The Mahavishnu Orchestra On Film
There is a surprising amount of MO on film, much of it unearthed, preserved and restored from the best available sources by fans. Regrettably, none of the known films of the Mahavishnu Orchestra Mark 1 are as yet officially released, although clips from Syracuse are featured in an official John McLaughlin Shakti DVD. A comprehensive, fully authorised DVD of MO1 especially - incorporating all the extant film, mastered from primary sources (which is in almost all cases extant) - would fill a glaring gap in the official record.
Syracuse University, New York
Filmed: Skytop, Syracuse University, 29/4/72
Duration: 55 minutes
Tracks: Meeting Of The Spirits; You Know, You Know; Dance Of Maya; Dawn  + two brief interview spots with John McLaughlin
Notes: A three-camera B&W film shot on video by students at an open air gig on a sunny day at Syracuse University, where the MO were supported by Ravi Shankar. Seemingly, to judge by the retrospectively tinged narration, the film was edited a year or two later. An audio bootleg of the gig, The Inner Flaming Axe, includes the full version of ‘Dawn’ and adds ‘Awakening’, ‘The Noonward Race’ and ‘A Lotus On Irish Streams’.
Columbia Promo Film
Filmed: Hunter College, New York, 15/5/72
Duration: 3 minutes
Track: Dance Of Maya 
Note: A multi-camera professional film, this was possibly prepared for TV use but may never have been used. The film has been loosely synchronised, by an MO fan, with a section of ‘Dance Of Maya’ from a local radio broadcast of the gig. The full set was: Meeting Of The Spirits; You Know, You Know; Dance Of Maya; Sanctuary; Noonward Race; One Word.
Das Sonntags Konzert ZDF TV (Germany)
Filmed: Kongress Saal, Munich, 17/8/72
Duration: 38 minutes
Tracks: Meeting Of The Spirits ; You Know, You Know; One Word-Resolution ; Dance Of Maya; A Lotus On Irish Streams + a brief interview with John McLaughlin
Note: The first two numbers were rebroadcast in relatively recent years by satellite channel 3Sat, while the other three were rebroadcast seemingly in the 1980s by ZDF. The bootleg DVD set above has been pieced together from these two off-air recordings, with the poorer visual quality of the latter section seemingly leavened by sound synced from an FM radio broadcast of the concert. Aside from full versions of the pieces edited for TV, the 87 minute set, broadcast on German radio, also included ‘The Noonward Race’. One presumes the whole concert survives on film.
Filmed: Amphitheatre, Chateauvallon, 23/8/72
Duration: 74 minutes
Tracks: Meeting Of The Spirits / You Know, You Know / Sanctuary / Dance Of Maya / One Word / Resolution / Awakening
Note: This full concert film, with a technical glitch for a few seconds during ‘One Word’, was liberated from French TV’s vault in recent years. It was possibly never broadcast, certainly not in full. While the visual quality is superb, the sonic graph in the version circulating is missing the high end entirely, giving a noticeably flat, non-dynamic sound, impossible to brighten. Whether the full sound spectrum is extant at source is unknown.
Sounds For Saturday BBC TV (UK)
Filmed: BBC Studios, London, 25/8/72
Duration: 30 minutes
Tracks: Meeting Of The Spirits-You Know, You Know; A Lotus On Irish Streams; The Noonward Race
Note: This was a specially tailored set for TV, filmed in a TV studio with audience and featuring a uniquely curtailed ‘Meeting Of The Spirits’. It was rebroadcast several times in 2009 by BBC4.
In Concert ABC TV (USA)
Filmed: Bananafish Garden, New York, 15/3/73
Duration: 17 minutes
Tracks: Hope; One Word; Resolution
Note: The MO’s first known US TV exposure, a period video recording has been synced by MO fans to stereo sound from an FM simulcast of the show. Of all the video artefacts, this one captures best the power and volume of the MO concert experience.
Pop Deux, French TV
Filmed: Bataclan, Paris, 14/6/73
Note: This film is not circulating at the time of writing, but is confirmed as extant. It is likely to be a 26-28 minute programme based on a live performance at the Bataclan club, filmed with a roaming camera. There may also be an interview with the band, as is the case with other Bataclan filmed editions of the show from 1973.
