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Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music - The Director's Cut, 40th Anniversary Revisited Blu-ray Review

Woodstock (1970) movie poster Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music

Theatrical Release: March 26, 1970 (Director's Cut Release: 1994) / Running Time: 224 Minutes (Director's Cut) / Rating: R

Director: Michael Wadleigh / Producer: Bob Maurice

Special Acts: Joan Baez, Canned Heat, Joe Cocker & The Grease Band, Country Joe McDonald & Country Joe & The Fish, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Santana, John Sebastian, Sha Na Na, Sly & The Family Stone, Ten Years After, The Who

Songs: "Long Time Gone", "Going Up the Country", "Wooden Ships", "Handsome Johnny", "Freedom", "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child", "A Change Is Gonna Come", "Joe Hill", "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", "We're Not Gonna Take It", "See Me, Feel Me", "Summertime Blues", "At the Hop", "With a Little Help from My Friends", "Crowd Rain Chant", "Rock and Soul Music", "Coming Into Los Angeles", "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes", "I'm Going Home", "Saturday Afternoon", "Won't You Try", "Uncle Sam's Blues", "Younger Generation", "The Fish Cheer/Feel-Like-I'm-Fixing-to-Die-Rag", "Soul Sacrifice", "Dance to the Music", "I Want to Take You Higher", "Work Me, Lord", "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)", "The Star-Spangled Banner", "Purple Haze", "Woodstock Improvisation", "Villanova Junction", "Woodstock", "Find the Cost of Freedom"

Buy Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music from Amazon.com:
3-Disc 40th Anniversary Revisited Blu-ray • 2-Disc Blu-ray • Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray • 40th-Anniversary DVD • Instant Video

There seems to be as little question of Woodstock being the most significant concert in history as there is about Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music being the definitive documentary about it.

In mid-August 1969, half a million people, most of them in their twenties and late teens, gathered together in Bethel, New York to attend a concert.
They would make and become part of history in what was declared the largest group of people ever assembled in one place by the man whose dairy farm hosted the event.

One of those in attendance was Michael Wadleigh, a 29-year-old cinematographer who would have multiple cameras running throughout much of the four-day event. His film would reach theaters in March 1970 and one year later would win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. In 1994, in tandem with the concert's 25th anniversary, Wadleigh revisited his epic in an expanded new director's cut now running over forty minutes longer and close to four hours overall.

This director's cut has since been treated as the definitive edit of the definitive Woodstock film. It alone came to DVD in 1997 and made it to Blu-ray in 2009. Now, in the summer that marks 45 years passed since the concert, Warner Home Video releases the new 40th Anniversary Revisited, a Blu-ray set that adds one new disc to the two authored in 2009.

This young man's story is one of a half-million that could be supplied by those in attendance at the original 1969 Woodstock concert. Joe Cocker performs "The Wonder Years" theme song "With a Little Help from My Friends" with a little help from male back-up singers.

The Director's Cut opens with a blue MPAA R rating card going up in flames to the sound of Jimi Hendrix's guitar-shredding version of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Sensibly, Wadleigh starts at the beginning and documents the proceedings in a mostly chronological fashion (with a few cheats). There is a casual interview of Mike Lang, the young, unassuming non-musician who has spent nine months organizing the event and securing the $2 million financing needed to put it on.

Crowds bigger than anyone expected flock in and are treated to Canned Heat, Richie Havens, and Joan Baez, who proudly discusses her draft-dodging husband in jail before singing two folk songs. Friday night concludes with The Who performing in the dark, lead singer Roger Daltrey providing GIF-ready gesticulations and Pete Townsend signifying the night's end on a high note by throwing his guitar into the revved-up audience.

Day 2 begins with a dose of nostalgia, as Sha Na Na covers the late-'50s hit "At the Hop", looking not so hip in their gold lamι suits. Things pick up with Joe Cocker, gyrating in tie-dye, performing "With a Little Help from My Friends." Preserved in full, it's a highlight even with male backup singers.

