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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

50th anniv of 'Monterey Pop' commemorated with limited edition Pennebaker film stills

Monterey Pop

With the 50th anniversary of the historic three-day 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival being observed this weekend exactly 50 years later, D.A. Pennebaker, the pioneering cinema verite director of the 1968 Monterey Pop documentary of the festival, will offer fine art printed stills from the film at Morrison Hotel Gallery exhibitions in New York (June 16, at its New York gallery) and Los Angeles (June 20, at the Sunset Marquis Hotel) as well as at the 2017 Monterey Pop Festival, taking place once again at the Monterey County fairgrounds.

The 1967 Monterey Festival was so monumental that Eric Burdon & the Animals memorialized it with their 1968 hit "Monterey." Burdon's latest incarnation of The Animals will perform this weekend, as will Norah Jones, daughter of the late Ravi Shankar, who closed Monterey Pop with his mesmerizing raga.

Pennebaker's Monterey Pop prints have been created in partnership with music/event producer Joseph Baldassare's Arthouse 18 company, Baldassare having previously worked with Pennebaker on a similar exhibition deriving from the director's preceding 1967 documentary Don't Look Back, about Bob Dylan's 1965 tour of England—and another landmark rockumentary.

Featured among Pennebaker's prints are Otis Redding, Simon and Garfunkel, Laura Nyro, Paul Butterfield, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane's grace Slick. Keith Moon is represented by a triptych depicting him kicking over his bass drum at the end of the Who's incendiary set, and Jimi Hendrix is captured famously kneeling behind his burning guitar.

"I've seen Monterey Pop at least 100 times over the last 18 months in putting this together," says Baldassare, who went back to the original 50-year-old 16 mm film negative to find "choice moments to elevate to 4K resolution and color-correct and clean the frames for limited edition prints signed by Penney."

And Baldassare does in fact mean limited.

"The largest edition is 10 pieces, so they're very exclusive and special," he says. "'Special' means 'few,' 'rare,' 'scarce.' The idea of 'one of 750 photographs' is absolutely ludicrous! Penney agreed, and hand-signed everything. I just wish I could go back in time and get Alfred Hitchcock to sign stills from Psycho or North by Northwest or Vertigo or Rear Window, but Pennebaker is even more valuable because unlike Hitchcock, he was both the director and the cinematographer—and the granddaddy of this kind of documentary."

Baldassare, whose record productions have earned international gold and platinum sales awards, recites a quote from Willie Nelson, which he heard long ago and took to heart: "'In order to become a great artist, first you must become a great fan.' I never forgot it, and was always very interested in what other people were doing and seeing how I could riff off it and add to it. So the chance to work on Don't Look Back—which was sanctioned both by Bob Dylan and D.A. Pennebaker—was a dream come true."

He continued the dream with Pennebaker in Montery Pop, this time also including music producer/executive Lou Adler, who conceived the festival with John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas, whom he had signed.

"Watching it over and over again, I found most fascinating how many scenes showed artists in the audience—Michael Bloomfield, Jerry Garcia, Michele Phillips, Cass Elliot, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones. It's unbelievable! I was talking to Michele just the other night, and she said, 'Back then, none of us were big. We [The Mamas and the Papas] had records on the radio, but weren't big per se. It was the first opportunity we had to see these other acts, and we were extremely interested in them."

Only two years later, however, it was an entirely different world.

"Look at the Woodstock movie and there's not one performer in the audience—and it took place in August, 1969. But at Monterey, if there were any stars, they were Jefferson Airplane, Simon and Garfunkel and The Mamas and the Papas. But at the end of the festival Jimi, Janis and Otis had become stars. And there were also The Who, Moby Grape, Ravi—the diversity was phenomenal."

But Baldassare notes that the influence of the Monterey Pop film extended further to budding musician filmmakers.

"John Lennon loved Dylan, and The Beatles all watched Don't Look Back with Pennebaker," he says. "George said, 'This is a real movie!' and from that moment on, he became fascinated with film: Everywhere he went he had a camera, and formed his Handmade Films production company. It was a real eye-opener for him."

Harrison, adds Baldassare, was amazed that Pennebaker was simply following Dylan around "and Bob was just being Bob. He'd never thought of doing that: Everything up until then was staged."

Lennon, too, wanted to make films after seeing Don't Look Back—and eventually did.

"Hendrix was so fascinated by Penney that he worked his sound Nagras [battery-operated portable professional audio recorders]," says Baldassare. "Penney had such benevolence--and intense curiosity—and no one else had portable cameras then: You didn't go to B&H Photo to buy one, but had to build one yourself, then walk around with that heavy thing and Mickey Mouse ears and film without giant Hollywood lights and tripods. But people realized what he captured."

In fact, Baldassare relates, when Monterey Pop was finished, "all the artists in it wanted to see themselves: Up to that point, they'd only seen themselves performing on television on Ed Sullivan. So they all popped in, not to see a film--because they didn't know what it was—but to see what it captured of them, and what it felt like."

Monterey Pop, Baldassare says, "opened the highway wide for everybody—the artists, Pennebaker, the record industry, movie theaters."

And of course, he sadly notes that many of those artists—including Hendrix, Joplin, Redding, Moon--would not live very long past their magical moments immortalized in Monterey Pop.

"It totally cements in your memory a time when all was alive and well," Baldassare concludes. "That's the glory of Monterey Pop, and I hope that my exhibit conveys that, that sense of absolute bliss."



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