Saturday, November 13, 2010

Film review and video jam: Janis Joplin at the Monterey Pop Festival

Film: Monterey Pop
Director: D.A. Pennebaker
Released: December 26, 1968 (rereleased in 2002 as part of the Criterion Collection)

Artist: Big Brother and the Holding Company
Song: "Ball & Chain"

When you've borrowed a movie from the library at least three times in the last year, it's a sign that you should own that movie. Also, when Barnes & Noble has a 50% off sale on Criterion Collection movies (with free shipping over $25), it's a sign that you should buy some movies. And that's how I came to order the fabulous documentary Monterey Pop online while watching it at the same time. I even bought the bonus version with a couple hours of extra concert footage and interviews. Totally worth it. The footage here is astounding. D.A. Pennebaker and his crew are able to get right up onstage with the artists and make you feel like you're standing in the front row back in 1967, but they also throw in little snippets of video of the crowd and the festival promoters and everything, and it makes the whole film feel like a time capsule for that particular three day event. There are just so many fantastic performers and performances in this film: Canned Heat, Simon & Garfunkel, Jefferson Airplane, The Who trashing the stage after playing "My Generation", Otis Redding crooning to the crowd, Jimi Hendrix making sweet sweet love to his guitar during an awesome cover of "Wild Thing" and then lighting it on fucking fire and coaxing the flames from it before smashing it to pieces, and Ravi Shankar playing his sitar better and faster than any human being ever. I can't wait to see the extended version!

My favorite clip from the film, though, is definitely Janis Joplin belting out "Ball & Chain" with Big Brother and the Holding Company. It's a good tune, but I don't think I ever appreciated it that much until seeing this live version. Joplin is on fire with this performance, from the little move where she passes the microphone away from her mouth and then back really quickly to the way she stamps her foot when she hits the high notes, to the way she just turns around and pumps her fist for the last note. It's incredible. It's crazy to think that she was probably hammered at the time (festival organizer and Mamas and the Papas member John Phillips mentions in one of the bonus interviews how Joplin was very nervous and was drinking Southern Comfort right before their set). There are brief shots of Mama Cass Elliot (also of the Mamas and the Papas) sitting in the crowd, totally transfixed, and then mouthing the word "Wow" at the end. Check it out:

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