(directed by Michael Wadleigh, 1970)
***** (out of 5)
> When I discovered my awesome local library had the director’s cut of this classic counterculture rock’n’roll documentary, with an extra 40 minutes of divine wonderfulness, I swooped, eager to revisit the bliss of that warm summer evening my (very liberal) mother packed the whole brood into the station wagon and hauled us to the Canoga Drive-In Theatre to see this iconic film.
. Half of us youngsters climbed up on top of the car and watched it al fresco, rocking out to the awesome performances and thrilling to the rare mainstream peak into the counter-culture of the time. WOODSTOCK definitely captured and articulated the zeitgeist of its time. It’s safe to say, that at our tender ages, few of us had ever seen or heard performances like these. This classic concert film fully exposed me to the true Hippie Ethic of peace, love, communality, and a return to the sustainable values of the earth- and as such, it did me a great favor, while at the same time, introducing a permanent dissatisfaction with the prevailing values of American culture. This film spoke to me in away no other film before it ever had.
. It’s nice to see, that throughout the movie, the ‘straight’ community kept praising the “nice, respectful young people” who invaded their small rural town by the thousands. (And it’s interesting to think that the generation that followed the Woodstock Nation was the Punk Generation- who could not possibly have had a more divergent ethic- something I just couldn’t relate to at all- even if I did like the energy and fuck-you rebellion of the music…) The music here is almost uniformly stunning. What an explosion of talent this period straddling the decades produced! Visually, editor Martin Scorsese and his team produced a kinetic wonder! Their use of split screen and overlaid images is not merely a technique, it’s a lens that focuses the component parts of the event, intimating things much larger than the content of the images themselves. The juxtaposition of images often says so much that a single image could not have conveyed. There is no removal- no detached vantage point. The editors do an amazing job of placing the viewer smack dab in the middle of the event, simulating what it was like to have actually been there- the beauty, bliss and privation of Woodstock.
. After all these decades, it is hard to tell what was added footage and what was in the original cut. I did notice a few performances that I sure don’t remember seeing- and strangely, some performances seemed omitted here, with other songs from their sets substituted. I didn’t know what to make of this. (Take John B. Sebastian’s set, for instance. Absent was the beautiful, delicate rendering of “I Had a Dream Last Night” that graces the record, in favor of a rambling “Younger Generation” that just doesn’t speak to the moment in the same way. I cannot for the life of me figure out why the version of Arlo Guthrie’s “Comin’ Into Los Angeles” is completely different from the one on the album. (Didn’t he perform this only once? How is it there are two distinctly different versions?) I don’t recall seeing Ten Years After (“I’m Comin’ Home”- did absolutely nothing for me.) or Janis Joplin (“Work Me God”- intense, but just too much for me. I was exhausted long before the song was over.), or either of the flatly lame Jefferson Airplane tunes (“Won’t You Try” and “Uncle Sam’s Blues”) that really belonged on the cutting room floor. Also new to me: (I think) the groovy funk of Sly Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher” that was so damn good, but went on far too long, diminishing its impact, and a hot, hot dirty blues number from Canned Heat (“A Change is Gonna Come”) that just shredded! (I saw this band once at a Teen Faire in Hollywood, and they were a pale imitation of the unit that played Woodstock! I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the falsetto vocals of “Goin’ Up the Country” and “On the Road Again” were not the only palette they drew from. They were one smokin’ band!) Also added to this director’s cut: an absolutely crystalline “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” a cappella and unadorned, from silver-throated Joan Baez- the sweetest, purest voice of her generation. I also don’t recall the original release having an “Interfuckingmission”. Musically, the big takeaways were how TOTALLY FRIGGIN’ AWESOME Richie Havens was (performing a driven “Handsome Johnny” and the sublime clarion call of “Freedom”), what an incendiary performance Joe Cocker gave on his fiery cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends”, and what a stunningly tight and inspired unit Crosby, Stills & Nash were on their second gig! (Their transcendent “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is easily a highlight of the event.)
. But this film is so much more than a concert film. It is the defining document of its generation, and as pure sociology, it is absolutely fascinating. There is one unforgettable segment where the unseen camera crew interviews a couple of youths who had travelled there together, without tickets, going on faith that something would turn up. They are platonic lovers- together, yet not. They have other lovers, and they purport, convincingly, to have no problem with this open arrangement. It’s just love, man! Not possession. The young man delivers a lucid, articulate monologue about the way the collective values of his generation conflict with the moral ideas of his father’s generation. He elucidates the generation gap of the time so cogently and with such compassion, it is breathtakingly enlightening.
. I imagine that this film plays very differently to different segments of the population. For some, it will resonate so powerfully that the film will be a highly emotional experience. Others, with more calcified, hardened attitudes will react through the prism of their experience and biases, and use the film to validate their worldview. Open your heart before you open your eyes (and ears!) to this great film and it will transport you to a time of near infinite possibility, and enlighten you to the idea that peace, love and tolerance are actually very good ideals to live by.
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© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.