Woodstock & Cinema: Scrapbook Thoughts (Vol. 3) – ‘Now & Then’

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These are the highlighted scraps from my Woodstock series concerning the festivals following the original 1969 festival. Celebration events happened in ’79, 89, ’94 and ’99. Some people think that the festival spirit needs to stop, with the final death knell in a cancelled 50th anniversary during 2019. Michael Lang passed away; the Japanese investors just not inspired by the idea. There was also celebrations both at the original site and elsewhere in the wake of Woodstock’s legacy. A ’94 inspired Polish variant for example, drawing just as many if not more people. When Red Hot Chilli Peppers played Hendrix’s ‘Fire’ to a crowd burning the field they did not know it would be the last associated Woodstock performance. Supposedly an All-Star Hendrix tribute band had fallen through, and as ghostly footage of him played over a rioting crowd, Woodstock and the associated images on film were changed forever. So have a read, if you will.

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Woodstock ’79 – The Missing Files

The Celebration Continues: Woodstock ’79 is a documentary I can’t find. A VHS of the performances at Madison Square Garden, I read that it contains a lot of great jams. There was another concert at Parr Meadows, Woodstock Reunion 1979 where between 18 to 40,000 attended, organised for the 10th anniversary of the festival. Supposedly there are bootlegs of it out there, and the story of Ron Parr is a novel in itself. But the Seventies, the records and reports of the concerts are out there somewhere. In memories, old radio broadcast performances uploaded online and this great performance I found from Canned Heat. It’s history recited here is interesting, staged by the original stage manager John Morris, it’s just a shame that much of its’ intrigue is now lost to time.

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Just like The Band’s legendary fragments of their performance at Watkins Glen, what’s left is so unique.

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Woodstock ’89 – International Spectres and more Missing Files

You can see this documentary in German about ’89. Or this news broadcast, or this eerie clip about a news-dubbedAryan Woodstock, a racist concert being organised the same year. Or in old archival audio clips reporting that over 150,000 people passed through the event. Woodstock as an event treads an uneven path to commercialisation, as the excesses of time and legacy begin to surround the event. This is maybe the last time Woodstock is not soaked in corporate entertainment and soft drinks, people bring food and drink and the PA and just set it up, like an inevitable wave crashing over the farmlands.

There’s a Filipino styled event, Pinoy Woodstock which also takes place. Another Canned Heat performance later in the year. And the Moscow Peace Festival, the beginning of the end of the glam-rock insanity. Woodstock is now international, the spirit of festivals as movements. They’re discussed on Oprah. Woodstock here is not the lost, misty drift of the Seventies. It’s caught in video fancams, Jack Hardy’s rendition of The Hunter’ as a total eclipse of the moon happens, Melanie’s continued presence, a full set from a rock band I’ve never heard of called Savoy Brown. The most broad view is this assembled 27 minutes of footage, and it reveals some perspectives, but it seemed that Woodstock’s influence at the time had escaped itself, ‘The Forgotten Woodstock’ being an event overshadowed by the cultural spread of rock n’ roll.

But then reading its’ history and creation, and the unlikely spiralling of the only major event which ever took place on the original site in Bethel, is a wondrous thing. Maybe 40,000 people were in attendance at any one time, but 250,000 passed through they say. The genesis is from the original Woodstock organisers saying they weren’t doing anything to commemorate the anniversary. In fact, according to the stories, the grassroots festival actually got ahead of an officially sanctioned ‘Remember Woodstock’ event at a nearby hotel, with promoters trying to steal fans! More rain, more shenanigans, but with a spirit that seems so fresh and genuine, that it is maybe the last gasp of air before…before Woodstock hit MTV.

It was unbelievable. Somebody wouldn’t believe it. It’s a lie, but it isn’t! We were like the mouse against the lion, and the mouse won! For once, the mouse won. For once.

Richie Pell, organiser of the ’89 Woodstock festival.

They weren’t gonna miss a chance to make money this time.

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Woodstock ’94: Peace, Love and Pay-Per View

The found footage of the gatherers at Bethel in ’94 is quaint by comparison, with its’ gentle folksy atmosphere. Melanie Safka and Arlo Guthrie make brief appearances, while the couple who get married are delighted by the reception of those with enough sense of memory to have ventured here. Woodstock is a legacy now, and the merits or flaws of any of those attached to the ‘peace and love’ ideals of the Sixties, is about to hit that new media craze: fragmentation. When the tickets cost $135 dollars at Saugerties, Melanie shouting “Welcome to the UN-concert” reflects back the uneven environment that rock music, peaceful ideals, and commercial capitalism clashed together in the Nineties. Polygram gave them $30 million, and then head John Scher (later co-organiser of Woodstock ’99) was gonna make sure this was for the hippies, with big wallets or small.

