Woodstock: 40th Anniversary Edition

Woodstock: 40th Anniversary Edition (1970)
Warner Home Video
Extras: Featurettes, Fact Sheet, Reproductions of Memorabilia, Life Magazine Reprint, and more

Two things my wise Baby Boomer mother conveyed to me in life: first, she poignantly explained the reason most of her generation were so radical in thought and daily habit is they were "promised the fifties and ended up with the sixties." The other bit of acumen I've kept tucked in my head for sanity purposes is "it's all about the journey…"

Plainly both idioms apply if you're going to discuss the original Woodstock festival, really the only one worth mentioning outside of some very fine acts at the bastardized nineties events which at-large dishonored the unified evocation of the mother event. Certainly in 1969 you didn't see kids on MTV throwing fire at each others' tents and pelting each other with dirt clods, nor did you read headlines about teenage girls being raped.

The turnout for the original Woodstock was over half a million in attendance to witness (like those across the pond attending the famed Isle of Wight festivals) some of the greatest acts registered from the sixties—and for all eternity. No matter the Red Hot Chili Peppers stole the show of their decades-later 1994 Woodstock performance by wearing giant illuminated light bulbs on their heads while belting out "Give it Away." The original Woodstock needed no gimmicks. When you had Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, Joan Baez, Joe Cocker, Canned Heat, Mountain, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Ten Years After, Richie Havens, Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, Ravi Shankar, Country Joe McDonald, Arlo Guthrie, The Band and others…gimmick is a dirty word in conjecture.

Consider the fact The Who had the stones to kick off a 25-song blitz including the entire rendition of Tommy at 4:00 a.m. before turning the sunup stage to the Jefferson Airplane who had to have felt grossly outclassed…sorry, but light bulbs on your dome is mere child's play.

There's not much left to be said after 40 years since the one-and-true Woodstock festival was organized by Michael Lang and his ensemble. However, the enduring legacy which resounds out of the mouths of those who performed, organized and witnessed rock music's greatest onstage spectacle remains an idyllic, enchanted microcosm (of exponential numbers on terra firma) where people could gather en masse from various backgrounds, races and creeds and simply get along, even if those same people sometimes referred to the cramped conditions as comparable to concentration camp living.

The iconic image of three nuns in Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music floating on camera with one trailing behind and flashing up a peace sign still delivers an impact in a far more jaded society than which faced the Baby Boomers. The bold statement of conservative church body representatives compromising with a new world order youth brigade should never go lost on audiences today.

Despite the acid popping and the shirking of clothes famously captured by Wadleigh and his roving crew clad with their Éclair cameras, the fact nuns would dare show up for a potential Sodom (more like Eden, if you're to poll Hugh Hefner) makes a declarative avowal of humanity coming to terms for a good cause. Also, the fair chunk of the Woodstock community initially outraged by the "army" of people and helicopters floating musicians in-and-out on the hour, yet giving the kids kudos thereafter tells the event's ramifications greater than the music.

Though nothing has changed in American culture today, as pop and social icons of the sixties have grudgingly attested despite their best efforts to usher in change, it's always a steadfast reminder this country was held on a delicate balance when Woodstock 1969 was thrown. JFK, RFK, MLK, MX, the martyrs serve as bloody aide memoire to the reason a Woodstock was necessary. As my mom testifies, the Fabulous Fifties were fabulous for the white middle class, and narration continues to portray the drive-ins, the sleek, fish-tailed chrome and the youngsters dancing like the party would never end. After John Kennedy was shot, it wasn't until The Beatles and then Woodstock until people danced again.

At least Michael Lang and the Woodstock planners paid homage to their fifties roots by kicking off the festival with rock 'n roll revivalists (and seventies t.v. stars) Sha Na Na, a blue suede shoe antithesis to all of the deadly serious beat musicians who came onstage afterwards, yet serving as reminder of the once good times for some. Next to Country Joe McDonald who roused up an entire legion of peace anarchists with his Vietnam stabbery, Sha Na Na was both in and way out of vogue with rejection of the Edsel and embracement of the VW bug bus.

Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music The Director's Cut 40th Anniversary Edition is worth your while if you've never seen this triumphant documentary. If you have it already, what you're getting for your investment (since the here-before official director's cut features previously-chopped footage of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Canned Heat) in this deluxe set is three-plus hours of bonus footage, featurettes outlining the history of the film from conception to final print and other tidbits.

Thank God this film has made it to widescreen presentation as one of its claims-to-fame is the virtual onslaught of images through multiple panels in each frame. Over the years, full screen televised presentations of Woodstock have been lamentable in the fact you're missing just about everything while the center panels smear unattractively across the tube with slivers of the flanking frames on both sides almost to no point. Ever since this director's cut has surfaced on widescreen, Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music can be said to have received its proper comeuppance in the modern world, perfectly preserved for future historians and connoisseurs.

The extras DVD is likely going to wow audiences more than they already might've been with Santana's "Evil Ways," Joe Cocker's "Something's Coming On," Mountain's "Beside the Sea" and "On the Road Again," plus the Grateful Dead's "Turn On Your Love Light." The Who get the royal scrub-up with "My Generation" and "We're Not Gonna Take It," but the biggest thrill of the recovered archive footage is decidedly Creedence Clearwater Revival, who get three songs, "Born On the Bayou," "I Put a Spell On You" and "Keep On Chooglin'." Just to watch John Fogerty rip his six strings onstage and quickly jerk a harmonica into his mouth in the middle of a guitar solo is worth the whole endeavor, as is Johnny Winter's wailing "Mean Town Blues." The manic energy of Canned Heat is infectious as Henry Vestine and Alan Wilson take turns soloing and then work atop each other in prolonged jam sessions, while the late Bob Hite shakes his girth in-between vocal duties in appreciation of his band's efforts before slinging out grimy blues rails from his mouth iron. Larry Taylor on bass just might deserve a little credit for being one of the first onstage headbangers the way he writhes his instrument up and down with accompanied head crashes.

Though some of the new footage is slightly dark due to nighttime shooting, their restoration is terrific stuff, and one can only assume more is lurking about for future editions of this film. You do have to understand Michael Wadleigh (and Martin Scorsese as co-editor) originally had over seven hours of footage to work with, as he explains in the featurette section and moreover discusses his battles with a then-ailing Warner Brothers. For their repentance, Warners reaped many rewards by taking a shot on this film as a three-and-a-half hour odyssey of psychedelics, counterculture and social reform. The way Wadleigh and his camera folk were granted access to the front of the stage and upon in direct proximity is enviable, and bless them for being there. An entire generation might've lost a considerable part of its identity without this film to refer to.

So the journey was made, to hail Mom's expert advice, by many in 1969 to a pastoral spread in non-metropolis New York. So the journey was made by the musicians, some who lived to talk about it in present day in this redux edition. So the journey was made by the Baby Boomers, now watching their offspring raise their own brood. Somewhere in the distance, Crosby, Stills & Nash are humming the title track to this film. The scattered remains of Canned Heat are daydreaming about going up the country. Jimi is shattering God's ears with electric tribute and his followers remain stone free at-heart.
Forty years after the final debris which Michael Wadleigh poetically pauses upon at the end of his award-winning film has been swept clean, the grounds are marked and a new museum stands erect (also presented in a special feature on this edition) in testament to a rare moment in time where so many strangers came together without swords, pikes and maces. In the mud and the rain and the clogged toilets and very little elbow room, people still lived the moment in a three-day nirvana the likes of which will never be seen again…