The big 4-0
Woodstock: Now & Then
9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14, on VH1
8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 17, on the History Channel
Maybe it was the touching ending, where filmmaker Barbara Kopple shows us the results of lifelong love affairs that started at the legendary festival, or maybe it's just blind nostalgia for an era I was too young to experience, but I shed a tear (or two) at the conclusion of Woodstock: Now & Then.
It's difficult for the to conceive that 400,000 kids could get together for three days of peace, music and love, and have so much go so right. Nobody panicked when the fences came down and the concert became free. No one freaked because kids frolicked naked. When rations ran scarce, friends and neighbors pitched in to make sure everyone was fed. When it rained, they took to the mud.
Woodstock couldn't be replicated today, if for no other reason than updates on Twitter and Facebook about growing lines would keep the crowds away.
The film never shies away from the bad things that happened — the young man who was run over and killed, the bad acid trips, the financial follies, the 80 lawsuits that resulted. And still, overwhelmingly, Woodstock comes off like a resounding success, a dream come true.
Kopple's past projects include Harlan County U.S.A., Wild Man Blues and Shut Up and Sing. Here she rounds up dozens of participants — organizers, financiers, musicians, fans, reporters and makers of the Woodstock documentary released in 1970 — to tell the story of how the concert that was put together in 27 days is still a cultural touchstone 40 years after.
Viewers relive the music through snapshots of unforgettable moments like Jimi Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner," Santana's electrifying "Soul Sacrifice," Country Joe's "Fish Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag" and Richie Havens' "Handsome Johnny." And there are plenty of stories behind the stories, like festival organizer Michael Lang discussing the negotiations to use Max Yasgur's farm to stage the show.
But like the concert it documents, Woodstock: Now & Then also takes us to unexpected places. There's the artist who's drawing a comic-book version of the Woodstock story, and the then-teenage photographer whose pictures from that weekend have never been seen until now, according to the film.
In a perfect touch, students from the Paul Green School of Rock Music sing songs from the festival. Their joyful renditions of music that came two generations before them are enough to make you smile. Perhaps even firstname.lastname@example.org