Woodstock Diaries

Woodstock Diaries

***

Reviewed by: Steve Slater

If there is one event that epitomises the protests, peaceniks and headbands of the summer of love, it's Woodstock. Even now, 35 years on, the music festival evokes misty-eyed dreaming and yearnings for times past when the world seemed a safer place and you could say "Do you dig it ?" without inviting hilarity and ridicule from your fellow man. It has passed into our musical mythology and, indeed, if all those who claim to have been there actually were the attendance figures would number in the millions.

Woodstock Diaries does a pretty good job in capturing the spirit of the times. It supplements the footage of the performers by telling the story of the festival from the germ of an idea in the heads of organisers John Roberts, Joel Rosenman and Michael Lang (the festival was intended to publicise the wider venture of developing a recording studio in the Woodstock area), through the search for a suitable venue and the ongoing organisational and financial problems that beset them at every turn. In this aspect, the film accesses footage that most of us haven't seen and gives us some fascinating insights, particularly the catering arrangements and the unwittingly hilarious "hog farmers." Musically, however, it offers little that is new and if you've seen Mike Wadleigh's film Woodstock (1970), you'll find that nothing has changed. This is hardly surprising since access to the live sets has been available for years.

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The DVD is a long one, three hours in total. It justifies its title by separating each of the three days of the festival into a unique programme. There are stand-out performances from Richie Havens, The Who, Santana, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, welcome footage of Canned Heat, Johnny Winter, Joe Cocker and Paul Butterfield and the utterly forgettable Quill, Mountain, John Sebastian, Arlo Guthrie and Country Joe. Many performances are as fresh now as they were then and many others should be consigned to a drawer marked Never Open Except For Historic Research.

In hindsight, it's easy to be cynical about this era and its naive belief that love conquers all. If you are of such mind, you could watch this DVD and rip the p**s out of the Sixties. Or you could watch it and get a real feeling for what mattered to a generation who believed that authority had to be challenged, that the war in Vietnam was immoral (does this sound familiar?) and that only dissent would change this. It contrasts strongly with the apathy and conformity of the Eighties and Nineties and the decades of "me", rather than "us". What is more fascinating is that this gentle revolution was followed only eight years later by the individual, disenfranchised and aggressive rebellion of punk. You could not find a greater contrast.

If you love the music of the Sixties and want a taste of this most seminal event, then buy Woodstock Diaries and wallow in sheer nostalgia. For those who are not quite so sure, then buy it if only to experience two great moments - a couple taking their kit off for some action, but the guy putting his hat back on before coupling, and John Sebastian telling the audience about living in a tent and uttering the immortal line, "A cloth house is all you need if you've got love." Let this be a warning to all of you contemplating joining the Boy Scouts!

Reviewed on: 02 Oct 2004
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Documentary of the most famous rock concert ever.
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