It was the end of an era, the literal end of a movement, and the end of what many would know as “Woodstock.” We never did see the Woodstock here in further decades, did we? We instead saw much more corporate interference, much more MTV generation, and in the last festival, ultimate destruction. At least we have what is one of the most riveting and unique concert movies ever filmed. It’s a chronicle of a generation thought of ancient now, and looked back on mostly with fondness, as a decade where there was hope for peace, and hope for a better tomorrow. It was before America gave in to the seventies, where it became all bout decadence and hedonism.
“Woodstock” is packed to the brim with magnificent music of the rock and pop variety, and took one of the more ambitious efforts at a massive concert and turned in to a free for all of peace, love, and music. I’m personally a fan of both cuts of “Woodstock” as both the theatrical and director’s cuts can be appreciated in their own right as deep looks in to this very important cultural touchstone, where nothing it taken away from either. Some of the best performances are still as raw as ever, with the opening performance by Richie Havens easily my favorite of the entire film. While many will argue Hendrix is the show stopper, or that The Who really brings the house down, I’ve always loved Havens’ soulful renditions of “Freedom” and “Motherless Child.”
Some of the best performances within the movie are The Who singing “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” Santana’s epic performance of “Soul Sacrifice,” and of course, Joe Cocker belting out “With a Little Help from My Friends.” You also have to love the stark sing along of Country Joe and the Fish singing their anthem “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die” which is both a condemnation of the Vietnam war, and celebration of its inherent lunacy. Unlike “Gimme Shelter,” Michael Wadleigh’s documentary doesn’t so much controversy nor does it capture incidents—aside from the army dropping food, blankets, and flowers for the audience. Instead it’s mainly a time capsule of a brief time where everyone gathered to celebrate music and be about as peaceful as they could possibly be.
Though the concert leaves a massive foot step in the rural New York, those that attend don’t bother the locals much. If you can endure the nonsensical interviews, and endless footage of hippies sliding through mud, you’ll really appreciate the sentiment behind what the festival was trying to convey. Director Wadleigh sets his sights first and foremost on the music, and then touches on the humanity behind it, giving every performance a chance to resonate with the crowds. Even the extended edition that adds forty five minutes conveys the weight of the music on those that flocked to this concert. If you miss that sentiment, take Jimi Hendrix’s iconic rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” and try not to be at least a bit moved by the way he adds a new majesty to the song with his guitar, turning it in an anthem for the Woodstock generation.