When the press release for “Woodstock: 3 Days of Piece and Music 40th Anniversary Limited Edition Revisited” showed up in my Yahoo! Inbox, I wasn’t sure whether or not I should request a copy for review. To me, Woodstock was more or less a big old hippie gathering in the late 1960s where the counterculture movement came of age and people smoked more marijuana than they probably should have. But I’m a sucker for anything from the Vietnam War era, so I replied to the email and asked for the Blu-ray disc.
About a week after it showed up, my father-in-law was over for a visit and spotted the disc on the coffee table. His eyes lit up like the Coyote when he spots the Road Runner, or a little kid on Christmas morning before his or her parents have crawled out of their bed. He grew up in New York some time ago, and told me and my wife that one hot August summer afternoon he was approached by some neighborhood friends with an invitation to go to Woodstock. As he put it, he would have gone if it weren’t for his overly strict father. Little did he know at the time that he was missing out on one of the most pivotal moments in music and American history.
“Woodstock: 3 Days of Piece and Music 40th Anniversary Limited Edition Revisited” doesn’t necessarily paint Woodstock as such, however. It spends the bulk of its 224 minute run time (that’s right) examining the most famous concert the world has ever known, which took place in Bethel, New York from August 15 to 18, 1969. The rainy weekend was home to 32 legendary musical acts, including The Band, Canned Heat, Joe Cocker, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Richie Havens, John Sebastian, and Sly & the Family Stone. While critics debate the actually number of attendees, most estimates place the final figure to be somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 (although millions more probably claim to have attended). People made the pilgrimage to Woodstock from across the country, by car, truck, helicopter or on foot.
Winner of the 1970 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature (and nominated for Best Editing and Best Sound), “Woodstock: 3 Days of Piece and Music 40th Anniversary Limited Edition Revisited” was produced by Bob Maurice and directed by Michael Wadleigh, who assembled an outstanding crew that included young filmmakers at the start of their Academy Award careers: director Martin Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker. The film starts with chronicling the music festival’s logistical set-up, and then flows into the attendees arriving, the musicians performing, the locals reacting to the extreme behavior they see and the media coverage of the weekend itself.
I’ve often thought that if something like Woodstock were to be planned for the modern era, it would probably never end up happening. Sure, there are concerts all the time, and weekend music festivals aren’t difficult to find, either. But how many pull in half a million people and this many artists all sharing a similar disdain for authority, war, politics and the establishment that leans on its policies rather than thinking about what is best for its people? Plus, most of the big name artists who performed at Woodstock did so at fairly unconventional times. CCR went on between 12:30 and 1:30 am. The Who? They went on at 5:00 am.
What the documentary presents is a C-SPAN like take on the music festival’s music, attendees and community. It illustrates that Woodstock at the time basically went off without too many hiccups, but shortly thereafter became a symbol of something so much bigger than any concert ever had before. Looking at it from today’s lens, Woodstock had the power to make people forget the misery of heat, rain, mud and less than sanitary conditions. It united men, women, races, ethnicities and religious affiliations together through a medium that successfully transcended all of the things that otherwise segregate people from each other. And it tells me that today, people still possess the ability to argue, debate, disagree and banter against a backdrop that can slow progress despite the will of the masses to advance it.
Of course, the star of “Woodstock: 3 Days of Piece and Music 40th Anniversary Limited Edition Revisited” is the music. And that’s the way it should be if you really think about it. The musicians at Woodstock weren’t just the best known during their heyday. They were also the best available. The concert’s promoters somehow managed to pull everyone together simultaneously, and if you can find a list like the one I skimmed featuring the names of other performers who could have been there, you’d probably pass out.
“Woodstock: 3 Days of Piece and Music 40th Anniversary Limited Edition Revisited” pays a very appropriate degree of respect to the single best known concert in American history. It’s fun to watch young and old come together, locals with their ruffled feathers and the best know songs from perhaps the best known music era, including “Come Back Baby,” “Book of Love,” “Persuasion” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” among others. And it’s fun to imagine my father-in-law looking at his neighborhood peers and scratching his head about whether or not to jump in a car and become a part of history.
Variance abounds here, with 1080p High Definition 1.85:1 and 2.40:1 transfers working themselves in and out. The film is 40 years old and unfortunately shows its age more than once with grain and discoloration. But overall the transfer is still above average given the age and different variations the film has gone through since its initial debut.
This time around, “Woodstock: 3 Days of Piece and Music 40th Anniversary Limited Edition Revisited” comes with a Dolby TrueHD English 5.1 soundtrack that provides the music performances with top tier clarity. We’re able to hear everything from the rain pounding on the people to the guitar strings being plucked. Interviews are probably the audio’s weak point, but you are unlikely to notice thanks to how great people like Santana, Jefferson Airplane and Sha Na Na sound. A Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track is also provided, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
TONS of special features here. Extra and never before seen footage abounds throughout “Woodstock: 3 Days of Piece and Music 40th Anniversary Limited Edition Revisited,” and the set comes with a reproduction of Woodstock Festival tickets, articles from Life Magazine and the New York Times, plus a re-issue of the Woodstock logo iron-on patch. In total, over 3 hours of additional music and stories from the festival are provided in three featurettes. It’s a monster, no doubut.
A Final Word:
It’s a fun documentary across the board with many strong elements all working together in a harmony that resembles the harmony from that ever so well known August weekend many years ago. And if this set doesn’t pay Woodstock the respect it’s due, well, I don’t know what can.