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Before seeing this film, I was a completely novice to The Band,
Grateful Dead, Janis. I'm 22, I didn't grow up with this stuff, my only
knowledge of The Band is that Scorcese directed a film on their last
concert. I have a few hippie friends that endless blathered about the
brilliance of Janis, which fell upon my deaf ears. I was expecting
Festival Express to be this dull, venture into 70's nostalgia crap and
tedious jam band boredom.
Oh...how my opinion has changed. I mean, its nothing like the music I love (90's alternative stuff and electronic stuff) but the performances are so absolutely incredible and passionate. In reality, its a film for musicians more than fans, people that who have, even for a moment, felt the sheer exhilaration of collaborating musically with people and it being perfect! Festival Express feels exactly like that. You see it in their eyes in these performances. Janis may have been.....kind of crazy, but in the track in the film ("cry baby"?) I can completely see her absolute passion for music and her amazing showmanship (or show-womanship). Festival Express is the best example of a completely non-contrived and purely candid look into these bands. Even if they are brief glimmers of their natural selves.
I think the die-hard fans who are criticizing the film are asking too much. If I can wait 30 years after the demise of my favorite bands (Radiohead, Tool, Nine Inch Nails)...to see an amazingly honest and brilliantly shot look into their touring lives, I would be very very grateful, not critical because the damned filmmakers didn't get everything I wanted. The interviews with the performers and particularly the promoter, are fantastic. Not only are they a good dose of humour, but...its so easy to see WHY they are saying this tour was absolutely special and unique and memorable. It's right there on film, this was the pinnacle of that era and that place and that mentality and musicianship that was going on. You have to appreciate what Festival Express showcases. You might not like every bit of music (I didn't) but I can appreciate the total intensity and passion of the performances.
What a terrific bit of insight into an event that until recently, was relatively unknown. In the wake of Woodstock, it was time for the players to have their fun. Some of the most tremendous artists of the 60's all join together to have a mobile party that ran across Canada. The movie includes some amazing footage of Janis Joplin, members of The Band, and a lot of Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir. I was curious where the remainder of the Grateful Dead spent much of their train time, but the footage shown was enlightening enough. From a night with LSD laden whiskey where spirits and the music was VERY high, to onstage performances by many of the groups from the actual concerts, and promoters and band members discussing the concerns about unruly fans and city managers. There was at least one huge aspect to note. For those of you who may appreciate Joplin for who she was and the influence she had but, maybe, aren't huge aficionados of her music, you may gain a new respect. Her onstage presence was clearly electrifying. You could tell that whenever she was belting out her bluesy tones, she had every bit of her heart bleeding out of her entire being. It would be a wondrous day to find that this, plus more and more hours of the footage could be released. I would waste away for an entire day watching and enjoying every tidbit of what was collected.
I recommend this film not only because I am a fan of most of the people that gave performances, but the creator of the film captured footage of the performers that was exceptionally good. The "young" Grateful Dead gave a tighter performance than I had ever seen them perform live. "The Band" also surprised me. They performed very well and they too seemed tighter than when I saw them live 30-plus years ago. However, Janis stole the show. She was wonderful! You must see the movie just for her performances alone. What a trip! The in between shots of all the musicians riding on the train was fun and full of energy and a real bonus to the film (the concert footage was enough to bring me in to see the movie). If you are a fan of the 60's and you enjoy Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, you must see this film. The only time I felt disappointed was when the movie ended. I could easily have watched two or three more hours of concert footage.
I'm a little baffled by some of the comments here regarding the film
making style or skill in this film. I watched the film to see Janis and
the Grateful Dead and The Band -- happy, young, and exuberant, and
that's exactly what I got. I even liked the footage of the promoter
talking about the festival and the issues with the crowds.
ANYWAY... I recommend the DVD over the theatrical release, since everyone here seems to mention that they want to see more musical performances, and the DVD delivers. There are two DVD disks -- the movie disk and the extras disk. On the MOVIE disk, go to the menu and select "extras" and there are a dozen additional music performances from Janis, the Grateful Dead, Flying Burrito Brothers, and others. (I hear that the extras disk contains interviews with the director, but I haven't seen it). Enjoy!
Oh . . . My . . . God!
Yer gonna die! 33 years from filming to the screen. But here it is!
If you like The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, and/or that era, A) you're gonna Love this, and B) as a documentary of the time this is rivaled only by Woodstock.
In fact, there's a quote by some musician in the film about: "Woodstock was a treat for the audience; the Festival Express was a treat for the performers." Apparently it was a non-stop jam session & party from beginning to end. Buddy Guy jokes, "I couldn't go to sleep cuz I thought I'd miss something!" The Grateful Dead's lyricist Robert Hunter later wrote a song about it -- "Never had such a good time in my life before / I'd like to have it one time more." And Janis says at the last show, "Next time you throw a train, man, call me."
