An intimate look at the Woodstock Music & Art Festival held in Bethel, NY in 1969, from preparation through cleanup, with historic access to insiders, blistering concert footage, and portraits of the concertgoers; negative and positive aspects are shown, from drug use by performers to naked fans sliding in the mud, from the collapse of the fences by the unexpected hordes to the surreal arrival of National Guard helicopters with food and medical assistance for the impromptu city of 500,000. Written by
Dan Hartung <email@example.com>
Okay. Go ahead.
Sidney Westerfield, Local merchant:
My name is Sidney Westerfield. I'm the owner of this antique tavern, Mongaup Valley, New York State. I was here when this crowd really came. We expected 50,000 a day and there must have been a million. I, myself, was hungry for two days because I couldn't get any food! I couldn't go out to buy any food.
Sidney Westerfield, Local merchant:
I was eatin' cornflakes for two days. And the kids were wonderful. I had no kick. It was, "Sir, this" and "Sir, that" and "Thank you, this" and "Thank you, ...
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After the closing credits of the Director's Cut, Crosby, Stills and Nash are heard singing "Cost of Freedom". The visuals are of a still shot of the crowd of Woodstock, fading into a long list of names of various people, including performers who were at Woodstock, who have since died. The list of names ends with the following: Peace Music Ecology Liberty Community Democracy Alternatives Knowledge Altruism This is then followed by: Woodstock Generation 19**-20** R.I.P. it up Tear it up have a Ball See more »
The good, the bad and the ugly of hippie culture -- and all entertaining
I was too young for Woodstock, but I heard of it spoken in reverent tones over the years. I also heard great things about Michael Wadleigh's 1970 documentary-concert. Despite this, I put off seeing the film. Maybe because I thought it was going to be some roll-your-eyes groovy experience, man. I don't know, but I didn't get around to viewing it until the late 90s and I was blown away. I've seen it three or four more times since then and it always has the same awe-inspiring effect.
The concert took place over 3.5 days in mid-August, 1969, at the height of the Vietnam fiasco and the counterculture movement. Twice as many people attended than expected and it was the biggest gathering of people in one place in history, about 400,000, only beat by the infamous Isle of Wight concert in England a year later.
The film shows the good and bad of the hippie culture. Generally speaking, the movement was a reaction against the Vietnam war and the sterile legalism that America and similar countries had devolved into by the early-mid 60s. The youth wanted freedom, peace and love and you can see this in the movie. It was a good thing. Yet you can also see the bad -- like the bad acid situation ("Hey, it's your trip, man..."). Both Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix appear at Woodstock, and they're great, but they'll be dead in a little over a year, both only 27 years-old. Jim Morrison and the Doors didn't play because they declined at the last moment and later regretted it. Jim died shortly after the other two, also only 27. Interestingly, Jethro Tull declined because Ian Anderson didn't like hippies and was concerned about things like inappropriate nudity (?!).
But I don't mean to put a downer on Woodstock because it was an amazing event, never to be repeated. They tried to repeat it at Altamont Speedway in California, less than four months after Woodstock, and also at Isle of Wight, but both festivals turned out badly and put the the kibosh on the movement's noble ideals, even though it was pretty much inevitable since freedom without wise parameters naturally devolves into chaos and self-destruction.
Regardless, as a snapshot in time, "Woodstock" is fascinating and supremely entertaining. Half of the appeal is the incredible magnitude of the event itself and the footage of the people -- the hippies who came and the adults who lived there and tried to help or, in a couple cases, complained. This includes the fun and sometimes outrageous escapades of the festival. A good example would be the skinny dipping or, in many cases, semi-skinny dipping. Although this may have been a cool experiment at the event it never caught-on in the culture at large. Why? Probably because few people want to see someone else's Captain Winky and, unless a female has the body of a starlet, who wants to see it? (lol).
But what can explain the mass appeal of Woodstock? What made the hippies come out en masse? Was it just the music? The filmmakers ask this very question of a guy at the festival who looks about 16-17 years old. He says it wasn't just the music, at least not for him. The hippies crawled out of the woodwork, so to speak, like zombies seeking some kind of solace, a sense of community, a reason to... live. And Woodstock met that need.
The other half of the appeal is, of course, the performances and music. What's amazing is how diversified the styles of music were and how non-heavy. Don't get me wrong, many of the performances are seriously energetic, but they're light compared to what rock/metal evolved into in the 70s to the present. There was acoustic folk, Caribbean, blues, rock, gospel, pop, 50s, Latin rock, jazz fusion and psychedelic rock. Some of it I like and some of it I don't much care for, but they're all entertaining in one way or another. Since I'm into metal, my favorites are Santana, The Who and Jimi Hendrix, but I also enjoy a lot of the lighter stuff, like Joan Baez ("Swing Low Sweet Chariot") and Arlo Guthrie ("Coming into Los Angeles"). And then there are the acts that come out of left field, like Sly and the Family Stone and Sha Na Na, even Ritchie Havens.
What's amazing is how brief the classic hippie era was. It started around '65 and its apex was Woodstock in August '69, a mere four years later. From there it was all downhill with Altamont, Isle of Wight and the deaths of the movement's principal musical icons. As such, it only lasted some eight years.
Thankfully, we have this film to see the good aspects of the period -- some bad, some eye-rolling -- but mostly good, and definitely entertaining.
The film was shot in White Lake, New York, and runs 184 minutes while the 1994 Director's Cut runs 225 minutes. I've only seen the latter.
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