Then, the rain comes. Organizers and concertgoers chant "no rain", but their positive thinking is no match for the elements, as high winds call for repeated prompts for people to descend from towers, which it's feared will fall. The young people take the inclement weather in stride. Many shed their clothes, making a fashion statement or just enjoying nature's shower. Others go sliding in the suddenly prevalent mud. A number of people even start making their own music. A helicopter drops flowers and dry clothes.

Santana's "Soul Sacrifice" guitar playing is sandwiched between a mirrored young woman in ecstasy at the sight.

After the unforeseen rain passes, the music resumes with Country Joe and the Fish's self-proclaimed "rocket soul music." In only their second gig, Crosby, Stills & Nash sing "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" to enthusiastic approval. Saturday draws to a close with a full long performance of "I'm Going Home" by Ten Years After.

Following a momentary intermission (whose announcement drops an expletive into the word), we start Day 3 with some "morning maniac music" courtesy of Jefferson Airplane. John Sebastian's "Younger Generation" is set to a montage of the surprisingly numerous babies, infants and toddlers in attendance. Now flying solo, Country Joe leads the crowd in his Vietnam protest song. Santana captivates the audience with their long, instrumental "Soul Sacrifice", with solos by the eponymous guitarist and drummer Michael Shrieve (who looks all of 13) delighting. Then, Sly & the Family Stone sing "I Want to Take You Higher" and get the crowd to sing along with them while holding up peace signs, followed by a performance by Janis Joplin.

The short, unscheduled fourth and final day begins with the serving of a free warm breakfast. After the aforementioned speech from farm owner Max Yasgur, we get Hendrix putting his own electrifying stamp on Francis Scott Key, from which he then seamlessly transitions to "Purple Haze", a film-closing song that partly plays over images of the concert's messy aftermath and clean-up efforts.

This teenaged girl has stayed up for 30 straight hours without drugs, but hasn't seen her sister in a while. Jimi Hendrix brings Woodstock into a fourth day of peace and music with his concert-closing Monday morning performance to a significantly diminished crowd.

Woodstock would have been plenty significant simply by presenting these select performances, condensing three and a half days of musical excitement into a little over three and a half hours. But Wadleigh's film does more than that by somehow conveying the full breadth of this experience and,
as a result, capturing an indelible snapshot of the Baby Boom generation.

Interviews with the young concertgoers and older residents and vacationers of the rural town are every bit as powerful and interesting as the performances themselves. There's the crabby old homeowner who's bummed that his fields have all been cut up. There's a hippie girl who has been up for 30 straight hours on blind faith but missing her sister since Richie Havens' set. A young couple explains how they're not really a couple and basically spew their generation's manifesto.

There are announcements made over loudspeakers about surgeries, meeting places, a marriage proposal, and the birth of a child. Long before cell phones, people use pay phones to call home, some of them cheating the phone company with deliberately unaccepted collect calls. The concert, whose three-day tickets sold for $18 in advance and were to cost $24 on site, evolves into a free show with fences knocked over. The grounds are declared a disaster area. The US Army lends a medical team, with 45 doctors volunteering to treat people. Drugs abound, and an announcement explains that the acid going around isn't poisoned, it's just bad. Those who feel like experimenting are encouraged to only take half a tab.

Despite the absurd attendance numbers, almost incomprehensible even in overhead helicopter shots, the lack of easy car access and lodging, a populace that seems to have and use more hallucinogens than dollars, and the patch of severe weather, the concert proceeds without a real hitch. The audience is repeatedly praised for being peaceful and pleasant, observations made with more than a little surprise. It's a commune, a paradise, a church where the altar is occupied by rock and roll icons, some of them not long for this world and some of them still admired to this day as some of the 20th century's brightest musical talents.

The film makes innovative use of split screens and shifting aspect ratios. Footage is presented in a variety of square and rectangle dimensions within a 2.40:1 frame. Much of it is pillarboxed. The split screens, typically dividing the wide frame in half, but occasionally opting for thirds (as in Crosby, Stills & Nash's performance), sometimes offer multiple angles of the same performance (occasionally mining mirror images for kaleidoscopic effect) but often display visuals that are not necessarily complementary or even related. The design not only plays with the medium as few films have, it also finds a way to cram as much of this experience as possible into a single film.

