WOODSTOCK: 3 DAYS OF PEACE AND MUSIC 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

     October 22, 2014


I have always been fascinated by Woodstock.  The incredible music of so many legendary artists, the shots of the unfathomably large crowd (surpassed many times since but still uniquely spectacular), the peak of a generation that would so soon experience its unrecoverable abyss at Altamont—an event that should have failed in every way, should have been an epic disaster, and yet somehow resulted in peace, music and pure magic.

An event whose unique circumstances could never be repeated and thus never experienced again by another generation.  Fortunately for us all, Woodstock was documented on film (despite occurring in the pre- every instant of life captured on video era), thus allowing future generations a glimpse into the mythic truth.  Read my full Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music Blu-ray review after the jump.

woodstock-blu-ray-coverWoodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and is widely regarded as the concert movie by which all others are measured, largely because it is so much more than just a concert movie.  Director Michael Wadleigh takes the viewer far beyond the music—incredible as that is—not only into the massive logistics of putting the festival on (from construction to clean-up), but, more importantly, into the concert’s numerous social aspects and societal impact.  Whatever degree he had intended such from the beginning, Wadleigh wisely expanded as the scope and reality of what Woodstock was becoming dawned on all.  The resultant picture is not just a concert movie, but a window into the peace and love hippie counter-culture, presented with surprising balance and lack of bias.  Wadleigh loves what Woodstock is all about but does not shy away from the negative.

The Blu-ray looks as good as one could reasonably hope for, considering that the movie is a documentary shot on 16mm in less than ideal conditions.  Sure, by modern picture standards the picture appears rough—the high grain associated with 16mm blow-up (at the time of release, the 16mm was blown up to 70mm, a groundbreaking process), colors bleed, focus shift, low-light shots generally degrade—but somehow the film would not seem authentic if that were not the case, as if the nature of the Woodstock Festival itself demanded such.  The transfer of the 1.33:1 to 2.4:1 film (the aspect ration shifts with the varying use of split screens) faithfully captures every nuance of those imperfections.

Sound quality, likewise, is constrained by the limitations of the source material and not the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack.  As is described in one of the extras, sound was recorded from inside a truck with no view of the stage, having to be configured on the fly for each singer or band during the first song of said performer’s set.  That any sound came out usable at all is almost a miracle, let alone be as good as it is.  And that’s not even counting the often inclement weather, helicopters and other non-technical issues.  All things considered…the Blu-ray sounds pretty damn good, at least as good as it’s going to get without restoration to the point of inauthenticity with the source material.

WOODSTOCK movie image The 3-disc “40th Anniversary Revisited” edition of Woodstock also shines with its special features.  The two bonus material discs are mirrors of each other, with Disc 2 of the set containing the original 40th Anniversrary materials and Disc 3 containing more of the same, AKA the original bonuses “Revisited.”  “Woodstock: From Festival to Feature” (Disc 2) and “Woodstock: From Festival to Feature Revisited” are both collections of featurettes, interview and mini-docs covering everthing from the logistics of putting on the concert and making the documentary to the performers and the Woodstock generation.  Very informative viewing that further proves it took some kind of miracle for both the concert and the movie to come together.

Even better are “Untold Stories” (Disc 2) and “Untold Stories Revisited” (Disc 3), which consist of a combined total of 34 individual song performances from the concert.  The previously unreleased performances of “Untold Stories Revisited” would make this new Blu-ray edition of Woodstock worth acquiring even for those who already own the original 40th Anniversary edition.

WOODSTOCKFar less interesting—indeed, downright forgettable if not plain annoying—are “The Museum at Bethel Woods: The Story of the Sixties & Woodstock” (Disc 2) and “The Museum at Bethel Woods” (Disc 3), nothing more than cheap promos for the museum that now sits at the Woodstock site, and poorly produced promos at that.  Somewhat making up for these last two farces, several collectibles are packaged with the set, including reproductions of the tickets for each day of the festival, an iron-on patch, and various newspaper and magazine clipping reproductions.

Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music – The Director’s Cut, 40th Anniversary Revisited is easily the most definitive collection yet of this legendary, landmark event and a must own for rock fans of all ages.

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