Postmodern Learning?

One of my friends made the recent comment that with the advent of the supplementary material on DVDS, watching movies can require a huge time commitment.  I think it’s mostly a way to use b-roll stuff and justify charging all that money for 50 cent piece of plastic.

The Monterey Pop documentary DVD includes commentary by Lou Adler and director DA Pennebaker.   Adler was one of the organizers.  I did not know that the festival collected funds for a charitable foundation that is still in existence today although I couldn’t find a website.  I was fascinated by their commentary.  There were things they simply didn’t remember after 40 years.  They talked about how people who had gone to the concert still thanked them for both holding the festival and producing the movie.

Pennebaker focused on the emergent nature of the whole movie.  They didn’t do much pre-planning or storyboarding. They did decide they were only going to include one song from each group.  They stationed seven cameras different places and did at least try to record the same songs using a red light to indicate which to record.  It didn’t always work and sometimes they couldn’t see it; yet, somehow they all recorded the same songs.  Zen, according to Pennebaker. According to this review, one of the camera men was direct cinema pioneer Albert Maysles.  But some of the other camera men were musicians rather than camera men and had little or no experience.  In fact, two of them filmed the Ravi Shankar raga.

So, I ended up watching the film again and listening to their running commentary.  I think this is what I’m labeling post-modern…in the modern era, we went to see a film and perhaps knew something of its production.  Now, I can get the director’s viewpoint frame by frame.  And, this new series that came out in 2002 includes two more disks with two films of additional material along with outtakes.  One thing people complained about with the original documentary was which songs and groups Pennebaker chose to include.  For instance, he ended the movie with this incredible Ravi Shankar raga that took place Sunday afternoon even though there were more groups on Sunday night. And what a contrast that was to the sexually charged footage of Jimi Hendrix and his guitar. So, while Pennebaker may have taken a Zen-like approach to filming, he had to make choices when it came to keeping the film to a reasonable length.  In the commentary, he also discussed his decision to not use transitions; instead, he moved directly from one group to another without any fades or other breaks.

This commentary provides a way to “look at” the film itself, the techniques used to create it, the way it represents reality.   Without the commentary, I wouldn’t have thought too much about the Otis Redding section where Pennebaker gets behind the singer and shoots straight at the stage lights.  Redding’s head in encircled in light.  The singer died in a plane crash in December 1967 while Pennebaker was editing the film and that light has come to be seen as an aura rather than just a trick of the light.  It’s another example of Zen, according to Pennebaker.


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