’94 is a crazy time for Woodstock’s first official revival. A zenith of the Nineties commercial, industrial bloat of the music industry as rock music buckled under the grunge. Post-punk anxiety teens. Hip-hop is in the process of colliding with the festival’s mostly white, American liberal rock bros. The concert is an ironic worshipping of the festival’s original mythologising. Benefitting off of expressing furious cynicism at the hippie counterculture which had birthed the movement. The scene is bursting apart at the seams, sick with music and radical acts wrapped up in Pay Per View, Woodstock Pizza, and branded Pepsi Cans. Kurt Kobain, who with Nirvana had been asked to play, would die weeks later.

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The Concert/The Documentary – The concert itself; the strong, strung out excesses of rock music at the time. Some of the performances are astonishing, as the rain came down at what was reported as ‘Mudstock’. Nine Inch Nails played their set covered in mud trashing their instruments, Primus incited mud clumps thrown during their thunderous bass set; Green Day got covered in mud so hard they couldn’t play anymore. The scene documented is of a youth teetering on the edge of insanity, washed out and more jagged compared to the counterculture spirit from the first festival.

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Then again, maybe not. Woodstock ’94…Not the Music…Just the Scene (2017: Dir Tobe Carey) chronicles a world of independent thinkers, caught up in the mess of late Nineties commercialism; where 1994 woodstock wire cutters cost $2.00, and a ticket to the festival $135. Michael Lang, Joel Rosenman, John Roberts, the earlier founders of the first festival are like gentle ghosts in the footage surrounding the festival. Lang’s image was and is still sold in memorabilia. Images I once took more genuinely, now crass and assembly produced by a Woodstock nation living off the dream.

On site at Wood$tock, as critics dubbed the event, Apple and Phillips hosted product demonstrations, while vendors peddled Woodstock dog tags, a $350 Woodstock leather bomber jacket, and the piece de resistance, a Woodstock condom, which retailed for a buck.

Oral History of the ’94 event

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The MTV footage is where it reveals how big of an event it was, because this isn’t a festival contained in a singular vision; Woodstock via Michael Wadleigh. This festival doesn’t have the the numbers of the original festival, around 250,000 people made their way through the absolute rabid crowds featured on MTV’s PPV coverage (online in archival footage). The presenters; Tabitha, Bill, Juliette (poor Juliette), Chris, Alison, John, Ed, Rick, Kennedy (who went and woke people up at six in the morning in their tents! After partying! MTV was crazy).

People use words like goofy, watch weddings on MTV while other interviewers ask festival participants to eat mud and backflip, others go to the Surreal Fields; the technology center where people can experience the technology of the future! Strange visualisers and wirey technology of the wired generation, it’s imagery is powerful with a modern nostalgia. The computer stations, clunky monitors which project word processing documents, all for the people of Woodstock, sponsored by IBM! There’s a Woodstock Marvel comic tie-in. The American kids who just wanted everything to be punk rock and crazy and shredding! They’re all here at this mud-soaked Americana, it’s fingers just in the darkness.

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They closed the freeways on this one as well, so many people made the pilgrimage this time around. People made a tremendous amount of money of this one, but it being free meant they lost money. You can see at times the sexist politic of rock at the time come through, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead reported how weird it was that girls were being ‘molested’ in the crowd, it just has a slightly outrageous anarchic vibe to the whole thing which can be scary and hard to watch at times. Salt N’ Pepa getting interviewed is one of the highlights of footage, but there are relics of the Nineties which cut like glass here. The mud broke heads and ankles, but the culture is a casualty of some of its’ own ideals.

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It is genuinely anarchic though by modern standards. The festival overwhelmed even the original historic festival which was meant to open in Bethel N.Y, where Richie Havens, Melanie and Country Joe offered to play free, and a crowd of 15,000 strong turned up to camp after low ticket sales cancelled the official event. Fossilising in the cracks, is some of the most fluid evolutionary beats of rock music as it probably entered its’ last major cultural decade (fight me).