Woodstock's split screen enables skinny dipping youths to share the screen with the old folk who don't understand or approve of their ways. The screen is divided into thirds for much of Crosby, Stills & Nash's performance of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."

Sure, some important acts aren't seen at all, like The Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Grateful Dead. But it's tough to lament any absence as worth extending this movie past its already colossal and rarely exceeded runtime. Woodstock is a supreme achievement in editing, a task handled in part by a young Martin Scorsese, green save for some short films and one student feature shot by Wadleigh, and Scorsese's longtime (and still) editor Thelma Schoonmaker. Scorsese is also credited as assistant director on an experience that must have helped advance his writing and directing career in addition to guiding him on his own distinguished rock concert documentary, 1978's The Last Waltz.

Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music - The Director's Cut, 40th Anniversary Revisited Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (with Varying Windowboxed and Pillarboxed Ratios)
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English SDH, French, German, Italian, Italian SDH, Castilian, Dutch, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Swedish, Thai; Not Closed Captioned; Some Extras Subtitled in English SDH
Release Date: July 29, 2014 (Discs 1 and 2 previously released June 9, 2009)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.96 / Three single-sided discs (2 BD-50s & 1 BD-25)
Blue Keepcase in Cardboard Box with Envelope of Extras
Still available as 2-Disc 40th-Anniversary Edition Blu-ray ($19.98 SRP; August 3, 2010), 2-Disc 40th-Anniversary Edition DVD ($24.98 SRP; June 9, 2009) and on Instant Video
Previously released as 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray (June 9, 2009), 4-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition DVD in Fringe Box (June 9, 2009) and Tambourine (March 9, 2010), and 1 Double-Sided DVD (March 26, 1997)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Unlike DVD, the director's cut of Woodstock fits onto a single disc in its entirety on Blu-ray. Though the film's aspect ratio is succinctly pegged at 2.40:1, I've already explained above how it uses a variety of aspect ratios within that wide frame. It often assumes nonstandard dimensions, sometimes as wide as 3:1. Some may lament the fact that much of the film plays surrounded by black bars on all four sides even on a widescreen television. But it's an approximation of theatrical exhibition and therefore preferable to scenes in 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 growing taller than their wider company.

The recycled 2009 transfer is pretty good, but cannot completely hide the film's age. Colors are a bit faded as per the camera technology of the time. In addition, high definition makes it obvious that some minor imperfections persist on the picture like hairs, spots, and specks. The film likely would benefit from a meticulous Criterion-style restoration. But this is plenty good enough for now and pretty terrific considering the age and the presumably modest filming conditions.

While the picture is good, the sound is definitely better. The default Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is crisper and fuller than what the picture quality makes you anticipate. The music brims with life, engulfs you and even moves around the soundfield where appropriate (most noticeably on Sha Na Na's performance). Unfortunately, though high quality, the interview audio is mixed low, sometimes very low, requiring you to keep reaching for your remote to adjust volume levels. Also disappointing: the eighteen subtitle streams included do not translate song lyrics, a perplexing legal measure that does diminish their worth (while adding value to the bouncing ball sing-along lyrics attached to Country Joe's anti-Vietnam song).

Unseen in the film itself, the Grateful Dead do have their 38-minute performance of "Turn on Your Love Light" preserved on Disc 2. A red-lit Roger Daltrey sings The Who's "We're Not Gonna Take It" in full as part of Disc 2's epic Untold Stories section.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Bonus features, all of them kindly encoded in HD, are relegated to Discs 2 and 3, the former recycled from the movie's original Blu-ray release and the latter a new addition exclusive to this release.

Disc 2's extras begin with a Behind the Story section consisting only of "The Museum at Bethel Woods: The Story of the Sixties and Woodstock" (4:34), a short promotion for the museum that now stands where the concert was held. It gives us glimpses of what's inside and glowing testimonials from those who have visited the museum and/or lived Woodstock.

Next comes Woodstock: Untold Stories, a section that holds eighteen full song performances unused or only briefly excerpted in the film. What's nifty is that you're given the ability to create a playlist that runs any or all of the eighteen songs in the order you select.
While they're not treated to the split screens and sophisticated editing of the film itself, this 1.33:1 content is presented in full 1080p and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. It's surely a dream come true from fans of the festival and of the bands or songs omitted from the film (e.g. Deadheads). Completists will appreciate that there's also the choice to view them all.

