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Woodstock [1969] - 7.98

The three-day Woodstock music festival in 1969 was the pivotal event of the 1960s peace movement, and this landmark concert film is the definitive record of that milestone of rock 'n' roll history. It's more than a chronicle of the hippie movement, however; this is a film of genuine historical and social importance, capturing the spirit of America in transition, when the Vietnam War was at its peak and antiwar protest was fully expressed through the liberating music of the time. With a brilliant crew at his disposal (including a young editor named Martin Scorsese), director Michael Wadleigh worked with over 300 hours of footage to create his original 225-minute director's cut, which was cut by 40 minutes for the film's release in 1970. Eight previously edited segments were restored in 1994, and the original director's cut of Woodstock is now the version most commonly available on videotape and DVD.

The film deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, and it's still a stunning achievement. Abundant footage taken among the massive crowd ("half a million strong") expresses the human heart of the event, from skinny-dipping hippies to accidental overdoses, to unpredictable weather, mid-concert childbirth, and the thoughtful (or just plain rambling) reflections of the festive participants. Then, of course, there is the music--a non-stop parade of rock 'n' roll from the greatest performers of the period, including Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Canned Heat, The Who, Richie Havens, Joan Baez, Ten Years After, Sly & The Family Stone, Santana, and many more. Watching this ambitious film, as the saying goes, is the next best thing to being there--it's a time-travel journey to that once-in-a-lifetime event. --Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com

Customer reviews (av rating: 4.5):

Rating: 4:
A piece of history : Everyone has their own ideas about Woodstock: the high-point of a golden age of optimism, a chaotic, badly organized mess, an uneven mixture of performers and performances, a clash between the conservative townspeople and a vast invasion of hippies, a religious experience... the list goes on. This movie does an excellent job at capturing all these aspects (and others) of the event, sometimes using multiple images to represent more than one of them simultaneously. The intermingling of the performances with other scenes creates a well-rounded picture, and makes this much more than just a concert film. Sometimes the juxtaposition is magical - one of my favourite moments is, while one camera is showing Carlos Santana as he grimaces his way through a characteristically melodic guitar solo, another is focussed on a girl in the audience as she responds to - it seems - each and every note.

There are other buried treasures in here as well - for example, I'd never realised how beautiful Grace Slick was (probably because I'd heard so many tales about her unpleasant personality) or, for that matter, how much Janis Joplin reminded me of Ozzy Osbourne in his earlier days. To be sure, some of the music is more dispensible than others (and some of the performances have clearly been cleaned up - or completely overdubbed - after the event): I could never see the point of Sha Na Na, and I still find myself nodding off during Ten Years After's "Going Home" (sure, Alvin Lee's a fantastic guitarist, but he seems to spend 90% of the song not playing it). But they're more than made up for by the magic: Country Joe getting the crowd on its feet with his impromptu "Fixin' To Die Rag", Pete Townshend swaggering through "Summertime Blues", Joe Cocker's catarthic "Little Help From My Friends" and Hendrix's appearance right at the end, as if just descended from a spacecraft: "I see that we meet again, hmmmm...".

Rating: 5:
True insight surely : Am intreeging insight into the people, minds and music what more could be asked for!

Rating: 5:
Sets the standard for all concert films : Although I was a teenager soon after this concert, I somehow never got around to seeing the moving until this year. (I guess concert films don't get screened frequently on terrestrial TV.) So over the years I've become more familiar with the triple LP of the movie and, of course, the many posters the rock stars in heroic poses that dominated the early 1970s -- i.e. the Who's Roger Daltrey, Jimi Hendrix and Ten Years After's Alvin Lee.

Despite the mud and the squalor, this is an extraordinarily beautiful film, with the screen often breaking up into two or three segments. (Note on the closing credits the name of Martin Scorsese on the production team.)

It's well worth contrasting this movie with the DVD of the 1970 Isle of Wight festival. Only a year separates the two concerts, but the late 1960s idealism of Woodstock gets replaced by prototype British vandalism. The Who perform at both concerts, and make an equally good account of themselves. Daltrey's emotional delivery of 'See Me, Feel Me' helps to explain why 'Tommy' became such a phenomenon in America. Hendrix also performed at both, but his meandering solo at Woodstock was not of the highest standard.

The other highlight of the show was Santana, a Latino band only just beginning to establish themselves in California at the time. As others have noted, the drum solo by Mike Shrieve is impressive for one so young. As with the Who, Santana's album sales will have multiplied as a result of their Woodstock performance.

It's interesting how many great acts weren't at Woodstock -- e.g. Joni Mitchell (despite her song about the concert!), the Doors, Bob Dylan or the Stones. The first two clearly realised how important these festivals were in the breaking of artists into markets, and so they appear on the Isle of Wight DVD.

For most of my life, Woodstock has been a set of static images, largely taken from the cover of the album. But as this film reveals, there is so much more imagery than pictures of beautiful women bathing in the lake. Quite apart from all the idealism of passing whisky bottles and reefers around, of sliding in the mud, the film shows the flip side: of people queuing in the mud to phone home, of helicopters rescuing the sick, of helpers cleaning toilets, and of barefoot stragglers looking for a pair of shoes amid a post-concert site that looks more of a wasteland than the trenches of the First World War.

Enjoy it in all its glory and all its grime.

Rating: 5:
Far Out, Man : This is groovy, man. Everyone has fab gear bits of the video. Even my kids (25, 22 and 18 love it - timeless, man). On the video, man, I had to spend ages going to my fave bits - what a drag, man. But with DVD I can go directly there, man - far out! So I miss out some of the downer bits, man, with the people talking, man, but keep some of the other bits - I love Max Yasgur, man, and the bloke who says "I'm not a cop - I'm the chief of police!" How cool is he, man? Can you dig it? But coolest of all, man, I can go direct to the performances I most enjoy. Pointless me telling you what they are, man. Just get it and choose your own bits. Far out, man!

Rating: 5:
Not forgotten : Given the media's quick move to marginalise and mock the hippie era, it's great to see this sprawling movie to remind everyone what it was all about.

Some of it has dated badly - check out Sly Stone's wonderfully cheesy looking organ on "higher", and the rambling tuneless warbles of Grace slick - but some remains as stunning as ever.

The highlights are the Brits: The Who's performance, shot in eerie slow motion at the beginning - is simply breathtaking. Ten Years After, who made a lucrative career from their Woodstock triumph, may be long forgotten but Alvin Lee's quicksilver guitar is still a joy to hear. Joe Cocker, an unlikely candidate for survivor, went for it in a big way with his impassioned "Little Help from my friends".

What the film doesn't really let on is how near to disaster it almost came. But it made huge stars of virtually all the main protagonists.

The documentary stuff is alo fascinating to look at. Yes, there are a few incoherent hippies here and there, but what really strikes home is the sheer normalcy of the crowds.. mostly collage kids on vacation having fun.

In less than 6 months the media had pronounced the era dead and gone after Altamont. But it stands as one bright shining moment the world should not forget. Maybe not heaven, certainly not hell.. just something human and endearing about it.

The directors cut includes a few performances left out of the original. Hendrix' portion is included, but the man was having an off day with a pick-up band and had not played in public for a while. Canned Heat get a shot at a great "leaving this town" plus a guy who crashed the stage. Yet the saddest of all is Janis, fading out in a desperate series of pleas and sighs.. melancholy baby.

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