Friday, July 23, 2010
When comparing D. A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop (1968) to that of the old classical Hollywood musicals, few similarities can be found. Rock and Roll changed the face of the Hollywood musicals back in 1956 with Rock Around The Clock, as it mixed youth delinquency B films with that of a new musical genre. Yet, as times were shifting the youth of the day became drawn to a more authentic vision of themselves. As we’ve seen in the Beach movie genre, the youth was presented in the form of actors like Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, As the 60s progressed there must have been a need for a more legitimate representation of the youth, and nothing better illustrates this than the documentary form. Director D. A. Pennebaker was a filmmaker who had previously helmed the Bob Dylan documentary Dont Look Back (1967) and with Monterey Pop he creates one of the earliest authentic rock revue films. Gone were the glamorous actors, as the youth are finally given a real voice and face (pimples and all). Monterey Pop also rejects the notion of the delinquent youth, as all the mellow hippie children are well behaved to the point of sedateness (we even see a couple of peaceful Hell’s Angel members take seats in the audience). As Thomas Wiener points out; “It was laidback, mellow, and appreciatively cool, almost like the Newport audiences in Festival, but without any looks of intensity. Even when The Who smashed their guitars and set off smoke bombs, the Monterey audience seemed too spaced out to even be amazed.”
If Monterey Pop was to be one of the earliest films that started the rock revue concert genre of the late 60s and early 70s, films like Woodstock (1970) and Gimme Shelter (1970) slowly started to show the more worrisome aspects of the collected masses of hippies. Yet if one is to compare Monterey Pop to a classical musical, one has to eliminate the comparison of narrative. In the classic Hollywood musical lyrics often explained an emotional state of the characters in the film, progressing the narrative. In Monterey Pop the lyrics tell the story of the 60s narrative, with subjects as diverse as love, war, sex and drugs. Like the Hollywood musical, Monterey Pop builds the acts into dramatic presentations all trying to out do each other in terms presentation. As both The Who and Hendrix destroy their instruments, the film builds to an emotional crescendo with the show-stopping finale with Ravi Shankar. The film also presents a mixture of genres like the earlier rock musicals, with a little bit of jazz (Hugh Masekela), folk (Simon and Garfunkel), soul (Otis Redding), west coast pop (Mamas and Papas), rock (The Who/ Hendrix), and Indian (Ravi Shankar). Like the Hollywood musical there is a certain amount of stage production, yet the dance numbers are replaced with a psychedelic light show.