The unused performances are as follow: Joan Baez's "One Day at a Time" (4:17), Country Joe McDonald's "Flying High" (2:21), Santana's "Evil Ways" (3:56), Canned Heat's "I'm Her Man" (5:33) and "On the Road Again" (10:49), Mountain's "Beside the Sea" (3:39) and "Southbound Train" (6:18), Grateful Dead's "Turn on Your Love Light" (37:44), Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Born on the Bayou" (5:12), "I Put a Spell on You" (4:10), and "Keep on Chooglin'" (9:25), The Who's "We're Not Gonna Take It" (9:07) and "My Generation" (7:36), Jefferson Airplane's "3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds" (5:40), Joe Cocker's "Something's Coming On" (4:14), Johnny Winter's "Mean Town Blues" (10:52), Paul Butterfield's "Morning Sunrise" (8:26), and Sha Na Na's "Teen Angel" (3:21). Altogether, these performances add up to a staggering 2 hours, 22 minutes and 40 seconds of content.

A boy tries to hitch a ride back to Boston in "Closing of Festival." Director Michael Wadleigh shows off the cumbersome camera he used to shoot Woodstock in a "Woodstock: From Festival to Feature" short.

Also found here are clips on the "Opening of Festival" (3:21) and "Closing of Festival" (1:20). The former shares radio reports and shots of traffic jams, while the latter shows departing guests being wished well and encouraged to throw out trash on their way out.

Disc 2 closes with "Woodstock: From Festival to Feature" (1:16:42), which can be viewed as a feature-length documentary about the making of the documentary but is more accurately described as 21 featurettes (each opens with a title and closes with a copyright notice). These 2009 sequences draw from interviews of associate producer Dale Bell, director Michael Wadleigh, the festival's executive producer Michael Lang, editor/AD Martin Scorsese, members of Sha Na Na, Santana, Ten Years After, and Jefferson Airplane, and assorted crew members. They discuss the following topics: the camera, film stock and techniques used, the impressive musical talent assembled, the drugs in circulation, screening the film, lighting, synchronizing the sound to picture in editing, the rain, mixing the sound, the life-changing nature of the event, and the film's impact. The final two pieces come from other places: one on "The Hog Farm Commune" hails from The Museum at Bethel Woods, and the second excerpts Hugh Hefner's 1970 "Playboy After Dark" interview of Wadleigh and provides Hefner's 2009 reflections on the promotion.

The new bonus disc adds two new song performances by Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane to the one in the film and the untold one on Disc 2. Santana's Michael Carabello not only looks back at the concert film in "From Festival to Feature" shorts, he even contributes musically to the soundtrack restoration process.

Disc 3's new-to-Blu-ray bonus material resembles Disc 2 in composition.

First up we get Untold Stories -- Revisited, a section serving up sixteen further song performances from the concert.
Lacking the playlist creation feature, this simply lets you play one or play all. The preserved performances are: Melanie's "Mr. Tambourine Man/Tuning My Guitar" (6:18), Joan Baez's "Oh Happy Day" (3:59) and "I Shall Be Released" (3:38), Santana's "Persuasion" (2:55), Canned Heat's "Woodstock Boogie" (8:38), Grateful Dead's "Mama Tried" (2:53), The Who's "Sparks" (5:25) and "Pinball Wizard" (2:51), Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers" (2:57) and "Come Back Baby" (5:56), Country Joe and the Fish's "Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine" (4:23), Crosby, Stills & Nash's "Helplessly Hoping" (2:27) and "Marrakesh Express" (2:55), The Paul Butterfield Blues Band's "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" (8:53), Sha Na Na's "Book of Love" (2:07), and Jimi Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic" (7:09). Once again, the content is presented in 1.33:1 HD and Dolby Digital 5.1. Needless to say, these previously unreleased performances (and in some cases, unseen acts), which add up to 1 hour, 13 minutes, and 24 seconds, warrant some excitement.