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Woodstock ’99: Love is a Nightmare

Woodstock ’99 is like hell. Or heaven, depending on who you were. At the turn of the millenium and Y2K, American youth culture was in an unhinged state of reckless abandon, industry frustration, and the bizarre new genre of nu-metal. Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit are two of the biggest acts, and their sets are such aggravated carnage that if anything, the war had come home to Gen X and the musicians were very pissed off. The future lay in some of these kids hands, and they traded it on for an obscenely overpriced musical cash-in, with rape, riots and a bullet in the image of rock n’ roll for the Nineties . It’s nightmarish, fire fuelled imagery is only the beginning in a saga of clusterfuck events which was this carnival.

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Woodstock ’99: Peace, Love and Rage (2021, Dir. Garrett Price) is where my journey began, several months ago the flashing release of its’ premiere helped prompt me to begin watching the footage, from the very first film by Wadleigh.

Santana played ’94, but here the viewfinder pointed forward to what Michael Lang and John Scher thought was going to be a visionary success like the first one; but also (and very importantly) making more money than Woodstock II. At a decomissioned military airbase in Rome N.Y (in the blazing July heats), masses of humans started swimming in human piss and shit as portable toilets overflowed with waste across the flat ground.

Here I can start where the ’94 footage left off, in the spectacular value of the found footage genre of film. Someone’s 3 hour odyssey of the event from the lens of a mini DV. After about one hour forty, it all starts to look a little apocalyptic. The hum of the festival sets the atmosphere for a world apart from the rest of humanity.

Every Woodstock seems to have been imbued with a spirit of collective chaos which sort of overwhelms the event, as people gathered in their hundreds of thousands to listen to the sounds of their generation. The original event had a connection to the Vietnam-era protest movement. Anti-war ideals, anti-government ones too. Musical acts, drugs and a commitment to keeping things peaceful. In ’94, once the fences were breached the promoters were largely in the similar position as before: keep the crowd happy and the event will go on. It’s hard for absolutely nothing bad to happen when there’s hundreds of thousands of people around just by statistics.

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There are stories, the security guard who assaulted John Scher when Aerosmith’s manager was involved in hysterics. The band supposedly sound-checked for an hour, leaving the crowd waiting and fuming. These industry issues, the ‘Peace and Love’ ideals which had so earnestly knitted the previous two events together into strong successes were mocked in ’94, and here five years later they were torn the fuck down.

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The music, is a unique time capsule of an America resting on change; on Napster and digitalised music consumption. The Nineties had produced ten years of aggressive angst in the American collective, from Nirvana obliterating the industrial faith in record companies taste in 1991, through 94’s genuine breakthroughs of NIN, Green Day, Primus’s set is crazy. There are still too many concessions to mainly white rock n’ roll boys in ’94: Salt n’ Pepa, Arrested Development and Cypress Hill are some different acts, on top of mainly hard white rock (Aerosmith, Metallica, RHCP etc). It was bloated, excessive; lumbering like a Ghibli creation towards its’ home destination. But the spirit of ‘Mudstock’ and the footage I saw really seems like a diamond in the rough of a time. Not exactly ‘Break Stuff’.

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Limp Bizkit is a pretty crazy phenomenon, the media contreversy surrounding his performance a catalyst for the energy of so much of th rage: the anger just overflowing over the culture as well as the conditions of the festival.

They hated MTV now, the crew actually having to pull out towards the end due to feeling unsafe as the fans no longer warmed to their now sold-out image. They hated being in an overpriced commercialised husk of a festival and they were going to let people know about it. The hippie ideals were up for destruction. Trigger Warning for sensitive issues, cultural depictions of women, rape: This was the era of ‘Girls Gone Wild’, and Woodstock at this point seemed to be amplifying the expectation that women were meant to be free, topless, and objectifiable. Women in the crowds were groped as they sat on shoulders or passed overhead; some women were even reportedly raped at the festival. That some of these events could take place in a crowd during a set with multiple participants or an inability to see/report these ongoings to security, the event seems shocking de-regulated in the occurence of modern day mass attendance festival culture. Lack of security is only compounded by a lack of culture of people not protecting each other.

The fires and general destruction of the event are more in keeping with the events’ roots in protest culture, but the sexual elements really sour the memory in recent culture. It’s a profoundly disturbing facet of the festival’s existence, and John Scher says some awful things in Price’s documentary which reflect the lack of insight the promoters had about their own attendees.

