Before Woodstock — both the concert and the film — there was Monterey Pop, D.A. Pennebaker‘s documentary film of the eponymous 1967 music festival. From June 16-18, rock legends such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and The Who (all of whom would make the pilgrimage to the Woodstock stage in Bethel, N.Y., two years later) played to cheering crowds at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in California. Pennebaker’s camera crew captured the whole event for posterity in one of the earliest concert documentaries to be released in theaters. “I thought at the time, ‘I have no idea how to direct this kind of film,’ ” the now almost 92-year-old filmmaker confesses in a new introduction to the restored version of Monterey Pop opening in limited release this month, timed to the concert’s 50th anniversary. “So this will play out,” he recalls thinking, “and I’ll either be discovered or we’ll get by with it somehow.” (Watch the Yahoo Movies exclusive online debut of Pennebaker’s full Monterey Pop introduction above.)
Pennebaker wasn’t exactly a musical neophyte, of course. After all, he had spent a good chunk of 1965 following Bob Dylan around England, shooting concert footage, as well as behind the scenes material, that eventually became the groundbreaking rock doc, Don’t Look Back. Still, filming an entire three-day music festival, rather than just one artist, posed a unique challenge. “The reason nobody had ever really made a film about a music festival before was because there were no synced cameras that you could carry around,” Pennebaker explains. “You shot people singing, [but] it wouldn’t match the music they were singing to.”
So the director and his crew built five of their own portable cameras that could sync sound and image. “I kept thinking, ‘One of them will break down’,” he says, laughing. Fortunately, technical snafus were rare, allowing Pennebaker to capture some indelible moments such as Joplin wowing the crowd. “You never witnessed that kind of exultant moment when a person of extraordinary musical talent runs into an audience that that’s what they’re looking for all their lives,” he says in the intro. “And when that happens, it’s like an explosion.”
The Monterey Pop 50th anniversary 4K restoration opens in New York on June 14 (with Pennebaker scheduled to attend), and in select theaters across the country starting the weekend of June 16. Pennebaker is also scheduled to attend a screening in Los Angeles on June 19.
D.A. Pennebaker flashback: Watch a trailer for 1992 Clinton campaign documentary ‘The War Room’:
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