Jimi Hendrix: Rainbow Bridge Flashes Back on DVD

Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell, Billy Cox. Directed by Chuck Wein. Aspect ratio: 4:3. Dolby Digital stereo. 137 minutes. 1971. Rhino Home Video R2 4461. Rated R. $24.95.

Filmed in the summer of 1970 and released nine months later, Rainbow Bridge is everything a late-1960s American rock documentary should be: disjointed, delusional, and packed with magnificent music.

The premise is simple. Nearing the climax of his summer 1970 American tour, Jimi Hendrix played two shows at the Rainbow Bridge Vibratory Color Sound Experiment at Haleakala Crater on the Hawaiian island of Maui. This spectacular location is made to appear even more so by director Chuck Wein, who spliced in stock footage of a volcanic eruption.

It was an era of hippie idealism, and much of Wein's attention strays to members of the audience, who hold forth on subjects ranging from the future of music to the future of humanity---and, of course, the Vietnam war. Hendrix, too, is in expansive mood, discussing his life and beliefs with a candor that would take on even greater significance following his death. But the music speaks loudest, as the guitar legend unleashes scorching versions of 14 songs, including "Purple Haze," "Voodoo Chile," "Foxey Lady," and a show-stopping, feedback-led assault on "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The juxtaposition of this undeniably intense music with shots of the arena itself is breathtaking. A natural amphitheater, Haleakala Crater conveys precisely the sense of ancient power and majesty that Hendrix himself drew upon in his most inspired compositions. Indeed, "Hey Baby," playing out as the aforementioned eruption fills the screen, has the same sort of visual, aural, and emotional narcosis that Francis Coppola was going for when he matched The Doors' "The End" to the napalm raid that opens Apocalypse Now.

In terms of technical achievements, this edition of Rainbow Bridge is far from a milestone. The film wasn't shot particularly well, and no amount of digital remastering can erase those faults. The soundtrack has been given a cursory cleaning, but the distortion that marred the original release is still present.

Of course, a release such as this isn't aimed at the digital connoisseur. The vast majority of Hendrix fans will be happy just to have such a well-loved, if seldom seen, performance back on the shelves.

Hendrix died just three months after this show; in fact, it was his penultimate engagement in the United States, before he headed off on a European tour and starred in one final rock-concert milestone, at the Isle of Wight Festival in August. But that's another story . . . and, fortunately for music historians, another DVD release.