Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music: Ultimate Collectors Edition
Directed By: Michael Wadleigh
Featuring: Richie Havens, Canned Heat, Joan Baez, The Who, Sha-Na-Na, Joe Cocker and the Grease Band, Country Joe and the Fish, Arlo Guthrie, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Ten Years After, Jefferson Airplane, John Sebastian, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix
Michael Wadleigh's documentary Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music immerses the viewer in the three day Music Festival that offered a defining moment for the American youth counter culture of the 1960s. Footage of many of the musical acts from the festival is intercut with segments documenting the goings on all around the grounds of Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, New York. Months of planning for the festival were eventually forced to be improvisationally altered when tens of thousands of attendees more than anticipated showed up at the site in the days leading up to the event. The farm more or less turned into an impromptu city of a hundreds of thousands of young Americans who somehow managed to get by for three days without any significant violence amid the chaos.
Wadleigh's documentary, included here in its expanded three hour and 44 minute director's cut, is a fascinating document of the time, created under hectic conditions where the filmmaking crew, out of necessity as much as aesthetic choice, were immersed in the Woodstock experience as much as the performers and attendees. Wadleigh wisely sent his crew armed with 16mm film cameras out among the masses to document the various activities that were going on when the music was not playing, and many of the images captured of Festival goers and locals playing in mud, eating, smoking, bathing, doing yoga, feeding the masses, cleaning toilets, making love, getting high and expressing unscripted viewpoints ranging from idyllic to paranoid have become as indelibly associated with the event as the performances themselves.
The musical line-up was something of a who's who of late 60s American rock and roll with British acts such as The Who, Ten Years After, and Joe Cocker mixed in as well. The line-up is heavily tilted towards blues and folk-based rock, which was especially fashionable at the time, although acts such as Sha Na Na and (my personal favorite performance) Sly & the Family Stone are on hand to provide the occasional change of pace. When choosing the performances to include in the film, Wadleigh made a deliberate effort to skew towards performances and lyrics that related to the event or even the particular point in the film into which the performance was inserted, resulting in a mix of hits and lesser known songs from various performers that contributed to the film's goal to communicate a shared experience of the event rather than a straight record of the musical performances. Along those lines, this was the first time I have ever sat through the director's cut from beginning to end, and by the end, I felt both immersed and exhausted. Jimi Hendrix's now legendary feedback soaked rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" (which today plays with a montage of other renditions at the Smithsonian Museum of American History's Star Spangled Banner Exhibit next to the actual flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen it) offers up a perfectly executed climax to the proceedings. It is a fittingly symbolic representation of the perceived changing of the generational guard that permeated the event.
Wadleigh and his team of cinematographers and editors which included Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker (who, I understand, have worked together a few times since) assembled their miles of 16mm footage into a Panavision and 70mm widescreen spectacle through strategic creative use of split screen opticals. This sophisticated editorial style made split screen look a lot hipper than it did in Pillow Talk and influenced numerous future films, including some rampant psychedelic mirrored split-screen abuse in Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same a few years later. The 70mm blow-up release allowed them to take full advantage of multi-channel stereo sound for the film's "road show" engagements.
The film, which is essentially one long optical blow-up of footage shot on 16mm film and arranged across a Panavision frame at various aspect ratios depending on matting and split screen configurations, looks as impressive as its source will allow. Since most of the footage was shot with available light, some of the darker scenes will always look a bit murky. That being said, this presentation is substantially improved compared to the previous DVD and video releases, considerable clean-up appears to have been done to the image without wreaking havoc on the film's grain structure, and I cannot imagine it ever looking much better than this. The footage is all contained within a 2.35:1 aspect ratio area of the 16:9 frame, meaning that the producers refrained from repurposing/zooming the footage matted on all sides when possible. This was the right choice as the split screen effects work better when they have the same relative size increase as they had in the original theatrical presentation.
The 5.1 sound mix is available via both a Dolby Digital True HD 5.1 and a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The TrueHD track is simply outstanding with amazing fidelity during the music numbers. The non-musical sequences are a bit more hit and miss, likely due to the production conditions, but are still generally very good. The 5.1 mix of the musical performances makes creative use of the surrounds, only occasionally straying into gimmickry such as when an annoying ping-pong stereo panning is applied to the chord build vocals during Sha Na Na's performance. The conventional Dolby Digital 5.1 track also sounded very good, although critical listening A/B comparisons will reveal mildly but noticeably reduced fidelity compared to the lossless TrueHD track.
The first disc includes access to BD Live features which I was not able to evaluate on my musty dusty old-fashioned Blu-Ray player from a year and a half ago. Features are reported to be: Media Center, Live Community Screenings, and "My WB Commentary" which allows for user-generated webcam picture-in-picture video commentaries.
