Michael Wadleigh, director; Warner Home Video;
Widescreen 2 sides; Dolby Digital 5.1 English; 225 Minutes
“Like, man, watch out for the bad acid”…Woodstock has always been, to my mind, a monument to myth-making, and American myth-making at that. And here the myth has been expanded by 40 minutes of previously unseen footage. Again, you get your money’s worth in terms of time, though I think not necessarily musically. If All The President’s Men doesn’t seem dated, Woodstock does, for the simple reason that, for most of us, its reality has a remarkable air of unreality.
All that peace and love…gimme a break! Being a Canadian, at least everybody I know wasn’t there. And, frankly, after hearing all the music again, I’m glad I wasn’t. With a few exceptions, this is not a great music film, even from the start, as we hear Crosby Stills & Nash desperately trying to sing in tune. However, Richie Havens’ energized performances held my interest, as did The Who, Janis Joplin, and, of course, Jimi Hendrix. Many of these artists had their best work ahead of them, though some, for example, Joan Baez, were already pretty much spent musical forces.
We can all disagree about the music, and I’m sure we will, but what most viewers of this film will agree on is that it’s a remarkable chronicle of an historic event. The way the stages were set up, the overall concert preparations, and the successful and peaceful gathering of many thousands of young people are fascinating to watch as the weekend unfolds.
Contributing to this is the newly remixed discrete surround track that puts drug warnings to the rear and around, helicopters flying the performers in and out everywhere, even seeming to be above, a nice trick. The sound of the music is much better than I remember in the theatre and on laserdisc, much cleaner and more dynamic, and the sound of the immense crowd and the echoing of all the speakers across the immense space is well controlled, like the audience themselves. I’m sure we are hearing things much better than all but a very few who were actually there. Maybe that’s what makes me more critical of the musical performances.
The picture quality is very good, ranging from the extreme theatrical aspect ratio (2.36:1) to 1.85:1, and like most Warner DVDs, an anamorphic transfer that may require aspect ratio adjustment because of its optimzation for 16:9 TVs.
The picture quality varies, as did that of the original film, some of the early footage quite grainy, but this only adds to the atmosphere of authenticity. I think a lot of the preparation footage was done in 16mm and cropped for the wide screen. In general, though, I liked the look and sound of this film a lot.
Now, we know that everyone who ever smoked a joint or dropped a lid was at Woodstock, but for those of us who weren’t, Woodstock: The Directors’s Cut is a fun way to find out what went on, the added footage only improving the film’s atmosphere. Though 225 minutes is a lot for one sitting, the side break invites us to spread it over two, and it becomes almost two movies for the price of one.