I guess ’99 is just the storm the calm preceeded. No rain and no fair access to water, people riot. It’s hard to see anything more through the flames. The legacy of this event is so fragmented, the footage I’m watching now video essays, clip compiliations the media of the cyber universe Michael Lang predicted we’d live in. Pepsi adverts couldn’t save this one.

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I’m at the end of the journey. Trainwreck: Woodstock 99 (2022, Dir. Jamie Crawford) is another three hour ride through the brutalities of the festival, and some condemnation with it. It’s a judgemental lambast against the events of the ’99 events. Much of it is justified but some of it so sanctimonious without ever getting to the dark heart of why these people were so enraged. I went looking for answers, but it treads similar ground to Peace, Love & Rage. Michael Lang and John Scher are now villains of a peace movement turned sour, killed by the culture. References to the crew being evacuated as akin to the “The Fall of Hanoi”, is a cold glass of water over the original festival’s genuine anti-Vietnam sentiment. Trigger Warn. Fatboy Slim talking about his scary headlining set in the rave as a truck drove into the crowd, while a girl got sexually assaulted inside the vehicle is one of the toughest acknowledgements of the festival’s graphically poor treatment of women. End of Trigger.

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I’ve circled around and around on the footage of ’99, and I can’t find anymore answers there. In Message to Love (1970, Dir. Murray Lerner) is one of the archival greats, the self proclaimed “last great event” by festival organiser Ricki Parr. Herding 600,000+ people into an uneasy truce and celebration of the power of music, it’s sad to see the less corrupt threads of festival life, when they were more experimental. Laughable now, the £3 ticket fee to see The Doors (incredible), Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell (getting interrupted by a crazy man and calming the crowd down), John Sebastian (shout out), Miles Davis; The Who even. It’s important to see the cultures exterior from Woodstock.

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Two portraits emerged alongside this: Festival (1967, Dir. Murray Lerner) and Quadrophenia (1979, Dir. Franc Roddam), ((produced by The Who!)). One, a mirage of beatnik early Sixties culture evolving into blues, as the very spiritual soul of American music (Odetta, Son House, Staples Singers) cavorted with Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mike Bloomfield. Early modern protest music, a reflection of its’ own times. How could the world be so gentle and so hard?

Quadrophenia takes those reflections and smashes them to smithereens, because the world and teenage culture was violent. Always has been. Mods and Rockers in early 1964 beat each bloody in Brighton, tons of extras; “loads of lads up from Lancashire” just driving down to help out with the film from motorcycle clubs on their scooters. It is a brutal portrait of a disatisfied world, which could just as easily be paired with Babylon (1980, Dir. Franco Rosso and co-written by Martin Stellman of Quadrophenia). The world of music lovers has never been the same as those porcelain, grubby idols who come on stage, dazzle us, and fuck off.

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European youth culture maybe had a tougher edge than American idealism, but maybe it’s more than that. Maybe America is just too big, Woodstock is only a festival, not salvation. Quadrophenia’s youth riot, riot hard. The making of Quadrophenia memorialises the authentic rage expressed by the extras literally beating each other up to make the scenes convincing. Of course the kids from ’99 were gonna riot, they got screwed over by promoters who booked big bands without even listening to their music. The disconnect between this approach and the original vision is staggering, but it is for other people to judge the distance between those romanticized visions of a Sixties Bacchanalia, to a Nineties Hieronymus Bosch hellscape.

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This has been a journey, and I am grateful to have seen so many visions of Woodstock. It has been at times exhausting, but always a revelation as cinema and the world’s greatest rock festival grew up alongside each other. Thank you to all associated artists, organisers, filmmakers and art-lovers.

-Alex

Woodstock & Cinema: Scrapbook Thoughts (Vol. 3) – ‘Now & Then’

Woodstock & Cinema: Scrapbook Thoughts (Vol. 1)

In April 2022, I decided to embark on a journey to watch the cinematic material currently related to Woodstock Festival (founded by Woodstock Ventures), specifically the first event in August 15th, 16,th, 17th and 18th August 1969, Bethel NY. This is a scrapbook of cinema thoughts and understanding related to all materials Woodstock; documentaries, feature films, tv specials, as well as random thoughts about interviews and other pieces on the festival. Nearly half a million people attended over 3 Days of Love, Peace & Music in what was at both a nationally declared disaster area and at the same time one of the wildest gathering of musicians and creative talent in the 20th century, in protest of the Vietnam War and in search of peace. My thoughts on the cinematic visions of the films are below.

