The three-day Woodstock music festival in 1969 was the pivotal event of the 1960s peace movement, and this landmark concert film is the definitive record of that milestone of rock & roll history. It’s more than a chronicle of the hippie movement, however; this is a film of genuine historical and social importance, capturing the spirit of America in transition, when the Vietnam War was at its peak and antiwar protest was fully expressed through the liberating music of the time. With a brilliant crew at his disposal (including a young editor named Martin Scorsese), director Michael Wadleigh worked with over 300 hours of footage to create his original 225-minute director’s cut, which was cut by 40 minutes for the film’s release in 1970.
The film deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, and it’s still a stunning achievement. Abundant footage taken among the massive crowd (“half a million strong”) expresses the human heart of the event, from skinny-dipping hippies to accidental overdoses, to unpredictable weather, midconcert childbirth, and the thoughtful (or just plain rambling) reflections of the festive participants. Then, of course, there is the music–a nonstop parade of rock & roll from the greatest performers of the period, including Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Canned Heat, The Who, Richie Havens, Joan Baez, Ten Years After, Sly & The Family Stone, Santana, and many more. Watching this ambitious film, as the saying goes, is the next best thing to being there–it’s a time-travel journey to that once-in-a-lifetime event.