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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Woodstock - 3 Days of Peace and Music - 40th Anniversary Edition - Director's Cut

MOVIE REVIEWS

WOODSTOCK: 3 DAYS OF PEACE AND MUSIC - 40th ANNIVERSARY EDITION - DIRECTOR'S CUT (1970)

Starring Joan Baez, Canned Heat, Joe Cocker & the Grease Band, Country Joe McDonald & the Fish, Crosby Still & Nash, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Santana, John Sebastian, Sha Na Na, Sly & the Family Stone, Ten Years After and The Who.

Directed by Michael Wadleigh.

Distributed by Warner Bros.  225 minutes.  Rated R.

 Everyday Beautiful

Woodstock - 3 Days of Peace and Music - 40th Anniversary Edition - Director's Cut

“By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong, and everywhere there was song and celebration.” 

Of course we know by now that the woman who wrote that line – a then-rising singer/songwriter named Joni Mitchell who had just appeared on the music scene a year before with the hit “Big Yellow Taxi” – was not actually at Woodstock.  She wrote the song after seeing a story on TV about the three-day-rock fest – inarguably the most successful music festival in history in all ways except for financial. 

Mitchell was not there, but Crosby, Stills & Nash – who recorded the best known version of the song – were.  That band was actually just doing their second live gig together.  Many of the biggest names on the rock scene at the time – The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sly & the Family Stone and many more – were there as well.  So were about 500,000 fans, the largest audience ever for a rock concert. 

However, the classic documentary Woodstock – which is getting a video re-release of the 1994 nearly four hour director’s cut on the 40th anniversary of the festival – is not just about the singers.  In fact, the musicians get probably less than half of the running time.  Most get only one or two songs shown from their sets. 

While some of the musical choices are a little confounding – Creedence didn’t warrant a single song in the movie, but Sha Na Na did? – what is shown is mostly classic. 

However, it’s only a small part of the story. 

The movie of Woodstock is as much about the audience as it is about the show.  It is also about the promoters, the workers, the army, the police, the local townspeople, Max Yasgur and many more.  You have an interesting cross-section of late 60s small-town Americana - everything from pleasant restaurateurs who are happy to welcome all the kids even though all the food has been gone through to irritated local farmers who are pissed off that the damn hippies trampled their corn.

And while some of it is overkill (they spend a few minutes watching and interviewing the guy who was in charge of cleaning the port-o-potties, for Christ’s sake…) most of it gives you a fascinating, fly-on-the-wall (or blanket, since there were very few walls) intimacy. 

Director Michael Wadleigh and his crew (including a young assistant editor named Martin Scorcese) understand the music and the people that powered the festival.  If they occasionally feel a little bit removed from Woodstock nation – Wadleigh doesn’t really sound natural using terms like “groovy” and “dig” with the kids and they all seem to spend just a little too much time voyeuristically following naked hippie chicks around (I’m not complaining, just pointing it out…) – the filmmakers feel like they get the scene, even if they aren’t totally in on it. 

Mostly it is about a very short-lived utopia where the ideals of the hippie generation seemed to gel for a brief moment – where commerce was overlooked for the betterment of the people, where drugs, music and nudity were okay, where police and army and hippie stood together, hand in hand and shared a brief moment of communal understanding. 

500,000 people shared the experience with no violence, no strife, no real complaints.  There was not enough food.  There were eight hour traffic jams.  There was pouring rain through much of it.  Much more than half of the crowd was made up of gatecrashers.  The producers were going to take a financial bath. 

Looking back with modern hindsight, it is nearly shocking to see the degree in which the establishment bent over backwards to protect the concertgoers.  In return, the people at the show were remarkably well-behaved. 

As the song says, “We are stardust.  We are golden.”  And thanks to this classic film, we can go – for a few hours at least – back to the garden.

 Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 30, 2009.

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Copyright ©2009   PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 30, 2009.