Imagine reliving the Woodstock festival by popping the Oscar-winning documentary of the same name into your Blu-ray DVD player, then syncing it with those of other nostalgia-seekers around the world and chatting together online while Janis, Jimi and Country Joe take the stage.
That’s one of a few tech-inspired features touted on the new, deluxe “Woodstock” package from Warner Home Video. It may not simulate the country air at Max Yasgur’s farm or the sensation of fresh mud on your naked body, but it’s a start.
Known as the “Ultimate Collector’s Edition,” the DVD set is scheduled for release Tuesday, just ahead of the festival’s 40th anniversary in August. Aside from the simulcast option, the DVD offers the ability to record your own picture-in-picture commentary over the film and share it via the Web. Nearly two dozen mini-documentaries cover topics from the technical (cameras, film stock) to the recreational (was the famous “brown acid” really that bad?). There also are 18 “bonus” performances not included in previous releases of the documentary, which viewers can shuffle at will to create their own “jukebox” of favorites. (The set is available in both Blu-ray and regular DVD, though features differ.) The Blu-ray will retail for $69.98; the DVD for $59.98.
Scrambling a sacred artifact like Woodstock may seem like the boomers’ final surrender to the iPod era, but Michael Wadleigh, the director of the 1970 film, has no problem with it.
“I think this is going to be the future of what filmmakers will do,” Wadleigh said in a recent phone interview from the small island he owns off the coast of Maine. “With the ease of electronic distribution, people will say: Let’s take some scenes that shouldn’t be in the movie, but it would be fun to show them to the public. I don’t think that’s shoddy, or just moneymaking.”
In that sense, the new DVD continues the movie’s mission to bring the festival to the masses. Billed as “An Aquarian Exposition,” The Woodstock Music & Art Fair — more than three chaotic but largely peaceful days of concerts, Aug. 15-18, 1969 — attracted close to half a million people and became one of the counterculture’s defining moments. It was proof, to a skeptical world, that a generation of long-haired, drug-addled, naively idealistic kids could, in fact, handle themselves just fine.
“Festivals like that had never been put on before,” Michael Lang, one of Woodstock’s principal organizers, said in a recent phone interview. “At concerts, people are preparing for the eventuality of violence or fights. But we prepared for the opposite.”
Woodstock might have dimmed in the public’s memory had Wadleigh and his 100-man crew not captured it on film and disseminated it through movie houses across America. Upon its release in March 1970, “Woodstock” — edited by Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker, among others — became a surprise box-office hit and went on to win an Oscar for best documentary, a symbolic triumph for the counterculture.
As the only official chronicle of the festival, the movie has become almost as mythical as the event. Wadleigh used a whopping 365,000 feet of film stock (some of it flown in on the same helicopters that carried the musicians) and initially hoped to release a six-hour trilogy of feature-length movies. But various factors — including Warner Bros.’ insistence on a single, three-hour film — meant that moviegoers initially missed out on historical performances from the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin, among others. Wadleigh’s “Director’s Cut,” released in 1994 and included on the new DVD set, only partly rectified the situation with another 40 minutes of footage.
Even then, many performances were omitted because of poor sound, according to Eddie Kramer, the audio engineer who manned the boards at Woodstock. Stationed behind the stage in a small trailer (with equipment borrowed from Bill Graham’s Fillmore East), Kramer had no way to communicate with musicians when they strayed off-key or out-of-sync. “It was three days of drugs and hell,” he said in a recent interview. “It was not exactly the easiest way to record a concert.”
Kramer helped tweak the sound on the new performances included on the collector’s edition. The footage won’t fill every gap, but the Dead are finally here, as are Creedence Clearwater Revival and additional songs from The Who, Joan Baez, Mountain and others. Carlos Santana even replayed his guitar part on “Evil Ways” to make it presentable.
“It sounds fantastic now,” Kramer said. “You should have heard the original.”
The Collector’s Edition also features several interviews with Wadleigh, including one in which he defends the film’s final images: a post-concert, trash-strewn farm dotted with figures of the walking wounded. It’s a decidedly downbeat ending that some viewers initially saw as a negation of the film’s overall message of peace and hope.
“I personally edited that last section and felt very strongly that we end on a disturbing note,” Wadleigh says. “It was meant to look like, wow, will all this good time end very badly? And that’s exactly what I wanted people to think about.”
A CHANGE OF TUNE — 18 NEW ONES — ON ‘WOODSTOCK’ DVD
Woodstock fanatics, take note: The “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” comes with 18 performances not included in previous versions of the documentary. If you’re filling the gaps in your collection of soundtracks, DVDs and bootlegs, here’s a list of the added performances:
—Joan Baez: “One Day at a Time”
—Country Joe McDonald: “Flying High”
—Santana: “Evil Ways”
—Canned Heat: “I’m Her Man,” “On the Road Again”
—Mountain: “Beside the Sea,” “Southbound Train”
—Grateful Dead: “Turn on Your Love Light”
—Creedence Clearwater Revival: “Born on the Bayou,” “I’ve Put a Spell on You,” “Keep on Chooglin”“
—The Who: “We’re Not Going to Take It,” “My Generation”
—Jefferson Airplane: “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds”
—Joe Cocker: “Something’s Coming On”
—Johnny Winter: “Mean Town Blues”
—Paul Butterfield Blues Band: “Morning Sunrise”
—Sha Na Na: “Teen Angel”