me realize how too many had died too young. Janis. Jimi. Mama Cass. All so young.
June 27, 2007
great documentey. its on VH1 watch it sometime, alot of classic preformences. 1 of the maney good music documentey
June 21, 2007
on the upper end of concert movies. only because of the variety. mamas and janis! yes! plus the who and simon. signiture perfomances for jimi and townshend, burning guitar and smashing it. so you cant miss that. the crowd was lame as hell tho, everyone was hypnotized from before it started, especially for jefferson, then they never awoke. capital Uncool, for hippy generation. damn you San Fran, party like your alive. better than the Last Waltz and Woodstock. But its no Don't Look Back or Song Remains the Same.
April 27, 2016
This is the film of a one off festival with some excellent artists. I had heard of the Monterey festival, probably because of Jimi Hendrix's guitar tricks on stage, and I had it in my head that this was a legedary gig, which music-wise I expect it was. The setting, however is what surprised me the most. It was held in a sports stadium and the audience were all sat on individual chairs throughout, like they were watching a colliery band playing the park bandstand on a sunday afternoon. My only criticism of the film is that they could have fitted several more bands on if they hadn't have shown a very long Ravi Shankar song at the end. At only 78 minutes there was a lot of room for more actually. Still it's good to see the likes of the Mama's and the Papa's, Simon and Garfunkel, Jefferson AIrplane and the Who playing My Generation to a crowd seated very still - bizarre.
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