A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 125 – Woodstock (Director’s Cut)

Woodstock – Director’s Cut – July 3rd, 2010

Our movie starts with an interview with an older man who lives nearby, talking about the festival. He says “It was too big for the world!” How true. We don’t start with the musicians, or even the music. We don’t see anyone who might have attended the festival in the first interview. We get there slowly, seeing the farmland surrounding the festival location first, and the building of the fences. A few people here, a few people there. Long hair and long whiskers. The stage half-finished while Crosby, Stills and Nash sing Long Time Coming. Watching it as we are, from the present, looking into the past with scenes of people preparing, we know what they don’t. We know what the man in the first interview knows. This was big. Bigger than big. Event of a lifetime big. Not my lifetime, of course. It’s a little under a decade before my time. The closest I can get to this time period is the music and movies like this.

I grew up listening to what is now termed “classic rock” on vinyl. My parents have a fantastic record collection and among their albums are a lot of the bands that appeared at Woodstock. Crosby, Stills and Nash, Canned Heat, Jefferson Airplane and Santana, to name a few. I’ll be honest, much as I enjoy Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, and love their segments in this, my very favorite part is the one number from Santana, followed closely by Sly and the Family Stone. Maybe it’s because I have a from-birth fondness of Santana (my mother sang one of their songs to me the first time she held me). Maybe it’s seeing Carlos Santana so young and so brilliant even then. I don’t know, but him and Sly and the Family Stone will make me dance in my seat (or out of it) every time.

But then there’s also The Who, whom I love and not just because Daltrey was in the Highlander series. He’s got this fantastic fringed shirt during his performance at Woodstock that immediately reminds me of Judas at the end of Jesus Christ Superstar. There’s Joe Cocker singing With a Little Help From my Friends, which is one of my favorite versions of this song ever. It’s frenetic and sort of desperate and pleading and beautiful. Really, that frenetic quality is present for a lot of musicians in the film. They let the music carry them along. Even the bands that seem calmer on the surface sometimes have some wild drums in the back, or a guitarist who’s really into the whole mood. It’s not just wild, it’s exultant.

The music is fantastic, but what makes this a documentary instead of simply a concert, and what made Woodstock a cultural phenomenon instead of simply a festival is everything that happened off the stage. Interviews were conducted throughout the course of the festival, both with the townspeople in the area and with the attendees. There’s plenty of footage not just of the stage but of everything else. We see the cars and the crowds. We see people milling and policemen directing traffic. We see people bathing in the streams. We get interviews with volunteers and attendees. And as the movie progresses, things get more crowded and confused, but also more exciting. The announcements being made get a little weirder and start mentioning things about the size of the crowd. It gets clear just how massive it all is.

We watch as a thunder storm sweeps through and everyone hunkers down under tarps and blankets and umbrellas and tents and plays in the mud and sings together while they wait for the rain to end. The Army sends some doctors in to help with medical needs. A young woman at an information booth talks about how she’s lost her sister in the crowd. The sister has to be in court the next morning and the young woman has her tickets home. She seems a little annoyed, but not panicked or truly upset. She’s resigned and hey, if you had to be stuck why not there? Some townspeople talk about it being a mess while other ones talk about donating food. A group of festival-goers go skinny dipping and clean up. We meet the guy cleaning the public toilets and find out one of his two sons is at the festival while the other is in Vietnam.

Given, with 500,000 people in attendance, it was going to be messy. There are certainly detractors in among the townspeople, and a few representational instances of the problems inherent in such a large crowd with inadequate supplies and no easy way out. A woman breaks down crying as she’s overwhelmed by the press of people around her. A man in town talks about the whole thing being a disgrace. Then again, the local chief of police says how upstanding all the kids are and how America should be proud of them. But the overall mood of the film, the picture it gives of the music and the people there and the three days and everything that happened there is one of hope and peace and a vision of how people can get along even in large numbers. Contrast this with the later Woodstock concerts and the mass chaos that erupted at them. Anecdotal stories from college friends involved fires and mobs fighting. Not the same sort of thing, you know?

I know someone who was there. He’s a patron at my library. He says he knows he was there but doesn’t remember any of it. My parents weren’t there. I seem to recall my mother telling me they’d gone to some other event somewhere nearby and missed it entirely. It wasn’t really their scene, even if they did love the music. Still, I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to have that experience instead of just a documentary, albeit as wonderful a documentary as this one is. Would I have been at the pond, skinny dipping? Would I have stuck it through the rain in the mud? Or would I have panicked, confronted by huge crowds and no way home? I think it’s even odds on either direction, though I’m quite certain I’d have abstained from any drugs then (not just the brown acid) like I do now. It’s a moot point, really. This was a unique moment in time. My generation and the ones after mine just aren’t in the same mindset as the Woodstock generation(s). It is, like so many other things that make me cry, a thing whose time has passed. I can get a tantalizing taste of it through this film and the soundtrack albums and maybe some day the gigantic collector’s edition that’s got even more performance footage, and that will have to be enough.

July 3, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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