Woody Weingarten

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New Woodstock film shows hope and unity but creates sadness

Unintended consequences.

That’s what I experienced after watching a 106-minute documentary, “Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation.”

Rather than being elated by seeing a watershed festival that drew upwards of half a million young people to a rural New York setting and successfully proved that its counterculture love and peace theme was a potential reality, I was sad.

Because that was then and what we’re all facing now is a country on the brink of political polarization that might never heal.

Revelers find a different kind of high at Woodstock. Photo by Sara Giustini.

Because the doc — which includes never-before-seen archival footage of the ecstatic mud and rain-soaked massive crowd of young flower children frolicking (sometimes nude) on Max Yasgur’s farm and espousing unity — clearly shows that then, the weed-filled air was filled with hope rather than hopelessness.

Because now, Donald Trump and his multivarious cronies seem hell-bent on tearing the fabric of democracy into a zillion tiny pieces and replacing them with a ultra-right-wing autocracy that echoes horrific dictators from too many countries throughout history.

“Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation” was directed by Barak Goodman from a script he co-wrote with Don Kleszy. Goodman has said he wanted to illustrate how Woodstock validated the notion that the attendees’ ideals could overcome the violence and despair incubated by the Vietnam War.

He did it.

Yes, the PBS film, aimed to coincide with the festival’s 50th anniversary, emphasizes what those who were there were feeling (as well as the traffic jams).

And their cravings (a sense of freedom at first, and then, when it ran out, food).

The doc contains multiple voice-overs from participants and staff who get no visible screen time.

Even famed rock producer Bill Graham is featured in a cameo moment yet not captioned as a talking head.

“Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation” does, however, have snippets of performances by Richie Havens, the Bay Area’s Joan Baez, Joe Cocker, Sly, Roger Daltrey and the Who — and, most effectively, Jimi Hendrix’s scorching, screeching, unforgettable anti-war guitar rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.”

It also shows Northern California’s Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm acting as “the please force” instead of a typical police force or security.

Still, the documentary, produced for TV’s “American Experience” series, is light years removed from “Woodstock,” the three-hour 1970 concert doc devoted almost exclusively to  the performances.

That one I just enjoyed; this one also educated me about a few things.

Such as how close the festival came to being disastrous and how the nearby townsfolk generously helped feed the hungry hordes.

And how, because they ran out of time, the festival producers had to choose between finishing the stage (which they did) or a fence so they could collect tickets and money.

If only today’s music industry and political leaders would make decisions that didn’t line their pockets…

“Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation” is slated to open at Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco and Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley, Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael and 3Below Theaters and Lounge in San Jose on May 31.  

Contact Woody Weingarten, a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, at www.vitalitypress.com/or voodee@sbcglobal.net.