Woodstock: 3 Days Of Peace & Music: The Director's Cut (DVD)

Various Artists

Warner Brothers, 1970

REVIEW BY: Michael Broyles

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/13/2009

“Most of us need approval from our neighbors before we can actually let it all hang down,” remarked Sly Stone after his movie-stealing performance of “I Want To Take You Higher.” With this, Sly encapsulates the major theme of Woodstock: 3 Days Of Peace & Music: approval.

Although most likely said in a spirit of rebellion, Sly read his audience well. Michael Wadleigh’s documentary of the famous concert festival centers around the 1960 counterculture’s attempt to legitimize their belief system and lifestyle. Most attendees thought that the success of Woodstock did just that. This sentiment shows up in various dialogue, from one of the event’s coordinators saying “If you have to be afraid to smile at somebody, what kind of way is that to go through life” to an elderly townsman stating, “Maybe if pot made them peaceful, we should all smoke pot.” Amidst the open drug use, free love, politics, and musical performances, the movie portrays thousands of people searching for legitimacy and approval.

Woodstock is a documentary in the purest sense. It documents without offering any explanation, interpretation, or background information. And while Woodstock the concert may have been about the music, Woodstock the movie is more about the people. From the plumber servicing the Port-o-San toilets to the druggie rambling about how military planes are feeding water to the clouds to create rain and ruin their peaceful day, the movie provides explicit documentation of the interactions and relationships amongst the attendees. Amazingly, for a community that claimed to value individualism, conformity is intensely prominent in the film. One telling scene has thousands of people, led by a man on a microphone, trying to chant the inconvenient rain away as if precipitation is concerned with their whims. As I watched scenes of naked mud sliding, wild dancing, and grass-field love making, I could not help but see how this community of so-called individualists starkly mirrored the sentiment of conformity they purported to rebel against.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Amidst the fascinating sociological aspect of Woodstock, the movie also documents some of the worst and best performances I have ever seen. Let us start with the best! Joe Cocker and the Grease Band’s rendition of the Beatles’s “High With A Little Help From My Friends” evokes such raw power and emotion that I could not resist being drawn to Cocker’s enigmatic stage presence. The simplicity and perfectly executed harmonies of Crosby, Stills & Nash make their performance of “Judy Blues Eyes” one of the best in the film, followed by Janis Joplin’s ecstatic “Work Me, Lord.” And while much is said about Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” partly because of the imagery of the protesting patriot and the irony of a war song being played at a peace festival, the true stars of the movie become Sly And The Family Stone, whose performance is not only musically ingenious but artistically captivating.

Now for the terrible performances! Joan Baez, whose husband was apparently incarcerated at the time, tortures the audience with such a boring performance that she made me wish I too was in federal prison. Both Jefferson Airplane performances (“Won’t You Try” and “Uncle Sam’s Blues”) are so needlessly long and musically verbose that they made me wish I was listening to Joan Baez. Though awful, the atrocity of these performances pale in comparison to the sloppy, amateurish rendition of “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Canned Heat.

With good and bad performances, agreeable and disagreeable dispositions, Woodstock is documentary filmmaking at its finest. Even those who are not fans of the music will take something away from this film, for the music merely serves as an accessory. Woodstock is both a product of its time, as exemplified by its constant use of split-screen, and an eternal documentation of it. Plus, it poses the question: how often do you need approval from others before you “let it all hang down?”

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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