D. A. Pennebaker: Looking Back - Revisiting Monterey Pop

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How did Ginsberg get involved? Was he around?

He was around. At that moment, he was just stopping by. Ginsberg was sort of a friend. I'd known him for a long time. He used to hide his marijuana in my girlfriend's bureau! [Bob] Neuwirth, of course, was there because he was the road manager. I didn't quite know what we were doing except that it was Dylan's idea and I thought that it was a good one. We set up to do it in the alley there and they were just hanging around. I didn't think about whether they were in or out of the picture. I was hardly aware of them! It has always amazed me that everybody takes it seriously as some kind of an aesthetic concept. It wasn't, really. It just happened. When I saw that the film couldn't begin with the backstage footage, I took this thing out and put it on the beginning of the film. It never came off because that was really what it needed. It was chance.

With Dont Look Back and then Ziggy Stardust, you're capturing artists in a period of transition. What is it about working with people at that stage in their careers that appeals to you?

One of the ideas that we'd fallen on with [Robert] Drew, when we used to have discussions, was how do we know if this is a story? Where do we look for stories? Of course, we had all of these materials from all over the world. They were sending back these sheets on various news -- situations and people -- and we would look at them. Like Paul Krump getting the electric chair in Chicago…

Right, The Chair [directed by Robert Drew in 1963]...

We decided to go and see if there was a movie there. Ricky [Leacock, cinematographer on the film] fell on the guy [Louis Nizer] who was his lawyer. That developed into a film but it started because we had these reporters as a resource. When I quit [Drew Associates], I didn't have that resource anymore. I was at the mercy of people coming to me as a result of the movies that they'd seen or what they thought we could do and that's been the case ever since. The movies pretty much come to us. We don't really go out and search for them. When you're planning a movie, you're trying to decide whether or not the person is interesting to you. That's important. But also you have to decide whether they're at a moment in their life that is purposeful, that they're going around some kind of corner and that they're going to find out something that is going to enable them to make important decisions. Whatever it is, something important has to happen.

It seems that your process on Monterey Pop was different.

That was different…

In this case, your focus isn't a particular individual but a musical turning point of an era. Out of this one event, you had a wealth of material that you kept returning to -- the Otis Redding short [Shake! Otis at Monterey], the feature-length Jimi Hendrix film [Jimi Plays Monterey, all eventually compiled together by Pennebaker and Criterion as The Complete Monterey Pop Festival with an additional two hours of outtakes]...

But those come later...

The music festivals at Monterey and Woodstock were such remarkable events on their own. Is their legend and legacy partially a result of being well documented?

For Monterey, you have the emergence of two or three enormous talents that just defy description. You didn't have to go through the sociology of interviewing them to find out what their motivations were. The performance alone was enough. We could have done backstage stuff -- in fact, we did and then we threw it out because you only could have so many songs in a ninety-minute film and I wanted each song to be complete or at least have the audience think that they'd heard the whole song. Some of them had to be cut for various problematic reasons but, in general, I wanted it to be a series of full-length songs done by people who would do them in some unique fashion, building up to a dramatic ending with the Ravi Shankar performance. That was really the whole basis for the film. Since then, perhaps the form of the film was interesting for people. It's easy to watch. It's colorful and it moves fast but I think the fact is that most people go to it because of Hendrix or because of Janis [Joplin] or because of Otis. There's not a lot of footage around of those people. It also isn't a setting that tries to fulfill some sort of sociological exploration. I just thought that was not our role. I think that this is one of the problems with Woodstock. The reason that I didn't do Woodstock was because there was so much money riding on it. The managers were so involved and hustling for position that a lot of the good bands and good music wasn't even going to be there. I knew that Albert [Grossman] wasn't going to let Dylan or The Band perform. It didn't seem to me that, musically, it would be interesting.

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