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Baptized by the Light: “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” at Monterey

Baptized by the Light: “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” at Monterey

The way some rock fans talk about the sanctity of live music, you’d think it was a guaranteed path to transcendence. But of course most concerts fall far short of the sublime, and the thrill of breathing in the same air as your idols or witnessing them flaunt their virtuosity in real time is so often compromised by bad acoustics, frustrating sight lines, and the off-key screeches of the person standing next to you. What people tend to cherish in the best concert docs are the pristine audio and up-close views of the action, delivered through an all-seeing, all-hearing perspective that no one at the event could have enjoyed. But these movies can offer something even more precious: a deeply personal sense of how the filmmaker experienced and hoped to remember a show—in other words, a sense of how one kind of artist chose to look upon another kind of artist. What separates a great concert doc from the countless hours of live footage now on YouTube is the dance between camera and subject—the beat-by-beat push-and-pull between proximity and distance that has always set the screen apart from the stage.

It’s this dance that makes Otis Redding’s performance of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” in D. A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop not just the emotional high point of the film but one of the most overpowering moments in the concert-doc canon. If you were to watch the movie cold, with no knowledge of its legendary set list, you wouldn’t see its galvanic impact coming. In the number right before it, Otis bursts onto the stage with a down-to-business rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Shake,” an up-tempo anthem driven by stomping, swaying, and hollering. Otis’s name, rendered in the psychedelic style of the festival’s branding, pulsates on the scrim behind him, but Pennebaker holds on a medium angle that frames the frenzy at a calm remove, the edge of the stage visible and the star’s four-piece rhythm section, Booker T. and the M.G.’s, working up a sweat alongside him. At the end of “Shake,” the spectacle is tempered by even more distance, as Pennebaker cuts to a far-off wide shot and Otis catches his breath before making a spoken appeal to the “love crowd,” an audience far whiter than his established southern fan base. It’s as if the filmmaker were coming up for air just long enough to brace himself for the storm on the horizon.

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