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If you want to have a real sense of the concert and the mass of young people who attended, as a crowd, by all means check out "Woodstock" from 1970. It's all there, the music, the rain and mud, the buzz on the soundtrack replicating the buzz on the sound system at Yasgur's Farm.
But if you want to get a feeling of what Woodstock meant on a personal level, then Ang Lee's your man and you've come to the right place.
How Lee managed to film this recreation without using real footage, I have no idea. That's apparently what he did.
There in a number of shots is the hillside, mud and slop, with the stage below. The few food stands and portable johns at the top of the hill. The winding pathways through the side venues of jewelry, art, a class for this and a political table for that. The long narrow road that still leads off of New York State Route 17B to the Yasgur hillside where it happened.
It rained a lot, but there was sun, this was mid-August and Lee bathes us in the warm glow of peace. Especially true to the event as I remember, the state cop who returns a peace gesture, the locals making sandwiches and offering water from hoses.
Everyone who was there and lucid has a personal remembrance. Mine began on Friday evening with air mattresses not more than 50 feet from the stage and ended with the sacrifice of a blanket abandoned on the mudslide the hill had become by early Sunday morning. In between, I managed to shuttle down state route 55 and into New Jersey the back way, after the music ended Friday night, Saturday morning. Then back from New Jersey up the same road and finally ending about two miles the other side of the concert where the vehicle stayed untouched until it was reclaimed near dawn on Sunday.
By that time, all though I'd only had a few generous puffs of weed, freely offered by those who had some, I was hearing double and it was time to pack it in.
Yes, the brown acid warnings from Chip Monck (name?), the event "voice" echo'd in the acid trip of Demetri Martin, the young son who blunders into inviting the event to White Lake. The colors and details are incredible as seen from his eyes, slowly beginning to shift and then expanding until the hillside is undulating in waves around the lit stage below. A remarkable shot.
Martin won't win any academy awards; Imelda Staunton might for her portrayal of his paranoid Jewish mother who has hidden a fortune while her rundown motel is nearing foreclosure. And an honorable mention should go to Liev Schreiber as the cross-dressing former Marine who provides security at the motel.
Stereotypes? Sure. Few hippies ever were as mentally vacant as the Earthlite players. Did anyone buy Emile Hirsch's early post-Vietnam anguish? Fortunately, it was left on the doorstep of the main film and Hirsch's character later rings true. Just a high school buddy come home.
But see the film for its personal feel, very true to the event. The wish that Dylan would arrive. The helicopter flights to the medical tent. (only a small number of half-a-million needed any treatment at all.) The question, what about the boys in Vietnam. As one girl says on 17B, "Wish they were here." I was back just a little more than a week. Went with an Army buddy I'd never see again. Yet no one gave us grief for our short hair, mandatory to get out of Vietnam.
The music? Well, Arthur Lee and Love are the perfect accompaniment to the acid trip inside the bus (they never played at the festival.) When the early strains of Friday night's music begin to waft over an idyllic lake where dozens of kids bathe nude, it's Arlo Guthrie and I caught myself thinking, damn, it was dark when Guthrie appeared. But that was forty years ago and the memory can't be trusted.
Just the personal feeling. And despite some of the weaknesses in the subplot, Ang Lee did get the feeling right.
For the personal memories, he absolutely nailed it!
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