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So this is the only bit written after watching the first documentary. It is a revelation, a world of performers falling off the sheer edge of heaven. In sound they find release, reprise, and the foundations of communication. The performers are metal, built from a bunch of hippies and absolute free folk. Things which prevent peace are released in a sphere of mud, music, meltdowns. The power felt watching Hendrix, Santana, Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone, Ten Years After, Arlo Guthrie, Joe Cocker, Richie Havens, all these crazy crazy musicians just shredding in the arena. The camera is boiling with images of musicians in trances, the body on display in a way to accomodate all the shit of physically being in a officially declared ‘disaster area’. Founder Michael Lang said “I didn’t drink from any bottle I hadn’t opened myself” because of how food and drink at the fesitval had become laced with chemicals. The edge of infinity, in a culture of peace, for just three days is one of the boldest cinema experiences I’ve ever watched.

I saw the film over several days actually, the first film in a very long time I’ve split up into multiple viewings. Like a festival, this project is in those moments not at gigs, resting, sleeping, getting food. Talking to people, seeing who they are, why they would even go there. Hippies are enshrined in memory now, their potential in amber now, not flowering in youth. Being a hippie is old, I think I’m old. The people debating the worth and cost of such a colossal undertaking of distressed teenagers is worth recognising, the cop who supports the kids, the community members arguing on camera furious at the local distress.

Like an absolute diamond encased in a director’s cut version, the world of this film (with seven editors, Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorcese among them) it represents a shining vision of human frames glittering across the screen in their thousands. It’s been a long time since I’ve been touched by a film’s hope for the future, however sentimental that may sound in the 2020s of sharp hyper capitalism. But I enjoyed myself, I had fun. Rip it up, have a ball.

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To know that Woodstock, the film, is responsible for reviving the massive financial losses the festival incurred, is something of an even greater achievement. The fact that it is one of the most radically documented films regarding music impact culture, and revolutionary spirit is an even greater one.

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It’s hard finding time to write for this. I don’t usually try a fragmented style, I want my focus on these subjects to have as much clarity as possible. Woodstock ’69 is already growing and evolving in my memory as I watch two further films on the subject. Michael Wadleigh’s seminal doc is from inside the very beating heart of the festival itself, it’s eyes roaming the festival in search of the next great revelation of meaning through experience. It is a delicate canvas dragged through the mud of those days, the spirit churning at its’ centre. And now I find myself with films from further out of the sphere, ‘Woodstock: Three Days That Defined A Generation’ (2019, Dir. Barak Goodman) and ‘Woodstock Revisited’ (2009, Dir. David McDonald).

These are films that are falling from the same tree, rippling like waves against cavern walls. The festival experience is applied through different lenses. That of historical broadcasting (Goodman’s film is a PBS funded documentary), and intricately styled memoir and recollections (McDonald’s documentary is highly experimental by televisual standards). But streams flow back into rivers, and both films are doing their best to understand and venerate an event which changed the face of the Earth.

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It was raining toads when we played. The rain was part of our nightmare. The other part was our sound man, who decided that the ground situation on the stage was all wrong. It took him about two hours to change it, which held up the show. He finally got it set the way he wanted it, but every time I touched my instrument, I got a shock. The stage was wet, and the electricity was coming through me. I was conducting! Touching my guitar and the microphone was nearly fatal. There was a great big blue spark about the size of a baseball, and I got lifted off my feet and sent back eight or 10 feet to my amplifier.

-Bob Weir, Grateful Dead Guitarist, Rolling Stone

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I am reading about Jefferson Airplane, Saturday’s star act, who didn’t take the stage until 8:00AM Sunday morning. Country Joe Farm said when he heard Jimi Hendrix play the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ that the guitar “would never be the same ever again.” Joan Baez performed six months pregnant with her husband in prison, she recalls with breeziness. A hurricane of spirit, 500,000 people listening to music. It’s hard to capture the fragments of this mosaic. In David McDonald’s film, he explores in depth the artistic community of utopian communes which preceded Woodstock’s happening; the actual town itself.