The majority of the special features appear on disc two and are arranged under various headings on the BD menus.
Under the heading of Behind the Story is the featurette: The Museum at Bethel Woods: The Story of the 60s and Woodstock. This featurette fills the whole 16:9 frame comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, and runs four minutes and 33 seconds. Hosted by Living Color guitarist Vernon Reid, he provides some background on the museum located near the site of the Woodstock Festival, and various guests of the museum and attendees of the Festival offer on camera comments as well. It feels like a promo made to attract tourists to the museum, but does offer a few interesting glimpses of what is to be found there.
Under the heading of Additional Footage are the following three features, all presented in windowboxed 4:3 high definition video with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound:
- Customize Your Own Woodstock Playlist allows the viewer to watch 18 additional musical performances not included in the director's cut of the feature film. Menu navigation options allow you to select songs in any order creating a playlist on the right side of the screen and then play them back in the order selected. Viewers not wishing to go to that much effort may also simply choose the included "Play All" feature to view all of the performances at once. The selectable songs are as follows:
- Joan Baez - One Day at a Time (4:17)
- Country Joe McDonald - Flying High (2:20)
- Santana - Evil Ways (3:56)
- Canned Heat - I'm Her Man (5:33)
- Canned Heat - On the Road Again (10:49)
- Mountain - Beside the Sea (3:39)
- Mountain - Southbound Train (6:18)
- Grateful Dead - Turn on Your Love Light (37:44)
- Creedence Clearwater Revival - Born on the Bayou (5:12)
- Creedence Clearwater Revival - I Put a Spell on You (4:10)
- Creedence Clearwater Revival - Keep on Chooglin' (9:25)
- The Who - We're Not Gonna Take It (9:07)
- The Who - My Generation (7:36)
- Jefferson Airplane - 3/5 of a Mile in Ten Seconds (5:40)
- Joe Cocker - Something's Coming On (4:14)
- Johnny Winter - Mean Town Blues (10:52)
- Paul Butterfield Blues Band - Morning Sunrise (8:26)
- Sha Na Na - Teen Angel (3:21)
- Opening of Festival (3:20) Is a montage of various shots of the grounds, musical acts, crew, and organizers orior to the festival cut to audio of radio promos, news reports, and stage announcements.
- Closing of Festival (1:20) begins with post-show stage announcements encouraging people to help clean up followed by a montage of various Festival attendees filing out.
- The Camera (3:52): The Éclair NPR was the best camera around in 1969; Michael Wadleigh talks about why the Éclair was the right camera for this film.
- 365,000 Feet of Film (2:03): The stories of how Dale Bell and his crew begged, borrowed and stole just enough film to document the festival.
- Shooting Stage (2:45): Those up-close shots of performers didn’t just happen by magic; see how Wadleigh and his cameramen got those up close and personal shots of the performers.
- The Line Up(2:38): The Who, Sha Na Na, Santana, Ten Years After, Jefferson Airplane and many more; how did all these bands get on the roster for the festival of a life time?
- Holding the Negative Hostage (1:51): What does a filmmaker do when Technicolor is sending a copy of your negative to the studio without your permission? Well, you lock up the film and hire a lawyer.
- Announcements(3:48): “Don’t take the brown acid” or maybe it was green. We’ll hear about all the strange and informative announcements heard during those three days of peace, love and enlightenment.
- Suits VS. Longhairs (5:58): The clash between the hippie filmmakers and the Warner executives who didn’t understand what this film meant.
- Documenting History (3:46): Find out from Michael Wadleigh and Dale Bell, along with filmmakers, where the idea of capturing this event on film came from.
- Woodstock: The Journey (2:34): Some came by car, others by truck, a few came by helicopter but most walked to the most famous festival in history.
- Pre-Production (3:06): We’ll find out how this production got off the ground and meet the members of the crew that made it happen.
- Production (3:06): How many cameras were used? How much film did they go through? Did anyone sleep? All these questions and more will be answered here as we explore how Woodstock was captured on film.
- Synchronization (1:32): How do you sync all this material with out any slates? No slate, no problem. With the help of an upright Moviola, Dale Bell, Michael Wadleigh, Eddie Kramer and the editors were able to make magic from miles of tape and film.
- The Crowd (1:56): Half a million people of all colors, shapes, sizes, ages and sexes attended this historical event. We’ll hear stories about the number of people and how they all coexisted for three days with only minor incidents.
- No Rain! No Rain! (3:18): Everyone talks about the rain at this event as if it were a character. It was. It set the tone, provided moments of danger, fun and disgust.
