Woodstock Movie Review
For those whose musical history begins with Fall Out Boy, Woodstock was a three-day festival of "peace and music" held in upstate New York 40 years ago. All of the big musical acts of the day performed: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and The Who. The organizers expected 50,000 people each day, but due to several factors, 500,000 attended, braving rain and a lack of facilities to have a generation-defining experience on Max Yasger's farm.
Wadleigh's film is epic in length, clocking in at close to four hours, but it's justified. First, it's the recording of a major cultural event. Second, it reveals remarkable insight into the relationship between the youth and adults (i.e. The Man) of that era. Wadleigh and his crew get comments from townsfolk, a local police chief, even the guy who cleans out the portable toilets, and if anything, there's a sense of parental concern and pride. Folks in Sullivan County donate food to feed concertgoers, and let them use their bathrooms and phones. Overall, they're impressed with the event and their behavior. Watching Woodstock, there's a sense that one generation is getting comfortable with the next. As a young hitchhiker tells the crew about his father: "He does have wisdom enough to allow me to be who I am. He has some kind of idea in his head that by doing what I'm doing [I'll] learn for myself how to live."
As for the environment at the concert, it's a mellow, orderly, fun scene. The kids skinny dip, appreciate the music (even the anachronistic Sha-Na-Na gets polite applause), and enjoy the positive energy that goes with proving everyone wrong. If you like rock and folk music, you're in for a treat. Santana's performance, featuring a thunderous drum solo from boyish Michael Shrieve, is amazing, as is Sly and The Family Stone's blistering performance of "I Want to Take You Higher." Some stuff you can skip, like 10 Years After's laborious performance and John Sebastian's loopy self-congratulation.
Wadleigh, with help from young assistant director Martin Scorsese, films each set differently, using slow-motion photography, split screens, dissolves, or close-ups. It's not a stagnant film, which keeps the proceedings moving.
Woodstock is also a sad film, because you know how the story ends. The good stuff of the 1960s pretty much came to a halt with the Kent State massacre, which gave way to the "let's take a break and party" attitude of the 1970s. Watching the musical acts, it's hard to believe that so many of these bands couldn't keep the momentum going. Santana paved the way for the awfulness of Journey, while Jefferson Airplane eventually churned out "We Built this City" and "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now." Everyone grew up and got new priorities. Still, Woodstock is a dazzling reminder of a simpler, younger time and the brief promise it attained.
Aka Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music.