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"Check the plate, please..."
I've always been a fan of Monterey Pop*.
While many may find it difficult to believe that people actually
wore those clothes, and had those hairstyles only 35 years ago,
making it look very much like a "period" film, Monterey
Pop* is THE document of one of the great pop festivals.
Like Woodstock* (edited by
the young duo of Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker, and
directed by Michael Wadleigh), which chronicled the 1969 festival
two years later, MP* takes you
back to a period during which our nation was being torn apart by the
war in Vietnam, and love and flower power was being preached from
Greenwich Village to San Francisco.
We were all so young then, and distrustful of anyone over 30.
And like Woodstock*, MP*
takes you into the center of the action, documenting the
concert-goers, while getting in close on the performers.
Memory can play tricks, and while I can't be certain, I seem to
recall seeing Monterey Pop* at
the Kips Bay in New York, blown up from 16mm chrome to a 70mm stereo
print to take advantage of the stereo sound. Could it have been 35mm
While Woodstock is filled
with glorious editorial and multi-screen pyrotechnics, MP*
is an unassuming and simple film, yet brilliant in its simplicity.
Criterion has done a beautiful job of packaging MP*
with a disc of outtakes and a third disc containing performances by
Otis Redding (Shake! Otis at Monterey)
and Jimi Hendrix (Jimi Plays Monterey).
It should be noted that while the latter have been transferred from
35mm dupe negs, Monterey Pop*
comes directly from the original 16mm A and B rolls.
Which leads me to a few comments on quality and the actual filming,
which must have been akin to guerrilla filmmaking.
Let it be understood that 16mm offers an extremely tiny exposable
To put it in a very simplistic form, while standard 35mm offers
either 0.368 square inches of exposable area for 1.85 or 0.586 for
scope, at best one can expose their images to an area just 0.1378
This is really, really tiny.
And with that minuscule area come a number of potential problems,
which can easily turn into production minefields.
Grain can easily seem an overriding function of the image. We won't
even discuss grain in 8mm. And the only way that images captured on
16mm can be acceptable is via moving grain or the continuity of
continuously changing frames.
I've been writing recently about the importance of original grain
structure in film, and MP* is
a superb example. Working from the original 16mm rolls, Criterion
has been able to perfectly capture the look of the film and
replicate it on DVD.
Add to the acknowledged problems of sub-standard format the
exigencies of shooting in a single-take, sometimes dark environment,
in which everything cannot always be checked... and the worst can
Always a fan of The Mammas and The Pappas, I never understood why
there wasn't more footage of them in the final cut product. Now I
know why, and it is the wonderful offering of outtakes and unused
footage on disc two of this release which tells the story.
There are many cases in studio filmmaking, where after an extremely
important or difficult shot, the director or DP will request that
the camera operator pull the gate.
The rationale behind this is to check for bits or emulsion left
behind by scratches or in the usual case, dirt, hairs or dust which
has adhered to the gate - "Niz."
In the environment of a shoot like Monterey
Pop* one cannot easily pull the gate for inspection (if
the gate is actually removable), which is why when you view disc
two, you'll discover as I did, why the group was under-represented
in the film.
What one would consider the "A" camera, used for
close-ups of the lead singer, in this case Mamma Cass, had an
aperture filled with the most horrific "niz" that I've
ever seen on film. It literally cuts across and segments the frame,
looking much like horrific mold growth on ancient poorly stored
rolls of motion picture film.
The work of other performers is scarred by emulsion scratches;
sometimes by poor audio as a performer moves toward and away from a
single microphone, or problems with lighting - or simply light in
The performances on disc two represent a pantheon of those singers
of the era, many of whom are no longer with us.
Watching the incredible Janis Joplin in both the final product and
the outtakes is a reminder of how much we have lost of our musical
heritage. Alternatively hitting perfect blues notes, crying and
shrieking into the mike, Joplin was a consummate performer, gone too
But for a few rarified days in the early summer of 1967, those who
attended were treated to incredible live performances. Hearing them
now with audio beautifully crafted and cleaned by Eddie Kramer from
the original 8 track tapes, in these single takes, without the
perfection and protection of the studio environment, one can see and
hear these performers less as distant "acts" and more as
people performing live before an audience.
My advice is to pick up a copy of Monterey
Pop*, set your decoder to Dolby 5.1, crank your amp and
let D.A. Pennebaker take you back to that time of flower power and
music 35 summers ago.
Speaking of "checking the plate," there is one very well
know filmmaker who shall go unmentioned, who on occasion, after the
very last shot of his films will "check the plate."
The filmmaker in question will personally check it for dust or
emulsion, and then when and if satisfied that the shoot is over,
will place it gently in his pocket and walk off the set. With a
wonderful souvenir of the production. Obviously a good customer, the
camera rental company has no problem with this. If however, you are
on a "budget" shoot for your first film, I suggest you not
* Designates a film worthy of
purchase on DVD.
Don't forget - you can
HERE to discuss this article with Robert and other home
theater enthusiasts online right now at The
Home Theater Forum. And speaking of that, thanks to the
HTF's Ron Epstein for the
picture of Robert seen in the column graphic above.
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