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Woodstock Review

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A documentary record of the `3 Days of Peace and Music' that took place on a remote farm in upstate New York and came to symbolise the end of the Swinging Sixties.

★★★★★

For one weekend in August 1969, Max Yasgur's farm in Sullivan County became the third largest community in New York State. No one had expected around 400,000 souls to descend on this tranquil backwater and the logistical chaos their presence caused was exacerbated by a downpour that reduced the fields to seas of mud. But such calamities only embellished the event's reputation and it eventually came to be seen as the decade's seminal happening.

   Operating with 16 cameras, Mike Wadleigh and his crew shot 120 miles of footage over the three days. It doesn't matter that D.A. Pennebaker made a better job of a similar task in Monterey Pop or that the acts were on better form there. The Woodstock mythology has ensured that this has become the definitive concert film, although Martin Scorsese's presence among editor Thelma Schoonmaker's assistants hasn't done it much harm, either.



   Wadleigh was only 27 when he embarked on the project and his coverage of political speeches by the likes of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy could hardly have prepared him for mayhem that ensued. But, his fascination with people and their opinions is readily evident in the interviews that dot the action and even more so in some of the performances, as he captures the likes of Richie Havens, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin being genuinely caught in the moment rather than simply plugging their latest release.



   The use of split screens becomes wearisome occasionally. But the grammar of recording live performance was still in its infancy and for every gimmicky moment there's a gem like Country Joe McDonald's `I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag', Joe Cocker's `With a Little Help from My Friends' and Jimi Hendrix's iconic `Star Spangled Banner'.



   But reality intrudes on occasion, too, such as when the Port-o-San man casually mentions that his son is in Vietnam or when the newspaper headline behind the shopkeeper promises more revelations about the Sharon Tate murder, which would soon reveal the darker side of hippy culture.

       This is a hugely overrated documentary, but it's still an important one.

Overlong but still engaging documentary.