Roots of 19th & 20th century American utopian projects by intellectuals propelled the reality of this gathering from long before its’ manifestation in 1969. Artists had been gathering in the space for decades before, winding histories of bohemian festivals and turn of the century gatherings. The film is uncharacteristic in its’ cerebral take of a history of a local community, it’s public-access TV aesthetic really wild to visually interact with. It’s one of the only documentaries I’ve ever seen with serious frame fragmentation and multiple panelling combined with vivid psychedelic colour tinting. It’s interviews are friendly but opaque, tagged with a locals’ knowledge behind the camera of who’s who and who’s relevant. Woodstock as a cultural event the festival, resonates through a chasm of American history. But the spirit of the gathering is part of an Americana, a folklore.

It makes sense that the PBS documentary then, so heavily draws from Michael Wadleigh’s 1970 Woodstock discussed above then. Goodman’s doc is a shrine, a veneration of moments of a beating heart expanded with the context of those young enough to need some insight. A tribal memory of American spirit expanding in the sun, rays scattering out. Here the memory is viewed through the glass of an exhibition, moments of alive spirit now encased in the glass of informational viewing. There are elements of the Woodstock festival expanded on further here, Richie Havens tells a beautiful story about how “nervous he was to go on stage“, as audiences waited and festival managers waited for acts who hadn’t turned up yet. In these moments the film comes the most alive, opening the mind of the musician into the memory of their performances.

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Neil Young refused to be filmed during the festival, claiming the cameras were too distracting. There is a cascade of moments in the experience of that time which can only be reflected in those who were there. The environmental conditions prevent Ten Years After from keeping their instruments in tune. This place is just submerged in conditions, stories, experiences and moments of life which really see everything. 80 lawsuits were filed against them upon finishing, 5000 people requiring medical attention, several unfortunate deaths even (RIP the man who got crushed by a tractor). The town of Bethel, NY passed laws preventing any mass gatherings like this from occuring again.

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Creating Woodstock (2019, Dir. Mick Richards) is a vertiable feast of information on the festival, interviews abounding with anecdotes and stories of a whirlwind production force. In a deal struck with the city inspector, driving behind at 4AM to remove just painted ‘Stop Work’ orders from the city council risking arrest is just one of the many stories that really shook me. Richie Havens improvised his hit ‘Freedom’ after running out of material after being called back 5 times because no other artist’s had arrived. $1.4 million dollars in debt, bands told to ‘F.U.C.K Y.O.U’ in telegraphs while others like The Who refused to play at 6AM until they got paid in cash full. 50 serving stations double sided around 10 areas serving hundreds if not thousands of people a day, the logistics on display here . The inspector’s 15 year old daughter who ran off into the festival, and his futile search which distracted him from inspecting the sanitation of the area (causing a possible shutdown), was matched only by the wildness of having to convince artist after artist flying in on helicopters to consent to being filmed for the documentary without being paid.

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The battle for the site is laid out in much fuller detail here, the Mills farmer (who was responsible for the 2nd, unused site) was on the receiving end of death threats to prevent the hippies from tearing up the surrounding area. The investors/co-producers John P. Roberts and Joel Roseman get special veneration in their absolutely stunning personal and music business force to produce the festival, not only the crew pulling all nighters but everyone becoming exceptionally free together. Michael Lang and Artie Kornfield also get more time for their unique relationship, which allowed them to move from music recording studio dreams to event changing paradigm.

Jimi Hendrix: The Road to Woodstock (2014, Dir. Bob Smeaton) is only a supplementary addition. In the above documentary, one of the participants recounts how Jimi had flew in to the airport, hailed a ride with two random kids and was at the site in two hours somehow mysteriously. Smeaton’s documentary helps elaborate on how his backing band, Band of Gypsys (shout out Larry Lee), were not so lucky in their arrival in station wagons hours later. But his performance is a monumental zenith of guitar trance playing, and the documentary does include a performance of ‘Vilanova Junction’ and encore ‘Hey Joe’, as well as the extended performances featured in Wadleigh’s documentary. It doesn’t get to the heart of what he was doing there, but the artistry is self-evident.

Oh, and the parking lots were drenched in mud. Just a swamp of fertile farmland sinking under the weight of festivities, at one point after raining heavily on Sunday evening, weight from the crowd made the stage start sinking down the hill. Jimi Hendrix came out and shredded the morning sky, under some weathered conditions.

