Saturday, November 5, 2011
So, earlier I watched the director's cut of Woodstock, directed in 1970 by Michael Wadleigh. I only mention that I watched that version because I think it bumps up the running time to almost 4 hours. Sounds a little awful, yes? It wasn't so bad. Once it started, I was really into it, and I really liked the editing and all of the musical performances. It was really cool to watch something where it had so much music, maybe 60%, so it was pretty relaxing and easy to watch. I must admit I don't know anything about Woostock other than what exists in cultural consciousness, so it was really neat to actually be able to see the crowds, see the people, and watch the performances. It felt like I was there, except with less bad acid. Yay!
In case you can't figure it out, the film is a documentary about Woodstock, the 3 day long music festival in 1969 that over 400,000 people attended. Tons of musicians and bands performed, and well, you know how it is. The documentary is shot really well. They had a lot of different camera angles and cool editing which really helped to convey the experience of being at the festival. I'm used to really boring concert DVDs or even VHSs, where the camera is mostly stationary. I really loved that in this film, it was really up close and personal with the performers. It almost seemed impossible that they were that close, and it was incredibly fun to watch all the musical segments. Plus, you know, the music itself was great. I liked that the director used a lot of split-screens in his editing, as well. It sounds like it might be overwhelming, but it was a really cool way to condense information. He could show people doing something during a performance, or people preparing for the incoming rain paired with a shot of dark storm clouds. Ebert mentions that Martin Scorsese actually worked on this as well and did some of the editing. Very cool.
I just loved that the film made me feel like I was experiencing Woodstock, not just learning about it or something. Actually, I learned very little about it, but I did get to feel a great deal. I loved seeing the huge sweeping shots of the crowds, the size was really shocking. The shots of people sleeping, getting high, skinny dipping, and other things, did a great job of capturing the culture and tone of the festival. I got to see the traffic jams, got to see people sneaking in, watched the moment where they decided it was going to be a free festival. The shots of the people there coupled with the hours and hours of great performances really just created this fantastic atmosphere. I don't really know how else to say how effective it was at making me feel like I was really there. I think it had to do with the fact that it didn't feel like a typical documentary. It didn't try to explain what was on screen or give you facts about the festival. It just showed me the festival and played all the music, which is far more realistic obviously.
I really thought that a four hour documentary would be painful, but it was really fun to watch. I'm not usually a person who watches recordings of concerts, mostly because the TV in my basement doesn't have external speakers and the sound really sucks. But this was a fun movie for me because of the music. Saw a lot of new performers (I sound so stupid. New to me, since I'm dumb), but saw a lot that I already really liked. It was just cool to actually hear what songs they played and check out what they were wearing and stuff. I know it sounds stupid but when you don't really know anything about Woodstock, it was pretty exciting. I didn't know that Santana was there, I really got a kick out of their crazy drummer. Stuff like that was just really interesting and neat and kept me engaged for the whole four hours.
I really thought that this was an awesome documentary - really one of the most unique documentaries, because I've never watched one that made me feel like I was actually experiencing the events it covered. I loved the brilliant editing and camera work, really enjoyed the music, and thought it was really awesome to be able to actually see what Woodstock was like instead of just hear it referenced. I know not everyone has four hours to watch a movie like this, but for anyone who likes any of the performers who were there, or music in general, I'd say it's worth the time investment.
Have any thoughts on Woodstock? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Woodstock
Buy it on Amazon