Jimi Plays Monterey ★★★½

(Because I only review features at Letterboxd, I'm not logging Shake! Otis at Monterey here, but I want to say that it deserves a full five stars and is one of the most remarkable documentary records in existence of rock & roll happening before our eyes. I'm also a far, far bigger Redding fan than a Hendrix head which has some influence, but both films are crucial as both entertainment and history.)

To my eyes as a non-Boomer, Jimi Hendrix's climactic performance is the only part of the Woodstock movie that really seems to have any continued relevance, and since he occupies the screen longer than anyone else, it seems evident that the filmmakers were at least somewhat aware of how much he stood out; in contrast, he's one of several explosive performances in Monterey Pop, which limits him to one song, "Wild Thing." Quite honestly, however, the rest of his performance at the festival -- even to someone who isn't a major acolyte (I've never warmed to his records for some reason but love watching him play) -- could easily have squeezed into that feature and would likely have enhanced it. It was finally edited together and released as its own film nineteen years after the legendary weekend itself. There's a bit of murky context provided by a strange graffiti piece from Denny Dent, John Phillips' straightforward introductory narration, a clumsily illustrated version of Eric Burdon's dreadful song "Monterey," and a clip from Hendrix's June 4, 1967 show at the Saville Theater which opened with a cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" less than a week after its release (with George Harrison and Paul McCartney both in attendance). Then we launch into most, though not all, of Hendrix's set at Monterey, which includes songs from the Experience's first album but is dominated by covers: of Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King, of the Leaves' garage standard "Hey Joe," and most movingly of Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." With the exception of "Purple Haze," his own songs are less engrossing than many certainly iconic individual moments within them. However, by moving our scope of the performance beyond the flash and fervor of the "Wild Thing" cover, D.A. Pennebaker and co-director Chris Hegedus bring us further toward a full picture of Hendrix as a musician and a human -- relaxed but committed, feeding off the audience and their energy -- rather than as the mystical enigma inexplicably intruding upon the standard film. Perhaps there's a case to be made that this makes the moment less magical, but it seems to me that showing the entirety of the context only makes Hendrix and the band's work here more impressive.