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I’m thinking about when Creedence Clearwater Revival went on stage at 3:30AM and said the crowd looked like a scene from ‘Dante’s Inferno’, playing for one lonesome soul with a lighter. I’m thinking about the fact that Jimi Hendrix’s live performance was released in complete, in both the Wadleigh version, and an alternate ‘Second Look’ performance which is in B&W (really interesting). I’m thinking about the voluminous amounts of people on screen in further representations of Woodstock memory, history and myth.

A Walk on the Moon (1999, Dir. Tony Goldwyn) is Woodstock in the Hollywood cultural memory, it’s extension only relevant to the interpersonal dynamics of Diane Lane, Liev Schreiber and Viggo Mortensen. Woodstock here represents a spiritual freeing of the self. A sequence where Lane’s hedonistic abandon takes her into some acid-tripped revealing of her self in front of daughter Anna Paquin, putting in innings as the wild stubborn teenager. Richie Havens ‘Freedom’ is used to astonishing effect here, the very liberation of souls in the crowd. Here Woodstock is a mirage to enter through, its’ romance and spirituality colliding with characters opening up to each other. It’s not the best material, but I get it.

Taking Woodstock (2009, Dir. Ang Lee) is another sort, a far more authentic mantra of what was happening. Centred on Eliot Tiber, a kid who through being able to approve his own permit to run a music festival in the town of Bethel, NY, leveraging a simple permit with great historical consequences. He connected with Michael Lang and associates to loan his family run motel as the basis for their headquarters of operations for the festival. As thousands of hippies descended on the surrounding area to get to Max Yasgur’s farm, the entire societal architecture around them was transformed to accomodate this mass gathering of people.

A lot of good performances here, history as fiction manafactures a lot of portrayals which really try and emulate the spirit of those involved in the festival’s creation. Using Wadleigh’s technique of multiple divided screens, conversations and scenes lap over each other with finesse. Lee stages beautiful one-take long shots of those in pilgrimage, all pulled with a steady grace towards the site. It sometimes misses, sure. Moments of Eliot gathering his will are empathetic, with some real spectacular performances by his parents, Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman. Their transformations echo his, and Liev Schreiber also has a rather stunning turn as a security based sweetheart transvestite. Based on a real character she spent time protecting the Tibers from anti-festival protestors as well as Nazi-inspired youths attacking them for their Jewish heritage.

It’s important to note that the film deals with the danger of the events, though. Centred on the heart of players skirting gently around to see what happened to the people of Bethel as they experienced a mass cultural event. Tiber uncovers his sexuality, perception-distorting drugs, his family’s sad past; a lot is pushed through the main characters. Michael Lang even rides around on the horse, Jonathan Groff playing him in a strangely watchable way I can’t look away from. It ultimately rests its hands at the end of the experience, so as a film I can understand its’ mixed reviews and box office failure. The film links Woodstock’s significance to the 1968 Stonewall riots months earlier, and I appreciate the film trying to break from any one perspective so it can let the love in from the peripheries. That’s a great line.

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I didn’t watch Always Woodstock (2014, Dir. Rita Merson) because honestly it looks like a bridge too far, just awful. Love this review from The Dissolve though.

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Woodstock or Bust (2018, Dir. Leslie Bloom) is insane, even just skimming through it. Surface it’s just two girls wanting to play their music at Woodstock and trying to get there. But it’s surreal, connectedto the anti-war legacies in the bizarrest way, it shows just how far appropriation of the Woodstock spirit and iconography can go in entertainment. Pays homage to the festival’s folk roots by putting up the strangest low-budget spiritual connective tissue to the festival’s spirit . ‘Best ever bust.’ (groan).

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Peace, Love & Misunderstanding (2011, Dir. Bruce Beresford) deals with Woodstock in a way that’s both at once achingly banal but also appreciative of Woodstock spirit. It honours Jane Fonda, 60s spiritual child, Catherine Keener, Jeffery Dean Morgan (in a larger role than Taking Woodstock), Elizabeth Olsen, Nat Wolff, a cast of American talent in performances where they are trying at least. It’s Woodstock through a hollywood lens alongside a personal one. Woodstock is explored through the festival’s tourist trade and current situation, alongside generational conflict expressed between mom Keener & hippie Grandma Fonda. The film is painfully inoffensive, liberally indulging the ‘far out’ iconography of a generation it no longer really believes in, only to serve the needs of the story and the eventual familial re-union in drawn out dynamics. Keener and Morgan singing ‘The Weight’ is pretty cool though.