- 3 Days in a Truck (2:05): Eddie Kramer heard some of the most amazing performances as he recorded this historic event. But during those three days of peace, love and music, he didn’t get to see any performances because he was stuck in a truck.
- Woodstock Effect (3:26): The film, the event and the album catapulted many musicians into the limelight, changing their lives forever.
- Living up to Idealism (5:06)(Note: There was no press release copy describing this and subsequent featurettes, so in my own words…): Various participants discuss the idyllic notions of the festival and how they look from a modern perspective
- World’s Longest Optical (2:37): Filmmakers discuss how the film was assembled with the help of a team of experienced editors from 16mm sources for eventual presentation in 70mm with multi-track surround sound. Discussion includes how direction was communicated on the myriad split screens effects.
- Critical Acclaim (6:43): Discussed the positive reception of the film from several key film critics as well as audiences.
- Courtesy of The Museum at Bethel Woods: The Hog Farm Commune(3:19): Catches up with several members of the Hog Farm Commune including Wavy Gravy and Merry Prankster Ken Babbs, to discuss their Woodstock experience of feeding and otherwise administering aid to the Festival attendees.
- Hugh Hefner and Michael Wadleigh: The Woodstock Connection (9:31): Begins with introductory comments from Hefner setting up some clips of an interview he conducted with Wadleigh on the Playboy After Dark television program in 1970. Footage of this archival interview is then intercut with additional contemporary comments from Hefner.
Note: The Hog Farm Commune and The Woodstock Connection featurettes appear to have been produced separately from the preceding nineteen featurettes. They both are encoded on disc as high definition video, but appear to be standard definition up-conversions. The Woodstock Connection featurette is 4:3 windowboxed for the modern Hefner interview segments even though they seem to have come from the same set of interviews that produced Hefner's comments in the preceding featurettes which appeared in high-definition filling the 16:9 frame. That being said, the Playboy After Dark archival interview footage looks outstanding although sometimes a bit odd since various people in the background of certain shots are obscured by Court TV-like blobs of smeared focus.
Interview participants in these 21 featurettes include: Wadleigh, Associate Producer Dale Bell, Festival Producer Michael Lang, Sha Na Na members Jacko Marcellino & Donny York, Santana musician Michael Carabello, Ten Years After members Ric Lee, Chick Churchill, & Leo Lyons, Lighting/Production Manager, & MC Chip Monck, Assistant to the Head of Operations Penny Stallings, Former WB VP Fred Weintraub, Jefferson Airplane Members Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, & Grace Slick, Editors/Assistant Directors Martin Scorsese & Thelma Schoonmaker, Johnny Winter, Assistant to the Head of Security and Community Affairs Lee Blumer, Hefner, Location Music Engineer Eddie Kramer, and Hog Farm Commune Members Lisa Low, Wavy Gravy, Ken Babbs, Jean Nichols, & Lisa Sipp.
Deluxe packaging and physical extras are the hallmarks of Warner's "Ultimate Collectors Editions". In this case, the packaging is adapted from 1960s fashions with a fringed suede covered outer gift box complete with iron on dove and guitar Woodstock logo patch. Inside the sturdy gift box is a more conventional thin cardboard box with the following contents:
- Standard 2-disc Blu-Ray case with both discs and a double-sided paper insert detailing the chapters of the main program on one side and the special features listing on the other.
- A lenticular motion card in a lucite case with three separate images of the festival depending on one's viewing angle.
- An envelope containing:
- A replica Festival ticket
- Replicas of five handwritten messages posted on scrap paper (in one case a scrap paper plate) at the Festival's information center
- A two-sided fact sheet giving a "by-the-numbers" accounting of several facts about the Festival.
- An eight-page promotional booklet with ads for the Museum at Bethel Woods as well as several pieces of Woodstock-themed merchandise including books, soundtracks CDs, commemorative Fender guitars, and a line of shoes from Carlos Santana.
Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music remains an indelible document of one of the defining events of the American youth movement of the 1960s. Warner's Ultimate Collectors Edition Blu-Ray disc pulls out nearly all the stops in presenting the film in its definitive form on high definition home video. Audio and video are substantially upgraded from previous releases and appear to squeeze every ounce of resolution out of the film's original 16mm and 8-track stereo source elements. Extras are highlighted by a generous number of bonus performances from the Festival presented in high definition video and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound as well as over 75 minutes worth of featurettes offering an in-depth behind the scenes look into both the festival and the film. The Ultimate Collectors Edition packaging is very cool (or is that groovy) and entertainingly echoes the 60s vibe of the film. Physical extras are mildly interesting, but I will probably not find myself revisiting them too often.