Top positive review
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Beautiful and dirty
on June 26, 2004
Although I was a teenager soon after this concert, I somehow never got around to seeing the moving until this year. (I guess concert films don't get screened frequently on terrestrial TV.) So over the years I've become more familiar with the triple LP of the movie and, of course, the many posters the rock stars in heroic poses that dominated the early 1970s -- i.e. the Who's Roger Daltrey, Jimi Hendrix and Ten Years After's Alvin Lee.
Despite the mud and the squalor, this is an extraordinarily beautiful film, with the screen often breaking up into two or three segments. (Note on the closing credits the name of Martin Scorsese on the production team.)
It's well worth contrasting this movie with the DVD of the 1970 Isle of Wight festival. Only a year separates the two concerts, but the late 1960s idealism of Woodstock gets replaced by prototype British vandalism. The Who perform at both concerts, and make an equally good account of themselves. Daltrey's emotional delivery of 'See Me, Feel Me' helps to explain why 'Tommy' became such a phenomenon in America. Hendrix also performed at both, but his meandering solo at Woodstock was not of the highest standard.
The other highlight of the show was Santana, a Latino band only just beginning to establish themselves in California at the time. As others have noted, the drum solo by Mike Shrieve is impressive for one so young. As with the Who, Santana's album sales will have multiplied as a result of their Woodstock performance.
It's interesting how many great acts weren't at Woodstock -- e.g. Joni Mitchell (despite her song about the concert!), the Doors, Bob Dylan or the Stones. The first two clearly realised how important these festivals were in the breaking of artists into markets, and so they appear on the Isle of Wight DVD.
For most of my life, Woodstock has been a set of static images, largely taken from the cover of the album. But as this film reveals, there is so much more imagery than pictures of beautiful women bathing in the lake. Quite apart from all the idealism of passing whisky bottles and reefers around, of sliding in the mud, the film shows the flip side: of people queuing in the mud to phone home, of helicopters rescuing the sick, of helpers cleaning toilets, and of barefoot stragglers looking for a pair of shoes amid a post-concert site that looks more of a wasteland than the trenches of the First World War.
Enjoy it in all its glory and all its grime.