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[Highlights from the photographer being interviewed.] Still crazy that Santana was hallucinating while he was playing, seeing a snake on his guitar and eyes and teeth in the crowd. Max Yasgur got the best yield of corn after they replanted a crop at the end of the festival, probably because of all the human waste.

And for me, that’s been a real education, for sure. The whole thing with the movie and how they had to borrow money to get the film, you know? Things like that. 150 miles of film? 16-millimeter film?18 guys shooting 24-7, collapsing, having somebody take over for them when the collapsed and fell down, because of carrying that heavy camera around? Those are the real stories of Woodstock.

Baron Wolman, Rolling Stone

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RIP Carl Blackstead, who oversaw the recording and producing of the songs during the festival and for the 1970 documentary. Also RIP to Ravi Shankar’s master tapes, which to this day have never been found. The article linked here really dives into how much of the Woodstock documentary soundtrack was manipulated, warped into an artistic presentation of shape. Even in the mode of authenticity, hundreds of little changes have to be sculpted to make a film. There’s David Fricke’s sober take on the improbable accident of the festival, ‘a success and failure’ in equal measure is really important to take in. Events can escape themselves, becoming oversold and overexploited. Woodstock is on the cusp of the end, both year wise and culture. Altamont is coming. But Yasgur put up a sign saying ‘Free Water’ after he heard his neighbours were charging for it.

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I’ve been laying awake in the wake of watching Woodstock Diary (1994, Dirs. Chris Hegedus, Erez Laufer & D.A Pennebaker), a 3 hour day-by-day play of some of the other acts at the festival, unseen offcuts, and original interviews with some of the defining players. From the recording studio genesis, unseen performances from acts such as Bert Somner, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Quill, Mountain, Country Joe & The Fish, The Band, Johnny Winter, Paul Butterfield Blues Band (although I read this performance is actually a recording from an earlier gig in Whitelake), right up to Jimi Hendrix’s revelations on the guitar Monday morning. ‘Nightmare in the Catskills’, so said the New York times as the festival wound up.

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Shout out to the bank manager who flew in a helicopter at midnight to the bank to get the producers of the festival their cashier’s checks to pay the bands. To the Hog Farm Commune as well. The lady who fed everyone on granola as well, and refused to buy even sugar or salt! Hundreds of thousands of people. Mad. The people who marched on the fast food stand overpricing their food and burned it down! They still tried to help him out, but mad.

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I think I’m standing above a wide hill, in Yasgur’s farm, surrounded by people. I can hear the music. I can see the people. I can feel everything. It’s been a ride. – scene in Taking Woodstock where the people turn into the ocean.

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I’m out of this whirlwind now. Just like everyone else, I’ve left the festival, with only memories to keep me company. A friend told me that one of her family friend’s had left mid-way through a set performed by a “Mr. James Helix” (Jimi Hendrix), didn’t appreciate the guitar.

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Woodstock will exist forever. Untold recordings, footage from collector’s editions, autobiographical books, vinyl liner notes; they’re all artifacts from a memory of collective expression. Woodstock’s roots superseded its’ foundations. The town since thrives on the trade of American artworks to this day, for better and for worse. Peace, love and music for 3 days continuously, and genuinely.

And cinema has helped in innumerable ways to ensure a legacy of the festival’s essence. From searingly real direct cinema documentaries to varying levels of Hollywood artificiality; the authentically earnest to the sanctimoniously boring, they understand Woodstock ideals as they fit the confines of other drives, plot situations, and character motivations. All those feedback into the real world. The festival attendees had to do much of the same, filtering back from their natural exodus into American society.

From interviews I saw, the founders and makers seemed happy with how everything turned out. Heritage, safe in the glass case of the past can sometimes obscure the mechanics and engineering behind an event which sat at the crossroads of politics, art, music and business. The four points of a star which helped it manifest into a cultural meteor that hit the ground so hard we’re still feeling it’s reverberations. Woodstock being free was an accidental stroke of genius, and its rare that enough minds get together to will the conditions to make something that important. Later posts will deal with the legacy of anniversary concerts, Black Woodstock, and other associated materials. That is a more complex set of affairs, which deserves its own understanding. Woodstock’s limitations are duly noted sure, but for free I can’t think of a better concert to have not gone to.

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Woodstock & Cinema: Scrapbook Thoughts (Vol. 1)