Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music is the Oscar-winning documentary about one of the most important moments for the 1960s counterculture.
In Woodstock, filmmaker Michael Wadleigh directs the ultimate concert documentary. Some other films might come close but will probably end up falling short. All one needs to do here is take a look at the history. Almost a half million descended onto a dairy farm for an event billed as “An Aquarian Experience: 3 Days of Peace and Music.” Little did anybody know that this weekend would become a significant moment in shaping the American counterculture.
The film wisely mixes in both concert footage with crowd footage. We also have the added benefit of interviews with some of the many thousands in attendance. While I was not alive during Woodstock or even a mere thought at the time, Woodstock is a film that everybody ought to watch at least once in their life. I say this because it’s such an important moment in our history. Moreover, the film alone is certainly an achievement in its own right. How many other films were making use of a split-screen in capturing the moment? Not many–and this is one of the reasons’s why Wadleigh’s documentary is so groundbreaking.
Many of the biggest musicians in the country were on hand for the weekend. Jimi Hendrix is certainly among the most notable headliners–both him and fellow performer Janis Joplin would join the 27 club just over a year later. Unfortunately, there were those who certainly made a bad decision in passing. While Joni Mitchell didn’t attend, she wrote the “Woodstock” lyrics sung by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young during the end credits.
There’s a lot that goes into filming a musical event. You have to cut to the right camera at the right time or you’ll find yourself losing the moment. This documentary doesn’t become what it is without the great editing team behind it. Thelma Schoonmaker, a longtime editor for Martin Scorsese, leads an editing team that also includes Scorsese, Wadleigh Stan Warnow, Yeu-Bun Yee, and Jere Higgins. The end result is a beautiful film that captures not only the music but the spirit of Woodstock.
While the film is great, what is disappointing are the performances we don’t get to see. The director’s cut runs shy of four hours with 40 minutes of new footage. The 40th anniversary edition in 2009 includes 143 minutes in new footage from 18 performances. If this isn’t enough, there would be even more footage added in 2014’s Revisited edition with 73 minutes of new footage from 16 performances. This edition certainly makes for the ultimate Woodstock edition until a new one comes around.
If there’s a better concert documentary out there than Woodstock, I haven’t seen it.
DIRECTOR: Michael Wadleigh
FEATURING: Joan Baez; Canned Heat; Joe Crocker; Country Joe McDonald; Country Joe & The Fish; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Arlo Guthrie; Richie Havens; Janis Joplin; Jefferson Airplane; Jimi Hendrix; Santana; John Sebastian; Sha-Na-Na; Ten Years After; The Who