Old 07-02-2009, 04:35 PM
Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock

Woodstock (1970)

The time: August 15-18, 1969. The place: A farm in upstate New York. The event: a concert with a few friends....that ballooned into 400,000 people and one of the most important musical events of the century. It is doubtful that director Michael Wadleigh and his crew knew at the time of the importance of what they were filming. Now, 40 years later people still look back and remember Woodstock as a celebration of peace, love, and, of course, music.

Wadleigh's documentary basically tells the whole story of the event, from the setting up of the stage up through people leaving the grounds. On the way, we get musical performances from some of the biggest names of the time including, Richie Havens, Joan Baez, The Who, Sha-Na-Na, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Santana, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, and Jimi Hendrix.

They certainly saved the best for last by having Jimi Hendrix play during the last 20 minutes or so of the film. His performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" is probably the most famous recording to come out of Woodstock. I had never seen the actual footage of him playing this, but now that I have, I can say that I was completely transfixed by his incredible mastery of the guitar. This has always been one of the most beautiful recordings of the United States national anthem, but watching him actually perform it allows us to see the incredible amounts of heart and soul he pours into every note.

I can't claim to have loved all of the music in the film, but I realize that that is very beside the point. This was not only an incredible music festival, it was also the coming together of a generation who, in a sense, wanted to detach themselves from the previous generation. Wadleigh's film actually gives one the feeling of having attended the festival with all of the amazing footage that he and his crew captured (which added up to about 120 miles from what I've read).

With this footage, he perfectly captures the feeling of this generation as he shows us the enormous crowds of people singing and dancing to the music as well as meditating, taking drugs, and even making love. Combining all of this footage together is what gives that feeling of having actually been at the festival. They could have easily just shown us the musical side of it, but they decided to go further and completely document the experience itself.

It was interesting to hear peoples' reactions to the event. Surprisingly, most people around the area were ok with it because they realized that these people were there to have a fun time with music, not to cause a disturbance. Others were rather concerned about the drug use; marijuana and acid are mentioned (and seen) more than once through the film.

One of the most interesting conversations comes early in the movie as one man is being asked about what he thinks of the event as people come pouring in. As he is referring to the people, one of the concert-goers, corrects him by calling the people "freaks," with the word not necessarily having a negative connotation, but whatever connotations one puts on it.

The concert eventually grows so out of control that the grounds are even declared a disaster area. Problems were abound as the concert producers had to figure out a way to contain this amount of people (the numbers of which they were not originally expecting) as well as feeding them. The concert even becomes a "free event" because there is no way to collect the tickets or to keep the people from continually pouring in from all sides. One of the final shots of the film is an amazing overhead shot of the people attending the concert, completely packed together, yet having no problems with each other.

I can't recall a documentary that so completely puts you at the place and time of an event like this one. I would even go so far as to say that the director's cut of this film, which runs about 224 minutes, adds on to the feeling of having attended the concert for those few days. All these "freaks" (others would say "hippies") wanted to do was to come together and celebrate their generation with others like them while throwing some music into the mix. What they ended up with was an event that would go down in history as a successful attempt at bringing together admirers of peace and love. Groovy. 3.5/4 stars.

Last edited by Hal2001; 07-05-2009 at 04:40 AM..
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