Seen by Martin before? No
What did I expect? A wonderful documentary of a legendary rock concert, full of groovy split screens and hippies.
What did I get? Woodstock has something of a dual nature, as it is simultaneously a document of a culturally significant musical event and a work of art in its own right. It succeeds splendidly on both counts. If you don’t happen to have a distaste for Boomer culture and Boomer music, it’s hard to see how anyone could rate this movie poorly (and indeed, few have).
Of course, not all of it is equally wonderful. The final footage of Jimi Hendrix is some of the most transfixing concert footage I’ve ever seen, succeeding primarily because Hendrix himself is so mesmerizing and also because of a wise decision to put the camera on him very tight and not get cute about it. Nothing else in the movie is nearly as powerful as that, although the sequence with The Who is awfully good too. It’s bizarre to see Sha-Na-Na get a song over, say, The Band, but you know, why not?
Wadleigh wisely honored the documentary aspect of the movie, so we see plenty of seemingly aimless footage of people setting up the space, doling out food, and so forth. There is a sequence about pot use with a guy fashioning a pipe out of foil, scored to Arlo Guthrie, and a montage of children, scored to John Sebastian. All of this is just right; we do get a sense of what it was like to be there, and there’s very little feeling of music fanaticism obsessed with getting as much of the performances onscreen as possible. The performances are important, but they’re not the whole story, and the movie reflects that.
What here smacks of 1970? Nothing, technically — the concert happened in 1969, after all. But in a broader sense, what doesn’t smack of that time? Free love, classic rock, LSD, hippies. Come to think of it, considering the era, all the split screens (which are very effective) are quite understated in comparison to the psychedelia they could have gone with.
IMDB score: 7.9
My score: 9
Director: Michael Wadleigh
Starring: Richie Havens, Joan Baez, The Who, Sha-Na-Na, Joe Cocker, Country Joe and the Fish, Arlo Guthrie, Crosby Stills & Nash, Ten Years After, John Sebastian, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix
IMDB synopsis: 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.