Friday, June 5, 2009

Film Review: Woodstock (The Director's Cut)

Film Review: Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music [the Director's Cut]
Michael Wadleigh, Film Director
Martin Scorsese, Assistant Director, Film Editor
Original release: 1970; New Director's Cut, 2009

Walter Reade Theatre
Lincoln Center
New York City

by Eric Green

Forty years after the event and 39 years since the release of the film, "Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music," the WOODSTOCK era is once again at center stage of music events.

To commemorate this 40-year event, the film director, Michael Wadleigh brought some of the still living people who he could gather at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theatre in NYC. A key person was and is Michael Lang, the person who mostly put together the legal permits, music performers and the workers who constructed the main stage. He was in person looking very similar to his original baby face look of 1969. Lang did an amazing job in putting the original production together.

Wadleigh expanded his original 3-hour film by about 35 minutes by added film footage in what is known as the "Director's Cut." In this edition, some of the "cuts" are stored.

The audience was filled with many people who were at Woodstock, many old enough to have been there but missed it; and, far younger people who just wanted to feel the moment.

The evening wasn't a disappointment. The film was a sell out.

[This special director's cut will be made available in a 2-CD special offering with a release date of June 9, 2009 Amazon will be selling it for $16.98. There are other memorabilia things available.]

Watching the film brought back memories, memories, which were very political as well as musical. Woodstock took place in the midst of the Vietnam War, the Civil rights movement for justice; just after the 1968 Chicago struggles and the many assassinations and deaths of the 1960s. This when right-wing extremism was met with a mass peoples' movement that won major concessions from the powers of the country. Woodstock was sort of a brief "time out" for some, in that struggle.

There was some decrying this "time out" from the struggles as a mistake, but, in fact, clearly, Woodstock spurred people on to end the war in Viet Nam and to guarantee justice for Black people. It was and remains a defining moment in our country's history.

One of the first to perform was Richie Havens. He brought the crowd to its feet on songs of freedom and justice. He hasn't missed a beat in the last 40 years. The audience in the theatre sang along and applauded his performance.

Joan Baez introduced the draft resister struggle by talking about her then husband, David Harris, who refused to go to Viet Nam and was serving jail and organizing hunger strikes. She then sang "Joe Hill" to make sure the working class, labor issues were not lost. She was and is incredible.

Roger Daltrey. lead singer of The Who, continued the young workers, working class direction by covering Eddie Cochran's the great song, "Summer Time Blues." When he sang, "I'm going to take my problems to the United Nations," everyone in the theater was smiling.

Max Yasgur was on screen explaining why he gave his acres of ground to Lang for this music event. Yasgur has since died, but his words of encouragement were as inspirational then as they are today.

The list of performers is legendary.

Crosby, Still and Nash appeared on more than one occasion in the film. There last song was followed by some words by David Crosby. "We are scared shitless. This is only the second time we've performed together." You would never guess that to be the case. They were flawless.

In the first half, after Havens came Jefferson Airplane with Gracie Slick; the amazing Sly and the Family Stone; and, Joe Cocker singing, "A little Help From My Friends."

One international group that performed, "Ten Years After," was very good. Their lead guitar player then was a rising star, Alvin Lee.

The film of course captured the thunderstorms, which gave Woodstock the mud look that it became known as. In fact, when future outdoor concerts were held in the USA or across the world, if there was a rainstorm with seas of mud, the concert was referred to as a Woodstock event.

Of course the wide use of grass and hash was not hidden.

When 22 year old, he is now 62, Arlo Guthrie announced that the New York State Thruway was closed; everyone at the concern in the theatre was beaming with amazement. His song about Los Angeleeeze was right on target. He brought the folk singing centerpiece to the event.

Also, John Sebastian did a great job with his performance.

Local townspeople were interviewed widely as being in support of the concert. This was the evidence that Michael Lang and his organizers did a great job in preparing people for the concert.

Just after intermission, Carlos Santana and his great band placed, "Soul Sacrifice." During intermission the theatre audience was introduced to the original drummer in the band. "Watch out for his drum solo, it is greatest ever," he said.

The producers then elevated the concert to mega star level.

Janice Joplin and Jimi Hendricks closed the concern. It was these two great performers and their unique performances that Woodstock became known for. Janice and Jimi took the audience by storm. The theater audience was mesmerized at the screen, just as the actual viewing audience was. It was clear that everyone was thinking how much was lost when these two great artists lives were cut short.

Janice sang and danced for a long period of time. Only one of her songs was included in the film, but it was a long and impressive one. She was brimming with excitement and awe with the size of the crowd.

Hendricks plays a few songs; each of which illustrated his amazing guitar talents. As Woodstock is the standard for music concerts and their films; Hendricks is the standard for aspiring and established guitar players.

That they both died not too soon after which made their performances even more poignant and epic in the annuls of music and culture in the U.S. Hendricks, born in 1942, was 28 at the Concert and died about one year late, September, 1970. Joplin was born in 1943, 26 at Woodstock, and she died in October of 1970, at the age of 27.

There were many outdoor concerts since 1969. The on in Monterrey, California is well know for the music and violence. There was another Woodstock a few years ago, not too far from Woodstock, New York. It was a failure. And, the many other outdoors concerts over the past 40 years in the U.S. and around the world were always compared to Woodstock

The most militant anti-war group at the concert and one of the most popular among the audience was Country Joe[McDonald] and the Fish. Their performance was exceptional.

But, they are all compared to the original one, the standard bearer, "Woodstock: 3-Days of Peace and Music."

And, in case your wondering, this reviewer was there.