"Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation" Review
In just over two months, Woodstock, the legendary landmark music festival, will be celebrating its 50th anniversary. To commemorate this occasion, PBS and director Barak Goodman, who previously directed some documentaries for PBS on their American Experience series, have created a documentary about what led up to the events of the music festival and the festival itself. In short, Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation is a nicely done documentary that also serves as a time capsule for what was happening around the time.
Over the span of three days, (technically four days but due to severe storms during the third day, the performers were pushed back by some hours so that it wrapped up that following morning) in August 1969, more than 400,000 people descended upon a dairy farm in New York. It was a last-minute relocation since the original site was no more due to the city pulling out; 32 acts performed on-stage, sometimes in not that great of a condition. The organizers, working around the clock, knew they ran out of time, since the grounds weren’t even remotely close to being done. This could have gone so incredibly wrong. And yet, by some divine miracle, the organizers pulled this event off, with some bumps on the road.
The format that Goodman employed for the film reminded me a lot of what Peter Jackson did last year with his fantastic documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, in that we never cut back to any talking heads, but have sound bites talk over the carefully selected photos and footage that Goodman and his team tracked down to place in the film. The sound bites range from the organizers of Woodstock, the writers of the documentary providing historical context, those who attended the festival, and even a couple of the musicians who played at Woodstock. So, all in all, it’s a diverse array of talking heads. As you watch the documentary, and see how everything came together, it’s incredibly fascinating that Woodstock didn’t become the 1960s version of the Fyre Festival, since the organizers knew the event wasn’t even remotely ready to go. It’s a marvel that this didn’t become an outright disaster. The archival video from Woodstock is a thing to behold.
Even if you knew absolutely nothing about Woodstock or the significance of the festival, this does a good job in giving the audience an overview of the times surrounding the festival, and a nice history lesson of how everything came to be. At 96 minutes, the pacing is smooth in that it never feels like it’s dragging its feet. The film highlights certain areas, so that each section can stand on its own, from the counterculture movement that was growing to the development of the festival. I had a basic knowledge of the casual information of the festival, so I was surprised with what I learned from this documentary with knowledge and comparison of the modern day Fyre Festival disaster. Even though Woodstock came down to crunch time, the orchestrators were able to focus on what they needed to complete, prepare for the worst, and even make the event free.
With what Woodstock could have done better is allow more of the musicians to talk about their experience playing at the fabled festival, even though we hear from some of the musicians who performed. I don’t know if it was the case that some of the musicians are dead, the archival audio wasn’t that good, or if they weren’t asked or turned down this documentary, but it would have been nice to hear more about their time up on that stage. Also, there were times where the documentary, especially during the first third of the film, relied more on the photos where it became a little bit like a powerpoint presentation.
Overall, if you grew up hearing about Woodstock, or were one of those people who attended this unforgettable festival, then Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation is for you. It’s only fitting that for a festival that’s celebrating its 50th year, we look back on what this meant for so many people. As I mentioned before, this is nicely made, and absolutely mind-boggling that with the images that Goodman puts on display here, this festival didn’t fall by the wayside and collapse. Now, let’s see if they do any follow-ups about Woodstock 99, which didn’t go exactly according to plan, or if the upcoming one that the organizers are trying to get off the ground comes to fruition.