This was a rock festival "tour" across Canada in the summer of 1970. The idea was to create Multiple mini-Woodstocks by having a train take all the bands to the next site. They ended up pulling off three of them - in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary. But this being Canada in the last century, there's only like 5 or 10,000 people in the Peg and Cowtown!
The guy who was in charge of filming it back then told me they had 5 cameramen and a total crew of about 20. There was apparently a dispute over who owned the film, resulting in all this great footage never being seen, and reminding me of the similar squabbles over that other great cinema verite classic Pull My Daisy by Robert Frank. Both Daisy and this Express really document their respective peaks in creative history vibrantly & honestly, showing both the crazy drunken joyride and the brilliant peaks of pure channeled genius.
Other films in this chapter would include Monterey Pop, The Last Days of The Fillmore, Big Sur, then The Last Waltz a few years later. They sometimes use split-screens to show both the audience and the performers, and apparently the director who finally turned the footage into a film also did the Beatles Anthology, so it's kind of like that - all this historic footage interspersed with new interview snippets by the various participants, like Bob Weir remembering, "Most all of us were new to drinking at that point. We'd all been taking LSD or smoking pot or whatever, but this was a whole new experience for us!" Ah, Canada!
And talk about Big Railroad Booze -- there's a hilarious part where they run out in Saskatchewan: CN Conductor: They drank us dry! Promoter: When's the next stop? Conductor: We're not scheduled for a stop. Promoter: You are now.
Then Eric Andersen looking back, shakin his head, "I dunno, they just stopped in Saskatoon, the whole damn train stopped, like, In Front of a liquor store!"
It's one of those movies where you're laughing so hard you miss stuff, or you're so busy watching Rick Danko you forget Janis and Jerry are beside him. It's filled with so many glistening gold treasures you're gonna come away richer just watching it. Masters channeling some force beyond . . . makes me think of people I've met who don't believe there's a God of any kind, no larger spiritual anything. This movie sure reinforced for me that there's Some spirit force out there, and Rick Danko and Janis and Richard Manuel are channeling it right before your eyes!
And Deadheads are gonna freak! There are 3 songs by the original 6-member band, but more importantly, Jerry Garcia is really shown in his prime. Not only is he central to seemingly every train-car jam, but when there's trouble with the crowds in Toronto, it's Garcia who comes to the microphone to plead for "coolness". I believe it's the new Dennis McNally book on the Dead that says Garcia learned their eventual staple Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad from Delaney & Bonnie on this trip, and you actually see Delaney playing it on the train at one point.
Janis is so possessed & clearly channeling The Big Guy to close the final show of the tour and the film, it's so sad this lifeforce died accidentally just 2 months later. People were literally crying in the theater at her performance. I mean, the audience was so captivated, they broke out in applause Mid-song when she came back from her spontaneous stage rap to nail Cry Baby at the Winnipeg show.
And this is by far the loosest and rockingest original Band I've ever seen or heard. The Last Waltz is of course white hot, but they're polished to perfection. This is The Band of the Basement Tapes, except playing in their home country and even more electrified - they're hanging with the Dead on the road, not Dylan in a basement :-) It's the kind of stuff you always wished you saw or were there for. Now, Bing!
I caught it at the Toronto Film Festival (Sept. '03) and sure hope for everyone's sake this finds wide distribution, then an excellent DVD avec outtakes comes out!
I was there at the Toronto performance(s). I was inside the venue all
the time and never got to see any of the hassle with the cops and the
gate crashers. The first time I saw it was in this film. I must say,
Altamont it was not.
I was fairly well connected from working on the fringe of the music business in Toronto at the time and I knew some of the people who were on the tour. I would have given my left arm to have been on that train but it wasn't to be.
Let me tell you... this film just comes close - but no cigar - to how it REALLY was like to be there as it happened. The performances were, for the most part, electrifying and I can confidently assure you that the audience(s) had about as good a time as the performers!
I had been exposed to the "California contingent" which was on the tour years earlier in 1967 when I was living in Berkely and hanging out at the Avalon and the Filmore. I got to see the Dead and Janice before anyone had heard of them outside of California. This tour and this film caught them at their best as far as I'm concerned. Janice and the band were KILLER! Her set alone is worth the price of the DVD.
Watching this film was, for me, like going through a time-warp and being transported back to a more carefree time when I was minus wife, kids, mortgage,etc.
Although the production values aren't up to today's Hollywood snuff, considering what the producers had to work with, that they got it this polished is miraculous. I especially liked that the producers rounded up a number of the participants to interview them and get their take on it from over thirty years later.
The only significant down-side from my point of view is that some of the performers who appeared on the tour were not in the film and, in my opinion, their performances were no less worthy of inclusion. Some of the "travelogue" shots in the film could have been dumped to make more room for the music. I suppose that certain rights issues and technical quality issues were a barrier.
