Tuesday, January 6, 2015
From 15-18 August 1969, the Woodstock music festival was held near Bethel, New York, featuring several music artists - Crosby, Stills & Nash, Canned Heat, Joan Baez, The Who, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and others - who played music and preached peace for three days. The amassed audience broke every expectation of the organizers, and various estimates placed the number of people attending the festival from 250,000 to 500,000. Despite various problems - rain, lack of food and toilets, mud, locals complaining... - the festival was a success and went into history as one of the legends of that era.
In the documentary genre, sometimes all it needs is for the filmmaker to be at the right time at the right place. Michael Wadleigh and his crew went on to film the Woodstock music festival, without any expectations, and made with their 4-hour documentary "Woodstock" the ultimate document - and feeling - of that event, one of the legends of the 20th century where the pleas for peace and harmony almost made this a better world than we have today. The movie is long, but since it was such a large event, its scale is justified, since already in the opening someone correctly describes it as: "This thing was too big for the world. Nobody has ever seen a thing like this. And when they see this picture, they'll really see something". Thus, cutting corners to make a shorter film would have been inherently unfaithful and unfair to the event they were presenting.
The film does not just show artists singing and performing on stage, but also the various problems in sustaining the audience consisting out of at least a quarter million people for three days: lack of food caused people to open public kitchens to distribute food; some people are forced to wash themselves in the lake; a certain Mr. McGee is called to go backstage because "his wife is having a baby"; when the rain disrupts the concert, some teenagers are jokingly sliding in the mud; people stand in line to make at least one phone call in limited phone booths to their parents; a teenage girl gives an interview how her mother thinks she will "go to hell" for her liberal behavior; some enthusiasts are practicing yoga. There is simply so much material here that split screens are presented regularly to fit "two for the price of one" in the film. This all portraits a wide, three-dimensional picture so that the viewers who were never there get the impression as if they were. The only startling thing is that the actual music in the film is surprisingly unmemorable at times - numerous performances just don't stand out and are bland - though there are, of course, exceptions thanks to a few great gigs, such as The Who's "Summertime Blues", Joe Cocker's "With a Little Help from My Friends" or Jimi Hendrix's closing improvisation. Overall, anyone interested in the Hippie culture must see this monument to it.