Don Kirshner Rock Concert (USA)
Filmed: Palace Theatre, New York, 7/11/73
Duration: 13 minutes
Tracks: Sister Andrea; Hope; Celestial Terrestrial Commuters
Note: Again, MO fans have synced up high quality audio with a period off-air video recording of the broadcast. The audio comes from MO sound engineer Dinky Dawson’s fine recording of the full gig – available for download at wolfgangsvault.com – which was in this case a 30 minute set which opened with an unbroadcast performance of ‘Dream’. Whether ‘Dream’ was filmed is unknown. The DKRC programme was syndicated to various channels.
Montreux Jazz Festival (Switzerland)
Filmed: Convention Centre, Montreux, 7/7/74
Duration: 104 minutes
Tracks: Power Of Love; Wings Of Karma; Hymn To Him; Smile Of The Beyond; Vision Is A Naked Sword
Note: 50 minutes of this concert (‘Wings Of Karma’ and ‘Hymn To Him’) were released officially on the Mahavishnu Orchestra Live At Montreux DVD in 2007, with remastered audio of the rest plus the non-filmed 17 minute encore ‘Dawn’ (mistitled as ‘Sanctuary’). The full 104 minutes circulates unofficially.
Antibes Jazz Festival (French TV)
Filmed: Juan Les Pins, Antibes, 29/7/74
Duration: 50 minutes
Tracks: Sanctuary; Smile Of The Beyond; Dawn
Note: A 50 minute programme edited from a longer set, broadcast on French TV.
Old Grey Whistle Test BBC TV (UK)
Duration: 5 minutes
Tracks: Cosmic Strut; If I Could See
Note: Presented by ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris, the OGWT often commissioned ‘art films’ using animation or vintage silent film in order to feature topical album tracks when artists were unavailable to perform live on the show. In this case, on the release of Visions Of The Emerald Beyond, Bob introduced a rather psychedelic collage of animation and random B&W footage over two of the album’s tracks.
Further Film Possibilities
Bill Graham Concert Films?
Possible films: Winterland 24-25/3/72 & 23-24/3/73
Note: Promoter Bill Graham discreetly audio recorded most/all of his promotions from the late ‘60s onwards and filmed (with multiple cameras) some, at venues including the Fillmores East and West and Winterland Arena. His archive is owned by wolfgangsvault.com which is gradually restoring it and making it available for free streaming or paid download. The MO performed at Winterland on the above dates, supporting ELP on the two 1972 shows and headlining on the two 1973 shows. While Bill Graham films from the Fillmores and Tanglewood are known from 1969 onward, the earliest known Bill Graham film of an act at Winterland is currently Sha Na Na, from April 21 1973 - a month later than the 1973 MO shows there. It’s possible, perhaps likely, that Bill had not yet begun his policy of filming at Winterland when the MO performed there in 1972 and 1973..
Note: There is a suggestion that the MO were tele-recorded in Yugoslavia during their June 1973 European tour, which also took in France, Germany, Switzerland and England. If so, it has yet to circulate. More probably, Yugoslav TV re-broadcast (legally or otherwise) something listed above - conceivably, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.
Bill Graham Concert Film?
Filmed: Winterland, San Francisco, 26/5/74
Note: The MO performed on this occasion on a bill with Journey and the Tubes - both of whose performances are, at the time of writing, already available as B&W film at Wolfgangs Vault. One presumes the MO performance was filmed and will appear in due course.
Bill Graham Concert Film?
Filmed: Winterland, San Francisco, 31/5/75
Note: One of the dates on the MO/Jeff Beck tour. Whether this was filmed by Bill Graham is pure speculation but, given his history, surely probable. As above, if so, it will be owned by Wolfgang’s Vault. It would be an especially fascinating document, being probably the only film of the Norma Jean Bell line-up of the band.
Orange Festival 1975
Filmed: Theatre Antique, Orange, France, 17/8/75
Note: Online information suggests that a two-hour film of ‘the French Woodstock’ festival at the Roman Amphitheatre at Orange over 15-17/8/75 (including a Mahavishnu Orchestra performance on the third day) was given a theatrical cinema release in Belgium on 14/4/76, with the producer/director listed as Chris Eckhardt. Whether this film survives or not is unknown. British R&B band Dr Feelgood were certainly filmed on 16/8/75 and a videotape of their entire set survives. Julian Temple, director of the Dr Feelgood documentary Oil City Confidential (2011), used part of the evocative film of their Orange performance, sourced from a video cassette from one of the band.