FILM HOUSE: Monterey Pop: Transcending time through culture
Monterrey Pop is showing at the Film House at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines. (Supplied photo)
Have you ever experienced a moment where you wished you were from a different time? If you haven’t, my guess is you will when you experience this film, an incontrovertible document of the 1960s by the prolific filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker.
The Monterey Pop Music Festival happened in June 1967, featuring the talents of a vast array of artists including Otis Redding, The Who, Simon & Garfunkel, The Mamas & The Papas, Ravi Shankar and The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Artists who performed at Monterey Pop were not paid, and any revenue made was donated to charity, identifying the project as a labour of love for festival planners and performers alike.
Arranged mainly by famed record producer Lou Adler and John Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas, the festival aimed to propel emerging genres such as folk, psychedelic rock and blues into the mainstream of music and to proliferate the countercultural movement of the 1960s. Intuitively, the film captures a festivalgoer as she says, “You kind of have to wait for a new wave to come, and then a whole new set of rock and roll bands come along with it.”
Released over a year after the festival, Monterey Pop perfectly embodies the countercultural movement erupting in America, specifically in California during the mid- to late-1960s. The cinematography humanizes these musical pioneers that were soon to become timeless legends and juxtaposes shots of artists and audience members so frequently that it becomes difficult to tell them apart. The film avoids the formality of traditional observational documentaries by using handheld cameras; the unsteadiness of shots transforms a disconnected observer into an audience member, feeling all of the same emotions such as disorientation, awe and amusement as we behold the performers.
One of the greatest achievements of any given film is its ability to allow a viewer to transcend their own life for the duration of that film. Monterey Pop was able to simultaneously give me the feeling of wishing I was there at the festival, while also making me feel as if I was experiencing the festival first-hand. The film accomplishes this through its composition, being mostly comprised of tight closeups of artists featured in the festival, exposing the details of their faces, and capturing the spontaneity of their spirited performances.
The segment of the film capturing Big Brother and the Holding Company’s performance of Ball and Chain emphasized the undeniable presence of Janis Joplin’s vocal performance on stage, frequently cutting from close-ups of her face, feet and hands, to long shots from behind her and in front of her, to closeups of the awestruck reaction of the late-great Cass Elliot to Joplin’s performance sitting in the audience.
Another remarkable attribute of the film is Pennebaker’s attention to colour, extensively emphasizing festival posters, the patterned clothing of the festivalgoers, the flowers in their hair, their painted faces, and the blueness of the sky over the course of the weekend.
Monterey Pop succeeds in its ability to emanate the unpolished, impromptu beauty and intricacy of musicians who were part of the countercultural movement; a beauty which rarely surfaces in the music industry today. The film was an auditory and visual delight from start to finish and I highly endorse it to anyone with an appetite for music, film and life itself.
The Film House
FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, 250 St. Paul St., St. Catharines, 905-688-0722
Listings for Nov. 15 to 20
Do Donkeys Act?: Wednesday 7 p.m.
Slack Bay: Thursday 7 p.m., Friday 9 p.m., Saturday 6:30 p.m.
Wonderstruck: Friday 6:30 p.m., Saturday 4 p.m.
Monterey Pop: Saturday 9 p.m., Sunday 7 p.m.
Fool For Love: Sunday 4 p.m.
Admission: $7 members, $9 non-members