Film / Woodstock

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We must be in heaven, man!

"Three days of peace, love and music."

In the Summer of '69, a couple of extremely rich young men wanted to create something they could invest in related to entertainment, art and creativity. After initially planning a TV series and an artists' colony, they decided to hold a festival in a field, with a few big name acts. After a long fight to get it done, they got a deal with farmer Max Yasgur. The festival was called the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

Originally tickets were sold by mail and through magazine ads, with plans to sell more at the door. Over 100,000 tickets were sold, but people started arriving several days early, before the fence and ticket gates were completed; faced with the choice between completing the stage and completing the fence, the promoters decided to get the stage in order and call it a free concert. With such an open invitation in place, over 500,000 people are believed to have shown up. Then it got worse.

Woodstock was a giant catastrophe: The bands couldn't get to the concert and had to be flown in. Food and other facilities were ostensibly planned for 50,000 (even though the aforementioned 100,000 tickets had been sold), but city councilmen and others noted that the provisions weren't even sufficient for that number, leading to the National Guard airlifting in food and water by helicopter. There was lots of rain and a giant storm struck, shutting it down for hours and two people accidentally diednote .

But at the same time the festival was noted for its sense of peace. The crowd was so peaceful over the three days that even the mainstream media like The New York Times praised the event for being so orderly with a well behaved audience. People were getting along and showing love to each other. Not only that, but the roster of bands were great. These included The Who, The Band, Janis Joplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Canned Heat, Ten Years After, Joe Cocker, Santana, The Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joan Baez and Jimi Hendrix, to name a few.

The festival was filmed and turned into a documentary, titled simply Woodstock, which was released in 1970. It was directed by Michael Wadleigh. It is regarded as one of the best documentaries and concert films ever. Not only because of the performances, but also because the main focus was the festival itself — the audience. Martin Scorsese got one of his first Hollywood jobs as a film editor for the movie. Most important for the producers, the film proved so big a box office hit that its earnings more than paid off the losses from the festival itself.

Woodstock was the swan song for The '60s. It showed the dream of peace and understanding as working, combined with great music. But not long after, an attempt at a West Coast equivalent, a free concert at the Altamont Speedway headed up by The Rolling Stones, would end in tragedy — a man wound up getting killed by the Hells Angels, who had been hired as security. (This concert and its cruel outcome were chronicled the documentary Gimme Shelter.) The innocence that was the height of Woodstock would die and later attempts to recapture its spirit were all failures, including two Woodstock "sequels" in 1994 and 1999. The 1999 Woodstock became legendary for its audience rioting on the final night, which went completely against the spirit of the first, and showcased just how much society had moved to the other end of the Sliding Scale since the idealistic '60s.

In media depictions of Woodstock, fictional or otherwise, the Nostalgia Filter will be operating at full power. Characters flashing back to Woodstock will have all been Bohemian hippies, despite a large number of ordinary joes (many of them college students) and returning Vietnam vets. Traffic jams and overpriced concessions (while they lasted) will be replaced by camping out in vans and everybody sharing out of a sense of peace and love. The filthy conditions will be either ignored or romanticized as free-spirited youth playing in the mud. The music will be Nothing But Hits, despite the lineup consisting of five or six headliners and dozens of forgettable and not-yet-famous bands.note 

Despite all this, however, such depictions still capture the most important thing about the festival: its transformative effect on all who were there. To this day the original is regarded as a Crowning Moment of Awesome among people, showing them living happy and in peace among each other.

If one ever happens to find themselves in upstate New York, there's and honest-to-goodness Woodstock Museum located near the original site (now home to a performing arts center) which delves into the events leading up to the festival, as well as a very in-depth look at the 60s counter-culture that birthed it.


The Woodstock Festival provides examples of:

