Monterey Pop has been kicking around in one enticing but disappointing form or another for decades. Boasting a lineup of talent that would be the envy of any record label, the movie was a staple of television during the 1970s which, in New York City, at least, provided some small irony -- the June 1967 festival had been filmed for the ABC television network, which rejected it after executives saw Jimi Hendrix's performance (the network was just a year past presenting the relatively tame ambience of Shindig when it came to presenting rock & roll); yet it was the local ABC-owned station in New York that aired Monterey Pop (usually late at night) periodically, right into the '80s. The television prints were dark and grainy, and offered doubly poor sound, off of 16mm prints and compressed in the process of being broadcast. The mid-'80s video cassette edition from Sony wasn't a major improvement, limited as it was to the mastering for that format, though a laser disc issued at the end of the decade did have better sound and a better picture. In the years since, there have been a ton of technical improvements in audio and video transfer technology, and also serious efforts at remastering and remixing this movie and the related features, Jimi Plays Monterey and Shake! Otis at Monterey.
The results, available as a two-tape set from Home Vision Entertainment released in November of 2002, is the best video cassette edition of Monterey Pop ever issued. More of the nuances of the playing and singing are exposed on the audio track, and there is also see more detail to be seen on and off the stage than anyone has been able to appreciates since the weekend that the festival took place. What's more, Monterey Pop comes paired off with Jimi Plays Monterey and Shake! Otis at Monterey on the second tape. Those two movies make a striking contrast on the same tape, showing off the most renowned guitarist of the late '60s, who was also, as it happens, a black performer whose appeal lay almost exclusively with white listeners; and the most important black singer of the second half of the '60s, who was just beginning to aspire to mass appeal among white listeners at the time. Both films are not only startling documents, of Jimi Hendrix just beginning his climb to the status of legendary musician and Otis Redding at the pinnacle of his powers as a performer (working with the best backing band he ever had, Booker T. & the M.G.'s, in an all-too-short performance), but they provide as good a look as any into the musical ferment that was bubbling with possibility and excitement in the summer of 1967.
The video cassette package is fine as far as it goes, but those with a real desire to take in the full range of joys and delights from the festival will have to spring for the DVD version, Monterey Pop: The Complete Festival, which contains a third volume, The Outtake Performances. The latter runs 123 minutes and contains yet more material from the festival, by a range of artists, from Al Kooper to the Mamas & the Papas, that are amazing to contemplate on the same bill.