Berkeley, the Sixties and Me, Part 18 … THE POP DOCUMENTARY

Gold Medal winner of The Best Rock Concert Ever award

Illing’s International Gold Medal winner of “The Best Rock Concert Ever Filmed”

Professor David Littlejohn required that we deliver a fully developed review for each week of his course, “The Critical Review.” 

Fodder for our discerning eyes, ears and erstwhile acerbic pens ranged from architecture to literature to painting to movies … the latter of which particularly excited me! After all, that was important! It represented my maiden voyage in my quest to become a famous movie critic!

I encountered a rough patch on my way to fame however … I chose a real dog of a movie to review! When I first spotted the ad for the flick, a hippy production of the SF rock scene, I figured, “This will be FUN! A manifestation of the new world spreading from the Bay Area and changing the world, making it peaceful, loving and metaphysically sound! And it’ll be perfect for some highfalutin’ rhetorical fabrications.”

I figured wrong! It was so boring, so amateurish that I kept looking longingly at a soft-lit exit sign! Even appearances by some of icons of psychedelic rock couldn’t rescue it … which brought me face-to-face with a movie critic’s worst nightmare, a film that gives you nothing meaningful to say other than, “Don’t go!”

I sat staring at a blank piece of paper nested in my typewriter’s platen, facing my deadline, and watching the clock tick slowly past midnight when all of a sudden a serious dose of epiphany hit me. A muse whispered in my ear, “Write about other movies too! Write about movies that feature rock ‘n roll! And give them a collective name!”

“Why yes! Of course! That’s it!” I shouted aloud! “I’ll do it! I’ll invent a new genre! I’ll call it ‘The Pop Documentary!’ That’ll give me more than enough to talk about!”

So I started writing about flicks like “Hard Day’s Night” and “Monterey Pop” … and words flowed from me like sweet maple syrup poured from a pitcher in summer. Here’s some of what my muse came up with:


Imagine yourself in front of a home stereophonic video tape recorder. “Big Brother and the Holding Co.” plays hard and loud. On screen a shimmering blue line snakes across a pattern of blurred color. Suddenly the soul shattering scream and the intense, demanding face of Janis Joplin fills the room. A pleasing fantasy if you like rock, but is it merely fantasy? Not for those who have seen and heard Monterey Pop, a movie filled with many such indelible, sensual impressions. Of course the home video taped version remains fantasy, but how long will it be before this too becomes fact? …


Music videos at home? Crazy notion!

But what will become of music and film in such a merger? Perhaps possible directions can best be found in a retrospective view of the pop documentary. …

[I then discussed at some length the techniques of filmmakers like Richard Lester of the Beatles movies, Murray Lerner of Festival, Don Pennebacker of Monterey Pop and others … and after another fifteen hundred or so words of slicing, dicing, dissing and praising recent rock movies I wrote]

The promise of the camera as a part of music I find both potentially great and exciting. … The techniques and demands of the visual art of film could have an influence on directions in music, but such an influence would be, at most, reciprocal. And as the mechanics of musical instrumentation evolve, so too will the mechanics of the camera … and new relationships [will be] found … through modulations of light, color, focus, tempo

[And trying give it a clever conclusion I continued] If either fail to provide a sustained interest though, either could be shut off, leaving the other to be enjoyed. And if you find the mechanical growth of film and music reprehensible or frightening, you can, as always, pick up a harmonica and make some music of your own.

Success! I had my paper ready for Professor Littlejohn’s perusal … and, gulp, grading!

At the beginning of a seminar a few weeks following, the good professor had our papers graded and ready for us. He began, “Before we start today, I’d like to read you something special, something very, very special!”

He had our attention, “This is a review that far exceeds the expectations of the assignment. This is a review that deserves much wider distribution. It deserves publication! It’s called ‘The Pop Documentary:  Its Past and Possibilities!’ It’s by Mr. Illing.”

I couldn’t believe my ears! Neither could my stunned classmates! But when he started reading, I realized this wasn’t a dream, this was life … and I was on my way to becoming a famous movie reviewer!

Wow! I felt like I’d thrown a dart blindfolded and hit the bullseye … but I failed to realize how hitting that bullseye would make me come face-to-face with my future much sooner than I expected!



About Joe Illing

I hope you'll find my posts entertaining, occasionally edifying and worth whatever time you can spend with them ... Joe
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