Eight short featurettes but no "Play All" option comprise the 32-minute Woodstock: From Festival to Feature -- Revisited section. They appear to have been made back in 2008-09 (and possibly kept exclusive to a retailer) but haven't been widely released until now.

"Restoration" (3:16) shows us the lengths to which they went to make the film sound its best: having musicians recording new instrument work for Santana's "Evil Ways." "Technical Difficulties" (3:37) reveals how the rotating stage and power were endangered by human weight and the rain, respectively. "Woodstock: A Turning Point" (3:03) address the concert's massive turnout. "Food, Lodging & First Aid" (4:18) recalls the ways in which these basic needs were modestly met.

"Reflections on an Era" (2:45) draws comparisons between Woodstock and the Moon Landing from a month earlier. "Woodstock: A Farm in Bethel" (5:27) explains how the rural New York location was chosen to host the biggest concert to date. "A Cinematic Revolution" (4:45) covers the film's cost-effective split screen process. "The Woodstock Generation" (4:49) considers the generation taking their name from the concert and what they represented as America's youth.

Finally, "The Museum at Bethel Woods" (2:43) is an updated, Duke Devlin-hosted HD promo for the museum that seems to be trying too hard.

A look at the iron-on patch, article reprints, and ticket replicas included alongside the three Blu-ray Discs of Woodstock: 40th Anniversary Revisited.

The film disc doesn't have much of a menu, starting playback immediately, though it and the other discs do make use of a breathtaking shot of the concert crowd. This is one movie where one certainly wishes to have gotten chapter titles instead of just images. Perhaps we don't need a printed list like the ones Warner used to supply, but accessing a favorite performance or scene is something of a challenge on such an epic movie. A BD-Live section, linked to from Disc 1, took several minutes to load and then asked me to register an account,
which was more than I was willing to do to satisfy my curiosity over the current state of the once highly-touted, now rarely-used Blu-ray technology. Though they don't let you set bookmarks, the discs do resume unfinished playback like DVDs.

Packaging is another area where this release stands out in comparison to others. The three full-color discs (unchanged from the past Blu-ray release, the first two even retain the 2009 copyright date on their labels) are held in a standard blue keepcase, joined by an insert promoting some current attractions on the concert site of Bethel, New York. The keepcase slips into a thick embossed cardboard box alongside a case-sized cardboard envelope bearing a design similar to the cover. Inside the latter are a number of nifty tangible extras, including a black, white, yellow, red and orange Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music iron-on patch, double-sided replicas of yellow concert tickets for all three days (different from the Ultimate Collector's Edition's three-day ticket strip), reproductions of five interesting Associated Press newspaper articles focusing on unexpected crowds, three deaths, dozens of drug arrests, but general peacefulness and lack of incidents. Finally, a 10-page staple-bound booklet recreates in full color, LIFE magazine's pictorial and story on the concert.

Woodstock left a little bit of a muddy mess on the Bethel, New York farm where history was made.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music takes a little while to get you hooked and to reveal its tremendous impact. Your initial impression may be that it is more an experience than a film and basically requiring an all-day commitment to watch, that may be accurate. But it is also a must-see achievement in film, capturing with no shortage of style or substance something bigger than music: a cultural event that defined a generation. Even if you don't give this great documentary your full attention, you stand to gain much by simply letting it take over your television and show you the definitive first-hand account of his once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Warner's new Blu-ray edition could use a clearer name (like 45th Anniversary Edition) to distinguish it from the film's many past releases. But it's an outstanding set that is loaded with value and priced pretty reasonably. It's a little bit of a bummer not to get the original theatrical cut anywhere on a set of three discs, but it's clear by now that Wadleigh prefers this longer cut and has no desire to go back to the 3-hour cut that won the Oscar. While the solid new disc and add-on items may not be enough to get owners of one of the film's Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-rays to rebuy the film here, it's an highly recommended first-time purchase, with Blu-ray offering unmistakable gains over standard definition presentations. Any Blu-ray collector fond of the 1960s or rock music ought to make a spot for this stellar collection.

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Reviewed July 29, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1970 Warner Bros. Pictures and 2014 Warner Home Video. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.