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