  • Berserk Button: Yes, even the original Woodstock had an incident of this: Trying to keep things political and relevant, Abbie Hoffman leaped onto the stage during The Who's set to make a short speech about poet John Sinclair's imprisonment for marijuana and got booted off the stage by (and received a Precision F-Strike from) Pete Townshend.
    • Another Precision F-Strike came from Neil Young toward the camera crew which he felt was intrusive. Feeling he was there to play, not to show off the way Stephen Stills was doing, Young threatened to smash his guitar over the head of anyone who came near him with a camera. note  He can be heard on the album singing "Sea of Madness", but this actually wasn't recorded at Woodstock! It is from a concert at the Fillmore East dance hall a few days earlier.
  • Darker and Edgier: Woodstock 1999 compared to the original Woodstock.
  • Erudite Stoner: Quite a few show up in the crew.
  • From Bad to Worse: The legendarily horrific Woodstock '99: overbooked, overpriced and poorly planned, all taking place in record heat. The setlist of bands known for aggressive music only encouraged the bad mood and by the middle of the second day, the crowd's anger exploded into bonfires (with, ironically, candles intended for a vigil), vandalism, gang rape and brutality.
  • Happily Married: The young couple in the foreground in the iconic photo decorating the album cover are Nick Ercoline and his fiancee Bobbi Kelley. They married two months later... and they are still together.
  • Long Title: The festival's full name was The Woodstock Music & Art Fair Presents An Aquarian Exposition.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Yeah, there were a few who went. They wouldn't have been "retro" at the time, though. What the festival did inspire was a vast amount of hippie style merchandise — clothing, jewelry, accessories, incense and essential oils, sandals and shoes, posters, black lights, smoking paraphernalia, underground comix, books by poets like Richard Brautigan, The Whole Earth Catalog, and on and on. These things were already available at head shops and college bookstores, but for a few years they were actually mainstream. This lasted into the mid-70s — the true "retro" era — and can still be found in hippie emporiums online and off, for today's retro or "boho" hippies.
  • Non-Indicative Title: The event was never going to take place in the actual town of Woodstock. It was originally planned on another farmnote , who eventually backed out, forcing the event to be moved to Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel (a 90 minute drive from Woodstock). The legacy of the concert has been a mixed blessing for Woodstock proper, which has to put up with misinformed tourists flooding the town looking for the concert site, but at least they're willing to buy lots of tie-dye and posters before they head down to Bethel.
    • Averted in 1994, when it was held in Saugerties, directly east of Woodstock. But invoked harder in 1999: it was staged in Rome, New York, hundreds of miles from Woodstock and Bethel.
  • The '60s: Some of the most noted events and it really sums up the spirit of the decade.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Compare the original Woodstock to the 1999 version, and you should have a grasp of the hippie idealism of The '60s versus the grunge cynicism of The '90s.
    • The '99 version also fell victim to bad logistics in terms of setting,note  necessary supplies, etc.
  • War Is Hell: A lot of protesting against the Vietnam War can be heard.


Tropes found in the 1970 film:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: From Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
    "Lacey lilting lyric, losing love lamenting"
  • Cool Old Guy: The local man shown in the very first clip of the movie, who cheerfully relates how he had to eat cornflakes for two days because he couldn't get out of his house to get food, but also says that he really liked all the kids and the movie is going to be big.
  • Concert Film: The most famous example.
  • Follow the Bouncing Ball: The producers must have been in particular agreement with Country Joe and the Fish and their anti-Vietnam War song "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag" ("don't ask me I don't give a damn/next stop is Vietnam") because for this particular song the bouncing ball appears on the screen for a sing-a-long.
  • Intermission: Maybe the only one to actually be labeled "INTERFUCKINGMISSION".
  • Lennon Specs: They were very much the fashion in 1969, especially among hippies and beatniks. Jerry Garcia and Janis Joplin both wear them.
  • The Movie: Made from footage captured during the three days, it was Warner Bros.' biggest hit in 1970.
  • National Geographic Nudity: Hundreds of hippies swimming in a lake? A naked lady throwing a frisbee? Yep.
  • Precision F-Strike: A crusty old farmer, asked his opinion of the festival, says "Do you want me to explain it in plain English? A shitty mess."
  • Skinnydipping: One scene features a squadron of hippies skinnydipping in a local lake.
    Random hippie: I think skinnydipping is just beautiful if you want to do it, if you can do it.
  • Split Screen: This film is one of the renowned uses of this trope in order to capture as much of the action as possible. Supposedly Martin Scorsese's idea.
  • The Stoner: Does this need explaining?
    Jerry Garcia: (holds up joint) Marijuana. Exhibit A.
  • This Is a Song: Richie Havens, "Handsome Johnny"
    "Hey, what's the use of singing this song/Some of you are not even listening"
  • Time Lapse: Used in a Split Screen in which one half shows a time laps of the crowd moving around while some hippie in the other half natters about how his father can't understand him.
  • Video Credits: The credits include clips from the various artists performing at the show.

This thing was too big. It was too big for the world. Nobody has ever seen a thing like this. And when they see this picture in the newsreels, they'll really see something.


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/Woodstock?from=Main.Woodstock