Anybody who has a warm spot in their heart for the music, the bands and the ethos of that era MUST add this DVD to their collection.
Great film! "Never had such a good time in my life before".
The highlight for me was a baby Bob Weir (rhythm guitarist for the Dead) chewing out a hippie for condoning violence against the Canadian police:
"I talked to some of those guys, and those cops were BOSS!"
He then went on to explain that one policeman had been injured so badly that he was in the hospital with a metal plate in his head because his skull had been fractured. Weir said the policeman didn't deserve that because he was only doing his job, and that the people who wanted the festival to be free were wrong because the musicians needed to make a living.
People never understood that real hippies were not violent/political, and they didn't hate the police. The Haight Ashbury freaks got on well with the police, and there really weren't any problems until (get this) the "hippies" without jobs moved into the neighborhood.
This film was a real joy, and it proves to the general public a couple of things:
1. Hippie folk were not lazy. They were capable of extremely hard work. 2. Janis Joplin was a lot of fun, regardless of what the people in my hometown in Texas say. 3. Jerry Garcia simply wasn't built for EVER drinking alcohol. 4. That was one helluva train trip!
There is nothing more to add to the other commentaries: all you want at this end of the almost perfect documentary is MORE MUSIC!! Indeed I could see the same technique used by Pennebaker, and the same groove as in "Woodstock", but this is the closest you'll ever get in these modern times to a recreation of the flower-power atmosphere!! Today we have no more Janis, no more Jerry, and the whole world just feels empty without them, now even more than before, thanks to this movie. JANIS just steals the show every time she appears in the film, but there are many other people with memorable lines and comments, so in the whole it's an amazing feast for the eyes and ears! GO AND SEE IT
I live in Winnipeg and unfortunately missed FESTIVAL EXPRESS when it
rolled through back in 1970. I opted instead to go to Winnipeg's other
huge ticket that summer - Manpop - which featured Led Zeppelin, Iron
Butterfly and the Youngbloods as headliners. I've always remembered
Festival Express as a golden opportunity missed - but being only
sixteen years old with limited funds - I was forced to live with the
consequences of a tough choice.
Seeing the film "Festival Express" isn't quite like being there in person, but it's the next best thing! For young folks who weren't even born in 1970, it's a chance to see Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, the Band, the Fly Burrito Bros, Buddy Guy, Ian & Sylvia, et al... in their prime and find out what the buzz was all about. Janis and Jerry Garcia are in particularly great voice. Janis gives a gut wrenchingly poignant performance, particularly during "Cry Baby". I'm not sure what brought the tears to my eyes, her greatness or the knowledge that she would leave us just a few short months after that performance (followed later by the tragic death's of the Dead's drummer "Pigpen" & guitarist/singer Jerry Garcia and the Band's piano player Richard Manuel & bassist Rick Danko)
The concert footage of Janis and the Dead alone justify the film's admission price. My biggest gripe was that there should have been far more concert footage included. However, a local newspaper writeup mentioned that much of the concert footage was non-usable (bad sound, out of focus cameras, sound/no pix, pix/no sound....). It was so bad apparently - the fact that anything remotely resembling a cohesive film was wrought from the mounds of botched footage was nothing short of minor miracle! Don't get me wrong - the behind the scenes footage of the band partying and jamming stand on their own merit. Jerry Garcia pops up jamming on stage and off with everyone from Ian & Sylvia and the Great Speckled Bird (on stage in Calgary) to the Band's Rick Danko (on the train along with Janis - quite schwacked - hilarious!) Shots of protesters bitching about "the pigs" and high admissions prices (Fourteen dollars - how outrageous!)are also good for a chuckle and help capture the flavour of the period.
"Festival Express'" split screen camera techniques, the documentary style narrative and band lineups are bound to invite comparisons to the movie "Woodstock." I believe the camera techniques and documentary style are intended to help recapture the time period and mood rather than to ripoff "Woodstock." Further, neither Janis', the Dead's nor the Band's Woodstock performances made it into the original "Woodstock" movie. The experience of trucking a load of monstrously talented - notoriously hard partying rock n'rollers across Canada in a train with a well stocked bar, guitar amps, and a drum kit while the cameras rolled is singularly unique in the annals of rock n'roll - so is this film! Check it out!!
I wasn't stoned, drunk or trippin' but I had a great time watching this
flashback to 1970. The Dead, Janis, The Band all had very good
performances. Buddy Guy and his band were probably the only black guys
If you like the music go see this movie. If you like history go see this movie. This was Woodstock plus one year! Janis died a few months later.
Peace Love and Rock & Roll!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Canada what a trip!
Toronto to Calgary I wonder if they remember any of it?
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