#209 Woodstock

(1970, Michael Wadleigh)

“What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for four hundred thousand”

Round about this time 44 years ago, a bunch of hippies got together in a field and had a little gathering, where some people played music and a few million others watched. It wasn’t anything special, just Woodstock, one of the most influential and most successful music concerts of all time. Some guy also made some documentary about it. This is that documentary.

Woodstock documents the three day festival, bringing together vignettes of people involved in the festival, human interest pieces about the concert-goers and, of course, many music performances from the festival itself.

Well, I’ll give the movie this: it’s a damn fine document of one of the most well-known musical festivals ever. A lot of work went into covering the cultural significance of this event, and really capturing what went on.

The only problem is, if you’re not an aging hippy with fond memories of the festival or someone really into hazy blues rock, chances are you’re going to find this 3-hour-plus monstrosity a bit of a chore. Guess which side of the fence I’m on.

That’s right, I found Woodstock to be a laborious slog of a movie, enticing to some but not to myself personally. I have no personal connection to the music or the culture surrounding the festival, and so the documentary just kind of fell flat with me. What’s worse is that its lengthy running time had me willing it to end more often than not.

I absolutely understand the cultural significance of the festival, and I can recognise that those with a personal stake in it will absolutely love losing four hours of their day to the drugged-up blues jams, whether they went or they simply identify with the culture. It captures the feel of the festival rather splendidly, but when no one on the bill appeals to me, I tend to switch off.

What the film could have benefitted with was a realisation that they should have tried to sell the festival to those who weren’t already part of the culture. Show them why the concert mattered, and do so in a way that would appeal to filmgoers who wouldn’t necessarily be into the music. This would mean more focus on the human interest stories, better pacing and select cuts of the best stage moments instead of trying to cram every song in full into the film.

When Pete Townshend loses his mind and starts wailing on his guitar during The Who’s set, I get why the festival was exciting. When Sly And The Family Stone call on everyone to sing and dance and not give a damn what everyone else is thinking of them, I get it. When Country Joe McDonald gets a million people singing a protest song about the Vietnam War, I get it. If the movie had focused on these moments and trimmed the fat a little, it would have captured the vibe so much better than the final product actually did.

Instead the emphasis is on trying to show as much of every single performance as possible, and when you have three days of footage and a whole bunch of interviews with townspeople and concertgoers thrown in, you suddenly have a bloated mess of a film that has no real direction, and pretty much excludes everyone who wasn’t there.

It doesn’t help that the film took forever to even get started. We witness the entire construction of the stage before we even hear a single live performance. This is something else that just feels like it’s padding time and wasting even more of your day instead of actually achieving anything.

If you’re old enough to have fond nostalgic memories of the festival, you will love this. If you are a modern-day bohemian whose identity revolves around your love of classic blues-rock, you will love this. If your parents raised you on their hippy values and crazy music taste, you will love this. For everyone else, it’s a bit of a chore.

Starring and featuring music by Crosby, Stills & Nash, Canned Heat, Richie Havens, Joan Baez, The Who, Sha-Na-Na, Joe Cocker, Country Joe And The Fish, Arlo Guthrie, Jefferson Airplane, John Sebastian, Santana, Sly & The Family Stone, Janis Joplin & Jimi Hendrix
Produced by Bob Maurice
Edited by Michael Wadleigh, Martin Scorsese, Stan Warnow, Yeu-Bun Yee, Jere Huggins & Thelma Schoonmaker

Favourite Scene: The Who’s set was pretty fun.
Scene That Bugged Me: I have never liked Joe Cocker’s version of “With A Little Help From My Friends”. Ever.

Watch it if: You read the reasons above
Avoid it if: You weren’t there, man


Posted on August 15, 2013, in 1970s, Documentary, Musical and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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