This Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the famous Woodstock Music and Arts Festival that would go on to become a best-selling album, an Oscar-winning documentary, and a cultural touchstone for a generation. Given that… ahem… ahem… I am the only one currently associated with F This Movie! who was actually ALIVE at the time of the original concert; I feel it is incumbent upon me to say a few words about it.
“Well, come on all of you, big strong men
Uncle Sam needs your help again
He's got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun
We're gonna have a whole lotta fun
And it's one, two, three
What are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn
Next stop is Vietnam
And it's five, six, seven
Open up the pearly gates
Well there ain't no time to wonder why
Whoopee! we're all gonna die [….]
Come on mothers throughout the land
Pack your boys off to Vietnam
Come on fathers, and don't hesitate
To send your sons off before it's too late
And you can be the first ones on your block
To have your boy come home in a box.”
"I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag"
--Country Joe McDonald
There’s so much to love about Woodstock: the fact that the film exists at all, which is a miracle because the filmmakers had to shoot film and record sound under crazy, siege-like conditions; the groundbreaking editing, which includes split-screen and multiple image effects pioneered by a team that included Thelma Schoonmaker and a young Martin Scorsese; that the three hour long film includes no narration and the only titles onscreen are to identify people and bands; and the varied and dynamic music acts on display. It’s the complete package. It is at once a wild concert film and an exacting documentation of a specific moment in this country’s history.
“I'm a farmer. I don't know how to speak to twenty people at one time, let alone a crowd like this. But I think you people have proven something to the world—not only to the Town of Bethel, or Sullivan County or New York State, you've proven something to the world. This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place. We have had no idea that there would be this size group, and because of that, you've had quite a few inconveniences as far as water, food, and so forth. Your producers have done a mammoth job to see that you're taken care of... they'd enjoy a vote of thanks. But above that, the important thing that you've proven to the world is that a half a million kids—and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you—a half million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music, and I God bless you for it!”
PBS recently premiered a new documentary, Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation, directed by Barak Goodman. It’s a solid documentary, though I think it relies too heavily on footage from the Wadleigh film. Goodman does manage to corral a large number of original festivalgoers for interviews. In an interesting directorial decision, the audience hears their contemporary voices and they are identified on screen in the archival footage, but none of them are shown in the current day. Could Goodman have not wanted his hippie documentary to feature a parade of talking heads in their mid- to late-70s? Because the film was made for PBS, anyone with a cable television subscription can watch the documentary this month On Demand. Despite a few quibbles, I still recommend it.
Here’s the trailer for the new Woodstock set:
So, while it is in the news this week, why not take this timely opportunity to acquaint yourself (or re-acquaint yourself) with the original documentary film or some of this terrific music? It is a wonderfully entertaining time capsule from a very different time. Oh, and one more thing:
“To get back to the warning that I’ve received—you might take it with however many grains of salt you wish—the brown acid that is circulating around us is not specifically too good. It's suggested that you do stay away from that. Of course it’s your own trip, so be my guest. But please be advised that there’s a warning on that one, okay?”