If you thought that thirty or forty minutes or so of hippies just hanging out until music started playing in "Gimme Shelter" was hard enough to work through, how about they make a film about that, and make said film twice as long as the entirety of "Gimme Shelter"? I don't know how they made three hours of that work, on the whole, but they did, or at least they must have had to, seeing as how I saw the considerably extended director's cut, and that alone was working just fine. Man, I can't completely recall another documentary that has an actual director's cut (Just wait, I don't think Ridley Scott has done a documentary yet), yet if any documentary was gonna have one, I would expect it to be this one. If anyone is wondering just why in the world they tacked on "3 Days of Peace & Music" to the title of this film, just for the director's cut, it's because the director's cut pretty much shows the entirety of Woodstock in realtime. No, this is quite a ways away from "Gods and Generals" when it comes to lengthy director's cuts, yet make no mistake, this puppy is but a minute shy of the extended cut to "The Two Towers". Still, I guess I don't mind that too much, because this film still hit more than enough [u]high[/u] points (See what I did there?) than it [u]tripped[/u] (Woo, I did it again), thus making this tour through Woodstock and ultimately really [u]good trip[/u] (I'm rolling more than these hippies did their weed). Still, if you're thinking that three or three-and-three-quarter hours of hippies just hanging out until music starts doesn't wear down on you here and there then, well, seriously, you need to see at least the second half of "Gimme Shelter".
Okay, now, the extensive, somewhat dry meditation upon nothingness is somehow not nearly as intense as it is in other fly-on-the-wall music documentaries, yet if you thought that I had to be joking when I said that suck documentaries as "Dont Look Back" and "Gimme Shelter" were little to nothing more than excess material and nothingness built around no narrative, with music only occasionally breaking up the monotony, then you might actually bust out laughing that this documentary really is much more than three hours of just that. I'm serious people, because, again, while it's not as bad in here, there's still so little that happens outside of musical performances, with narrative being almost entirely devoid. Granted, I found myself compelled by the brief subplot, or rather, only plot of the Chip Monck, the really charming announcer and Master of Ceremonies, having to keep coming in and tell people about which acid they can and can't take, but that's not so much a plot as it is me desperately reaching out for some continuous activity. Others have taken on non-focus documentation with better results than others' and some have taken it on with worse results than others', with this is film presenting among, if not the stand-alone best results, yet with that said, many periods of time within this film fall steamless, or even rather dull, so, much like the users of the brown acid, proceed with caution. Most, if not just about all examples of non-plot fly-on-the-wall music documentaries have not desceneded into tedium or even mediocrity, yet few, if any others have stood as genuinely good, which of course summons the question, "what makes this better than others?" It's hard to explain, yet what I can tell you is that it has plenty going for it, and enough for it to reach enough of a high note (Drug pun not intended that time) and stand as not just surprisingly entertaining on the whole, but just downright rewarding. If nothing else keeps you going with the film, then it's its light, yet nifty stylistic touches that make more of a difference than you would ever have expected.
Outside of The Who's fittingly pretty cool, random pause-play slow-motion introduction, a stylistic move also used as Sly and the Family Stone's and the following Janis Joplin's outro, about the only stylistic touches you get throughout this film are plays with aspect ratio and plenty of split-screen presentations of different angles or events happening at the same time. Hearing that concept, it's hard to imagine the style being all that nifty, let alone enough to keep this film from collapsing into underwhelmingness, yet as I said, those subtle touches make all the difference. Director and co-editor Michael Wadleigh's dynamic view of the event captures all of its scope, as well as its intimacy in a brilliantly unique and subtley transcendant fashion that stands as quite the testament to how a fly-on-the-wall documentary of this type should be done. Sure, it's not enough for the film to completely transcend its moments of steam loss, yet the structure of execution of this film is defined and made so effective by its style, as it emphatically pronounces the glorious sweep to ingeniously and ever so immersively drench the film in a genuine feel for the festivity, while the more intimate pieces of stylish meditation, while maybe showing us too much of the people are just plain crazy, rather than noble, shows off the versatility and color within the population of this timeless festival, reflecting the people's comfort and peacefulness in a soberingly human fashion, as well as their just plain having fun in a fashion that is, well, often entertaining. The intimacy of the documentary's structure really connects with the famous festival's themes, and that not only includes the theme of peacefulness, but also the theme of music, which is presented with spirited love and care, made all the sweeter by the fact that this concert is so well-known for more of a reason than the fact that it was all built around the hippies: because it was also just plain awesome. Sure, plenty of reportedly great performances are abridged, if not completely omitted, while certain performances actually featured are better than others, with Joan Baez especially laming and dulling up the joint, and not just with her drawn out story about her then-husband David Harris' imprisonment for protest, yet on the whole, this concert is about as top-notch as the lengends foretold, with many a great performance (About half of which being by Jimi Hendrix) by many a great classic talent really adding a delicious kick to this dish and further intensifying the aforementioned immersive feel of festivity. Where most music documentaries of a similar type that start out good lose general steam, little by little, this film, outside of its own occasions of steam loss, almost seems as though it grows stronger in its progression, pulling you deeper and deeper into this world by gracing it with resonant humanity and consistent entertainment value, all through fitting and deeply impacting subtlety that transports you deeply into this era and leaves even the already nostalgiac to grow more appreciative of the wonderment, grandness and overall fun and humanity of such a legendary, monumental experience, making the final product a definitive music documentary experience that may not be intense enough by its own right to really stand tall, yet still has enough at its back to make it a relative essential in the film catalogue to which it belongs.
At the end of the three days, the documentary can't escape its pronounced lack of narrative intrigue, spawned from a very fly-on-the-wall structure, complete with excess footage that, on occasion, dulls down the film and leaves it to lose enough steam in some places to ultimately find itself rendered incapable of transcending to full-on excellence, as a general film, yet its subtle but brilliantly unique stylistic touches generally reflect the sweeping broadness and, by extension, thrilling festivity of the legendary event, as well as a degree of intimacy that not only adds an extra immersive kick to the top-notch performances, but also gives a genuinely human and transporting feel for the rich diversity and sobering peacefulness of the environment, thus making Michael Wadleigh's "Woodstock" a very faithful, transcendant and all around fun tribute to the unforgettable music festival of music festivals.
3/5 - Good