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  • Gareth Crook

Woodstock (1970) - 6/10

Updated: Dec 23, 2021

This might encapsulate everything I hate about America. Having watched Summer of Soul recently, the other festival staged in 1969 but that history has forgotten. I thought it’d be interesting to revisit Woodstock. Summer of Soul is a fantastic, well rounded and truthful account of events in and surrounding Harlem that Summer. Woodstock though I now realise is bullshit. Questionable whether worthy to be classed a documentary. It’s an opinion at best. A lie at worst. A lie that our rose tinted view of 60s hippy America is built upon. There’s little mention of the violence, including deaths. No mention of the near mass electrocution of thousands due to poor wiring and nonexistent planning. No mention that it wasn’t hippys, the enlightened youth that saved the day. It was the establishment, the man, the squares. Decent squares just looking out for a load of kids in a field way out of their depth. The storm that struck on day two is shown, but not to the level of potential disaster. Instead we get a chant of “No rain no rain” from the stage. Hysterical. The mud bath that follows could rival Glastonbury at its most biblical and with the music temporarily halted, there’s proof that a large group of bored people will always act like idiots. The music though. Well that’s killer (mostly) and in the 4 hour directors cut I watched, there’s a lot of it. Crosby, Stills & Nash soundtracking a montage of the site and stage being built. Hendrix doing the same for the festival’s close, although half the crowd had already buggered off and missed it. Maybe the makers felt sorry for Jimi, he gets more screen time than anyone else by a long way (albeit intercut with shots of the now trashed site). The footage is nice, candid, loose and free. The split screen works well too, but it’s always the music that drives it. It feels carefully crafted, the music setting the tone, the shots almost wallpaper unless they’re of the stage and that’s the hook for most of it, mixing the stage with the audience. There is a wealth of archive, including helicopter shots and interviews. It’s all happy, it’s all good man and the shots from and on the stage are fantastic. There’s also plenty of lingering on naked women. That can be dismissed with a ‘it was the time’ if you’re so inclined, but let’s just say it dates pretty badly. The Who, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone (interestingly also performed at The Harlem Cultural Festival) and of course Joe Cocker in tie-dye playing air guitar and letting loose are all a bit mind blowing, but if you don’t like folky rock n roll, you’re a bit screwed. It’s a one trick pony, aside maybe Sly and unless you like Sha Na Na. No one does though surely. The only black faces are a few on stage, the audience is a sea of skinny white kids, clearly the era before America got fat. Like I said at the top though, it’s telling it’s own idyllic version of events. All countries have their issues, some much more than others of course, but it fucks me off that America perpetuates this ad campaign of being better than everyone else, it’s nonsense. Utter bollocks. Undoubtably capable of great things from some great people, but mostly outnumbered by dumbfuck deranged idiots. Don’t believe the lies. The reason Woodstock is held up as a beacon of hippy success is because someone more organised made a film. It’s a good film, telling it’s own truth, but not the whole truth.



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