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  Woodstock What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?
Year: 1970
Director: Michael Wadleigh
Stars: Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Sly and the Family Stone, Country Joe and the Fish, Joe Cocker, Crosby Stills and Nash, Joan Baez, Ten Years After, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Carlos Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Canned Heat, John Sebastian
Genre: Documentary, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 3 votes)
Review: During 1969, in the state of New York, around 500,000 people converged on farmlands to attend a huge rock concert. The event came to sum up the feeling of peace and love for the younger generation of the time, expecially considering the Vietnam War was raging, but it wasn't a total success - the whole place was declared a disaster area before the three days were over...

As this mammoth documentary starts, it makes sure to convey the feelings of community, spirituality and getting back to nature with hippies descending on the rolling fields in the idyllic sunshine. Yet as it draws on, it becomes clear that all is not right with the world; early on we see locals treating the invasion with good humour, but later those same locals are complaining about the sex and drugs, if not the rock and roll. In fact, so many people turn up that the festival has to be declared free.

A warning goes out concerning bad acid, Joan Baez tells the crowd about her imprisoned husband, the weather gets worse and some are blaming it on government helicopters seeding the clouds, and the mud rises. Festival goers begin to starve because there's not enough food to go around, there are drug overdoses and not enough doctors are there to help, and all the while the threat of the war colours the mood.

However, it's as if audience are determined to enjoy themselves despite the hardships, because there is, after all, the music to listen to. Everyone seems painfully sincere, none more so than the opening act, Richie Havens. The Who perform a song from Tommy which manages to be better than the whole of the movie Tommy, but nobody smashes any instruments (although Pete Townshend chucks his guitar into the crowd - where is it now?). Joe Cocker bellows through "With a Little Help from My Friends", making his backing band sound positively undernourished.

Crosby, Stills and Nash sum up the peace message with their contribution, while Country Joe McDonald sums up the anti-war message with his "Fixing to Die Rag" ("Give me an 'F'!"). Carlos Santana noodles, Janis Joplin screeches, but the highlight has to be the ahead-of-their-time Sly and the Family Stone blasting out "I Want To Take You Higher". Of course, most people will tell you that the Jimi Hendrix finale is the highlight, but by the time he arrives, you may well be exhausted.

There are a few acts that may get you hitting the fast forward button. Ten Years After's session seems to last ten years; John Sebastian turns up, rambles on for a while, then sings a song he forgets the words to halfway through. And who invited Sha Na Na? A director's cut was released in 1994, which adds Canned Heat, Jefferson Airplane and Joplin, as if the film wasn't long enough as it is. But for encapsulating an era, and a sense of hope that was over a short time after, Woodstock is a valuable document. Also with: the mudslides and nude bathing that always gets shown when you see clips of this; and heavyweight yoga.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Michael Wadleigh  (1939 - )

American cinematographer who worked on Martin Scorsese's first film and Jim McBride's groundbreaking David Holzman's Diary. He later directed the Oscar-winning documentary Woodstock, but it was over ten years before his next film, the flop werewolf drama Wolfen. He has since dropped out of the film business.

 
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