Judge Clark Douglas accidentally took the brown acid.
Our review of Woodstock: 40th Anniversary Edition, published June 9th, 2009, is also available.
Three days of peace, music…and love.
I've seen countless concert films and music documentaries over the years, but very few of them have matched or exceeded the standard set by the sprawling Woodstock. Granted, Woodstock has some pretty meaty subject matter to dive into (it's only one of the most iconic music festivals of all time), but the actual presentation is deceptively simple. There's no narration, no text to explain who's who or what's what and little tinkering with the chronological order of events. Instead, the film simply spends a large portion of its time showcasing the musical acts, and the rest of its time capturing the moment-to-moment existence of the people in attendance at the festival. Somehow, over the course of nearly four hours, the whole thing adds up to something alternately thrilling and sobering. Woodstock was a musical celebration of American counterculture. Woodstock is a eulogy for American counterculture.
I've attended a few music festivals in recent years, and sometimes these can prove rather grueling experiences (particularly if you're camping out on-site). However, revisiting Woodstock generally serves as a reminder that I have no right to complain. The circumstances of the festival were fairly hellish, from the bad weather to the bad acid being passed around to the lack of portable restrooms to the perpetually overstuffed grounds. The organizers claimed they were only expecting 50,000 people for legal reasons, but they were actually expecting around 200,000. At least twice that many people turned up. By the time the festival actually began, the food vendors were completely sold out, forcing people to depend on the kindness of their fellow attendees. Many people have uttered the phrase, "I wish I could have been at Woodstock." Undoubtedly, they were imagining a host of flower-bedecked hippies and Jimmy Hendrix performing his legendary version of "The Star Spangled Banner." The truth is, by the time Hendrix actually got around to playing, well over half of the people at the festival had left due to the fact that the grounds had turned into a giant pit of mud and feces.
Despite all of this, the documentary depicts the majority of the Woodstock attendees as easy-going folks with a knack for taking things in stride. The "free love" culture is in full swing, and there's a lot to admire about these folks despite their easily-mocked qualities. Even so, one can only imagine how nasty things might have gotten if the organizers hadn't decided to just give up and let the overflowing crowds in for free. There's a subtly sinister side to the lovely Woodstock crowd, and one sees a damning piece of evidence as the film's closing moments observe the thoroughly trashed festival grounds. The film is both a testament to how beautiful the counterculture movement was and a weary acknowledgment of why that movement proved unsustainable.
As for the music: well, it's consistently terrific. It's hard to argue with a lineup that includes Joan Baez, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, The Band, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and many more. Many songs are given the time to play out in full, and the cinematography tends to be simple and unfussy. Simply watching these great musicians do their thing is sufficient for these scenes, and the movie knows it. The visuals get more ambitious when the focus is on the common folk, with split screens and inventive editing (handled by a couple of enterprising young folks named Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker) being employed to keep things feeling fresh.
Unfortunately, there's not much of a reason for Woodstock (Blu-ray) 40th Anniversary Revisited to exist, as it's a shameless double-dip of a hi-def package which was already sufficient. Nothing has changed as far as the film itself is concerned: the movie still receives a decent 1080p transfer (which switches back and forth between 1.85:1 and 2.40:1 throughout the film). The flick has an intentionally soft, grubby look, and this transfer preserves that look accurately. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track remains strong as well, as the music has held up quite well after all these years and receives a robust, immersive mix. Crowd noise isn't on the complex side and the interview segments merely sound adequate, but the track delivers where it counts.
The set contains two discs loaded with extras, but everything on the first bonus disc is ported over from the previous 40th Anniversary edition release. The "Woodstock: From Festival to Feature" collection of featurettes? Check. The "Untold Stories" bonus performances? Check. The "Museum at Bethel Woods" featurette? Check. The "Festival Opening and Closing" deleted scenes? Check. The third disc essentially contains an expansion of this material. "Woodstock: From Festival to Feature Revisited" contains another eight behind-the-scenes featurettes (running about 32 minutes combined) and "Untold Stories Revisited" (offering another 73 minutes of bonus performances, some of which was previously offered via exclusive releases from various retailers). You also get a handful of physical extras: an iron-on patch, some ticket reproductions, a TIME magazine reproduction and some newspaper reproductions.
If you don't own Woodstock on Blu-ray, this set is certainly a great option—the film is terrific and the supplemental department is loaded. However, if you do own the earlier release, you're going to have to decide whether a bit of new behind-the-scenes material and 73 minutes of bonus performances are worth the price of admission. Or you could just get into the spirit of the festival and demand that your local retailer give you this set free of charge. Music shouldn't be a business, man!
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