Great musicians hold the lens the same way movie stars do, with all-absorbing concentration and surrender; the resulting inner stillness draws the eye to its glow. So performance documents make the best rock films, and the Mods & Rockers fest presents quite an array. The king of the rock doc is D.A. Pennebaker, whose Don’t Look Back set the standard with its scrutiny of the energy fields swirling around a magnetic Bob Dylan during his 1965 English tour. The series also pits hippie music’s 1967 dawn in Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop against its demonic 1969 nightfall in Albert and David Maysles’ Gimme Shelter. The shooting stars at Monterey remain blinding: Otis Redding pouring on the passion, Janis Joplin bleeding transcendent pain, Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar and 10 million minds on fire. Gimme Shelter, which masterfully cut the Altamont festival and its organizational prelude into an ever-tightening drama, boils down to the helpless look on Mick Jagger’s face. Hard to believe that only a few months before, as shown in Michael Wadleigh’s kaleidoscopic Woodstock, the counterculture seemed ready to take over the world. From the ecstatic African orgy of Sly & the Family Stone to the nervous love vibe of a brand-new Crosby, Stills and Nash to the amphetamine rush of Ten Years After (with lovely detours into nude bathing and portable toilets), this was a chaos worthy of both devotion and fear. Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home: Bob Dylan combines stage moments with eyewitness accounts (a calmly bitter Joan Baez stands out) and Dylan himself explaining the process that put him on top of the world. Closing the fest is Jim Brown’s new Isn’t This a Time!: A Tribute Concert to Harold Leventhal, which honors the talent manager who made possible the careers of the Weavers, Theodore Bikel, Leon Bibb, Arlo Guthrie and many more during the commie blacklistings and beyond. Often overearnest, it nevertheless contains some very moving scenes, such as Peter, Paul and Mary singing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” with Pete Seeger. Where indeed. (American Cinematheque at the Egyptian and Aero theaters; through Aug. 31; www.americancinematheque.com)

—Greg Burk

LA Weekly