With the peace and love of the 1960s a long distant memory along comes a reissue of the movie that defined the hippie era. Roger Ebert called the original film an “archeological study” of the Woodstock nation, a nation of alienated young people who were expressing themselves in a way America had never seen before. Almost 40 years since that hot August weekend the images in the film are still as vibrant and exciting. It’s a concert movie, but it’s about so much more than just the music.
Seen as an historical document the new collector’s edition of Woodstock on Blu Ray really brings the forty year old festival to vivid life. Shot with 16 cameras the original film provided an overview of the three wild days on Yasgar’s farm but the new package, with two hours of never before seen musical performances, enhanced sound and extras like interviews with Grace Slick and Martin Scorsese is the next best thing to having been there. In fact, perhaps it’s better than the real thing, what with the hippie audience’s dubious affiliation to hygiene and the lack of port-a-potties on site.
The movie takes us back to a time when popular music meant something; when people truly believed that a person with a guitar and an anti-establishment attitude could change the world. It may seem naïve now, but there is no denying the passion on display in many of these performances. Richie Havens’s Freedom leaps off the screen, and Country Joe and the Fish’s I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To’-Die Rag is a darkly humorous but powerful statement against Vietnam. Those songs may never have reached the top of the charts but it is hard to image anything by Britney, Lady GaGa or Rhianna having the same kind of cultural impact. The documentary is a time capsule from a era when music and musical messages mattered.
The re-mastered Woodstock Blu Ray offers a fascinating glimpse—it’s more than a glimpse actually, the new director’s cut is four hours long!—into a well documented time but while we may have seen many of these images before the power of the film really becomes apparent when you watch the movie from start to finish. It’s the sights and sounds of a world in the midst of a huge sea change and while its message of peace of love might sound corny in our cynical age, it heartening to go back to a time—even if it is just for four hours—when anything seemed possible. The best thing is you don’t even have to take the brown acid to have a good time.
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