Peace, Love and Documentary

On the chilly night of Friday, September 4, we gathered, only a few strong, to sit upon the green, crisply-cut grass of Whitnall Field to watch Taking Woodstock with great anticipation. However, we were under the impression that what was promised was Taking Woodstock, the 2009 movie, so one can imagine our great surprise and our even greater disbelief when the movie we were faced with was in fact Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music, a documentary. Now, to be clear, this was by no means a surprise of the pleasant variety–not the “happy birthday surprise party” sort of surprise, but rather it was the “eww, I just drank sour milk” sort of surprise. Nevertheless, we stuck it out and after awhile we, or at least I, found the movie to be somewhat interesting.

When people imagine Woodstock, many imagine this immense hodgepodge of people gathered into this unintelligible mass of swaying, dancing hippies and, to a certain degree, this was the case. Let it be noted, though, that this was not some half-baked, last minute scheme thrown together the night before the event. Actually, many months of planning, as well as considerable sums of money, were invested to make this monumental day possible. Essentially, this was a very large number of people gathered for a very long concert. As this event falls categorically into the concert variety, it needed a platform for the performers, as well as numerous speakers and amplifiers, like all concerts do. There were other aspects to be acknowledged too, including food and shelter for all those in attendance.

Naturally, such an extensive volume of people, with an equally extensive number of needs, took its toll on the town in various ways. The documentary showed a family on vacation in the rustic upstate New York town of Bethel who, quite frankly, did not seem to care for the “army” of people that was encroaching on their peaceful retreat. On the other hand, a business owner in that same location was intensely pleased with the effects the popular event was having on his business.

Aside from the economic advantages and disadvantages of the event, one cannot speak of Woodstock without considering the culture. Of course the movie depicted the hippies in the midst of the unforgettable experience that was Woodstock. The innumerable, open-minded people, both men and women, gathered on those three August days in 1969 to listen to music, enjoy the company of one another and express themselves freely without any censure from the outside world.

The documentary thoughtfully played several songs for its viewers, all of them beautifully expressive and for the most part intelligible – something that simply cannot be said for many of the songs of today. I found it astounding how differently people thought and acted – there were a handful of colorfully dressed women who were filmed plucking flowers petals and intermittently crying, “he loves me,” or “he loves me not,” – merely a few decades past.

Overall, I had a fun time watching the documentary, but if one asked me whether I would buy this film from Barnes and Noble or Amazon, I would say no. Had we brave few not been freezing beneath a starry night, maybe we would have enjoyed it even more.