By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Love, peace and music.
During August 15 – 18, 1969 Max Yasgur loaned out his 600 acre farm, which was near the town of Bethal, New York to some concert promoters for an epic 32-act rock extravaganza that has become the cornerstone for the counterculture movement and a major moment in Rock’N’Roll history. Although originally expected to attract only 50, 000 it ended up being more than 400,000 and this movie captures the mood, festivities, and music right up close.
Unlike most documentaries this film doesn’t just turn on the camera and then proceed to let things happen at a sometimes slow and boring pace. Instead it relies on a great use of editing done at the time by an unknown Martin Scorsese, which helps give the film a very polished and dramatic narrative. The dual screen setting allows the viewer to see two things at once and you are given a full view of the occasion as you watch not only the beginning as they construct the stage, but also the massive clean-up of all the debris left afterwards.
The music acts are captured perfectly as director Michael Wadleigh’s use of the camera nicely compliments the energy on stage with a variety of angles and quick cuts. In some ways you feel more connected with the music by watching it here than having been there in person as you are made to feel like you are right next to the performer as they are playing. One of the best moments is Richie Haven’s opening act where you see the broken strings on his guitar, the sweet glistening off his nose and saturating his back as well as a close-up of his mouth where he appears to have no teeth on his upper jaw. Janis Joplin who was known to have an incredible onstage energy is also memorable and is part of the added 45-minutes of the director’s cut. Country Joe Mcdonald is also memorable with his now famous ‘fuck cheer’ and ‘I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag’, which comes complete with lyrics on the screen and a little bouncing ball.
The film also features different elements than what you would find in most other concert movies including one segment that looks at the cleaning of the many port-o-potties as well as a long drawn out rain storm in which many of the concert goers’ end up sliding through the mud. There is another segment looking at the skinny dippers as well as all the naked children in attendance.
There are some good interviews spliced in although I wished there had been a few more. Some of the more interesting ones include those with the townspeople who despite reports to the contrary where actually excited about the event and supported ‘the kids’at least the ones seen here. I also liked hearing from the attendees as they lined up to take turns at calling their parents on pay phones. The only interview that I didn’t care for was of a young man who used the phrase ‘you know’ so numerously that it really got on my nerves.
The movie is quite long with the director’s cut being almost 4 hours in length and not all of the music acts shown including some of the better ones. However, the film is still quite electrifying and doesn’t end up seeming as long as it is. It is also so amazingly vivid that it gives you the feeling like you were there and something that only happened yesterday instead of forty-five years ago.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: March 26, 1970
Runtime: 3Hours 45Minutes (Director’s Cut)
Studio: Warner Brothers
Director: Michael Wadleigh
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video