Woodstock – 3 Days of Peace and Music – 40th-Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition – Director’s Cut, Blu-ray (1969/2009)

by | Jun 28, 2009 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Woodstock – 3 Days of Peace and Music – 40th-Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition – Director’s Cut, Blu-ray (1969/2009)

Director: Michael Wadleigh
Performers: Joan Baez, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Canned Heat, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker, Country Joe McDonald and The Fish, Crosby Stills & Nash, Grateful Dead, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Mountain, Santana, John Sebastian, Sha Na Na, Sly & The Family Stone, Ten Years After, The Who, Johnny Winter
Studio: Warner Bros. (2 discs + many keepsakes, photos, booklets, fringe-trimmed box) [Release date: June 9, 09]
Video: 16:9 with other multi-image shapes within, color 1080p HD
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, DD 5.1 & 2.0 & mono
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Swedish & Thai
Extras: Lucite display with festival images, 60-page LIFE magazine commemorative (reduced size) reprint, Iron-on Woodstock patch, Woodstock fact sheet, Reproductions of festival memorabilia incl. handwritten notes on paper plates and 3-day tickets, Over 2 hours of additional performances on film, Retrospective: “The Museum at Bethel Woods: The Story of the 60s & Woodstock,” “Woodstock: From Festival to Feature” – comprehensive gallery of short featurettes on all aspects of filming the festival – incl. interviews with Martin Scorsese, Michael Wadleigh, Festival Producer Michael Long, Grace Slick, many others, Enhanced BD-Live features
Length: Feature: Over 4 hours; Extras: Over 3 hours
Rating: *****

This stuffed box is a quite amazing collection of hi-def images, hi-def sound and paraphernalia from the standpoint of pop music history, political and social developments, and the filmmaking itself. Coming in a leather-fringed box that imitates Roger Daltry’s outfit in The Who, it is packed with stuff that may give those of us who weren’t there in l969 a sense of this supposedly largest gathering ever of human beings on earth (half a million, it is said). (I was at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, which was the template for Woodstock two years later.)

The music was a continuous lineup of the top names in rock and roll of the period.  In fact, going over the above list I think the only group that doesn’t still have a great reputation and fans yet today was Mountain – which I frankly never heard of. Of course the film couldn’t possible have covered every minute of performance at Woodstock – they had to pick and choose – but the footage they got under difficult conditions is really something. The film won an Academy Award for Best Documentary and fully deserved it. It includes filming not just of the performers but of the preparations for the event, the massive crowd, people eating, smoking, skinny-dipping in the nearby lake, rolling in the mud when it rained on the crowd three times during the three days, and even the massive cleanup by 500 people who stayed behind afterwards to handle that. A few of the chapter titles will illustrate my point: Too big for the world, the invasion of Sullivan County, getting high on yoga, rain chant, the bodies beautiful, coping with the mess, the Port-o-San man, etc.

The unbelievable challenges of filming the event interested me strongly as a former filmmaker myself. Director Wadleigh had to beg, borrow and steal enough 16mm stock to supply all the different cameramen. Communcation with them via headsets didn’t work at all because of the loudness of the sound at the stage area, and when it rained the cameramen often got shocks from their Eclair cameras. The 16mm footage was blown up to 70mm for the theatrical showings, using many different multi-image sizes. There were many picture-frame-bordered shots that went on for some time, and I attempted to zoom in to fill the 16:9 screen but then there would be a wide split screen and the zooming would cut off part of the left and right screen images. The cameramen kept calling the lighting director for more light on the performers but he usually refused saying he was lighting it for the audience, not for their filmmaking. The crew included a young film editor named Martin Scorsese, and he and the other editors had to deal with over 300 hours of footage to create the original 225-minute feature, which has now been lengthened in the Director’s Cut.  I had some difficulty navigating to the additional over two hours of performances that didn’t make it into the feature film, but they are well worth seeing.  You can create your own playlist of those you especially want to view. The audio on the extra performances is also 5.1 Dolby TrueHD but the images vary between HD and standard 480 definition.

This was a unique, totally peaceful event – a high point of the hippie culture, antiwar protests, liberating music, and major social changes. With this Blu-ray package you can time-travel back to that unique event yourself.

 – John Henry

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