I know what you’re thinking: “I realize it’s the 50th anniversary, but does the world really need ANOTHER Woodstock movie?” Trust me, I’m right there with you. Kind of, anyway.
Woodstock, Bethel, New York, August 1969. (©Elliot Landy: The Image Works)
There’s narrative feature films about it; there’s news programs/specials about it, virtually every documentary about any of the performers features footage from it, and the 1970 documentary, “Woodstock,” won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and is widely considered one of the best music documentaries out there.
So, yes, when I caught wind of the release of “Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation,” I rolled my eyes. I mean, despite how good it is, how many times do I need to see Jimi Hendrix play the “Star Spangled Banner”?
But then something rather unexpected happened: directors Barak Goodman and Jamila Ephron managed to put a completely different spin on it.
Richie Havens Onstage at the Woodstock Festival, 1969. (Credit: Henry Diltz Courtesy PBS Distribution)
Rather than focus on the music, they talked to the people that put in the work to plan and implement the festival, the people who drove across the country to attend, the townspeople who stepped up to help when the food ran out, the merchants that set up shop in the adjacent woods, and the hippies that stuck around for a while to help clean up the site.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s more than enough music and Woodstock performances to go around, but they simply aren’t the primary focus this time around … and it actually works pretty well.
For me, when you’re 50 years down the road and still telling a known story, it’s important to find new wrinkles. And hearing the motivations of everyone involved on the ground – from vendors to organizers to attendees – is precisely the right wrinkle to add.
Woodstock image courtesy of Museum of Bethel Woods. (© Gary Geyer)
It was interesting to hear about people dropping everything to be a part of something big; it was genuinely moving to hear about people who couldn’t have been any further from the counterculture of Woodstock realize it wasn’t about them and their beliefs; and it was refreshing to hear from the organizers and not have them mention glamping and whatever other high-end amenity they’ve got in store for the Woodstock 50.
If you’re a Woodstock and/or music historian, chances are these are anecdotes you’re well-aware of, and this won’t measure up to the 1970 masterwork. But for the rest of us, while it still isn’t likely to challenge the greatness of the 1970 film, it’s still an interesting look at some of the lesser-known angles of the world’s most famous music festival.
★★★½ of ★★★★★