Vintage Movies: “Monterey Pop”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.


Monterey Pop (1968, 79 minutes)

There’s no better example of a musical golden age quickly falling into a period of wretched excess in the 20th century than to view a pair of documentaries, Monterey Pop and Woodstock, back to back. Both are flush with high-octane performances by the biggest pop stars of the late ’60s, with even a few overlapping artists. And that’s where the similarities end.

Woodstock, from the summer of ’69, appears to be a sprawling, barely controlled mess held out in the country, attended/invaded by well more than a million of the great unwashed. Once the gates were trampled down and it became “a free event,” it was anybody’s guess. And let’s not even mention the sanitary facilities that should have been in place for this mighty horde.

Monterey Pop, on the other hand, was a civilized, sit-down concert at the Monterey Fairgrounds, created by John Phillips of the Mamas & The Papas with a cross-section of talent that included soulful belter Otis Redding, folk-rockers Simon & Garfunkel and sitar legend Ravi Shankar. There were also debut U.S. performances by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Who, alongside hip young California bands such as Jefferson Airplane, the Mamas & The Papas, Country Joe & The Fish, Canned Heat and Janis Joplin fronting Big Brother & The Holding Company. Many top-notch acts didn’t even make the film’s final cut: Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, Johnny Rivers, Moby Grape, the Grateful Dead.

More to the point, the real stars of this movie are its attendees, shot for long stretches by D.A. Pennebaker. No better testament to the “Summer Of Love” vibe exists than the fresh faces, long hair and hip costumes caught here in June of ’67. Monterey Pop also captures the extremes of weather at the fairgrounds, as anyone who’s attended the on-going Monterey Jazz Festival can well testify. It’s shirt-sleeves, cut-offs and sunglasses weather during the daytime performances, but at night, it can turn as frigid as Candlestick Park in August with parkas and snow-ride blankets well advised.

So many little moments from this film stick in your mind for years: David Crosby of the Byrds remarking onstage, “Oh groovy! A nice sound system, at last”; Mama Cass, with no mean set of pipes, herself, clearly mouthing, “Wow!” after Joplin’s performance; the camera making it appear Airplane chanteuse Grace Slick is singing “Today” when the vocals are clearly those of Marty Balin; festival organizers sharing a laugh with Monterey’s Police Deptartment; Joplin doing a little skip of joy as she leaves the stage in her sharp Alvin Duskin pants suit; S.F. Chronicle music columnist Ralph J. Gleason wearing his trademark deer-stalker’s cap; a young girl explaining a “love-in” to a cameraman; and John Phillips trying to reach Dionne Warwick and being given the bum’s-rush by her people.