Festival Reviews

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August 21, 2008
I haven't seen [i]Woodstock[/i] since some time in the early '90s, and I'm not sure I saw it all the way through then, so you will be spared tedious comparisons, though I could tedious-comparison away at the difference in musical styles, and I will note that this one is B&W, versus the bright, psychedelic colours (overlaid in mud) of the other. Both feature rain, too. And, um, I think we will leave comparisons there. After all, the point here is generally to see if movies stand on their own merits, and were I to do a compare/contrast, I really should have skipped ahead to "W" to get both movies at the same time, or Netflixed them, which is how I normally do compare/contrast reviews.

While the Newport Folk Festival began in 1959 and continues (albeit in greatly-changed form) to this day, the film features performances from 1963-1965, including what Wikipedia confirms is an excerpt from the notorious Electric Dylan. It feels, in fact, as though there's at least a few seconds of everyone who's played the Festival ever, which is both the film's strength and its weakness. We don't really get enough of most of the performances to savour--and there are a few interview segments, which are good but which further shorten the time for [i]music[/i], surely the film's intended focus. Oh, the two little old ladies talking about how folk was probably the pop of its day are [i]adorable[/i], and there's definite thought provoked by the old bluesman talking about how if you can bounce to it, it ain't blues. Even the discussion with the kids about whether one can truly be a nonconformist is worth it.

But, again, we are here for the music. Yeah, the bantering between Peter Yarrow and Joan Baez is entertaining, but they're both talented singers, and that's what I want from them. Indeed, I want more Baez than Yarrow--I know where to go to get Yarrow performances. (Though this is the only library DVD that features Peter, Paul, & Mary, oddly enough.) More than a minute of Odetta might have been nice. In fact, here's a Tedious [i]Woodstock[/i] Comparison--this film is 95 minutes long and covers the Festival's highlights over three years. [i]Woodstock[/i] lets itself spend 184 minutes to cover three [i]days[/i]. There's a lot that could be done here with more time, and I think that's the film's great failing. Even the stuff that you think is pretty cool feels superfluous, because there could have been something else in that spot.

Look, I'm the sort of person with a collection of Baez records, and I'm 31 years old. I don't like Dylan, it's true, but whenever I find Peter, Paul, & Mary on PBS, I watch; I own the Christmas album and want the one where they team up with all sorts of other old hands from the folk days. I recognize all these names, or at least more of them than most other people my age. And, because of all that, I liked this film a great deal. Over on the Apollo Hoax board, we're discussing quintessential '60s movies, and I do believe that this is one of them. The problem is that it's not long enough, which, of course, is the opposite of the problem a lot of other movies have.

I suppose documentaries, by their nature, are less likely to drag given added time. It is strange, though, that documentaries tend to be shorter than fictional movies. (With, as mentioned, the notable exception of [i]Woodstock[/i].) It is also generally true that the filmwork of documentaries tends to be less detailed, and that's true here, as well. Mostly, they just set up a camera at the front of the stage and let, say, Judy Collins sing. But what more do you need?
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