Woodstock ... 3 Days of Peace & Music
Michael Wadleigh's original cut of the three-day peace and music festival, released in 1970, is perhaps the best rock concert documentary ever made. This director's cut DVD is even better.
Reviewed by Eli Kooris, Fri., Feb. 2, 2001
Woodstock ... 3 Days of Peace & Music (Director's Cut on DVD)
D: Michael Wadleigh (1970); with performances by Joan Baez, Joe Cocker & the Grease Band, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Richie Havens, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Santana, Sly & the Family Stone, The Who.
Being a child of the Eighties and Nineties, I have always connected the original Woodstock with the idea of something historical, a once-in-a-lifetime event that would never be duplicated. Evidently, many others in my generation felt the same way -- or some of the past generations just got a little nostalgic and tried very hard to replicate the phenomenal concert of 1969 a few years back. Only with Woodstock '99, the "spirit of peace and free love" was consumed by apocalyptic bonfires and riots over bottled water prices. Too bad Woodstock director Michael Wadleigh wasn't at that concert rolling film; real-life footage of mass destruction, sadly, would sell out theatres these days. Wadleigh's original cut of the three-day peace and music festival, released in 1970, is perhaps the best rock concert documentary ever made. It manages to not only cover the music and the surprisingly large crowd, but also the overall mindset of the audience, be it peaceful, politically frustrated, or just plain messed up. The sight of an emcee standing onstage and screaming to the audience, "The brown acid is bad! Don't take the brown acid!" will be forever burned in my mind, along with true rock-concert cinema and the Sixties generation in full tilt. Wadleigh documents everything, from the hippie lifestyle and survival on the grounds to the actual concert footage of Joan Baez's graceful "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and Jimi Hendrix's stunning rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." A split screen format is used throughout the film, which is rather confusing initially -- you have to decide where you want to look and what you want to watch. However, this device immerses us in Woodstock's atmosphere, giving a very realistic concert feel. So much is going on around you, yet only so much can be seen at once. And with this director's cut DVD, at nearly four hours of running time, a lot can be missed on either side of the screen. While the original film was shot on grainy 16mm and looked rather washed out on video, the DVD version makes all of the difference. Wadleigh's cinematography becomes a stunning journalistic portrait of the changing landscape of American youth and culture, not just a badly lit, well-constructed documentary. Besides the clarity, the director's cut holds 40 minutes of unseen concert footage from Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and Crosby, Stills & Nash, making the Woodstock experience more complete. It may give insight into why many recent generations have been so desperate to re-create history and have failed so miserably.