CATHERINE BRECKENRIDGE
Lehigh University, Class of 2003
May 2000

 [1]    If we were to flip through the channels of prime time television tonight, we would discover one overwhelming theme: sex.  Sex on TV today has become commonplace, something we rarely even notice while watching our favorite shows.  There are even shows with the word sex in them like “Sex in the City” on HBO - an instant hit since its debut three years ago.  MTV has hour-long specials dedicated to the subject, “Real Sex”, Volumes 1-10.  Rachel and Monica debate about who is better in bed on “Friends.”  When the word sex is mentioned, no ears twitch, no eyes bug out, nobody does a double take.  If we take a little trip in the time machine back to 1969, however, we would find that things are very different.  On hits like “The Brady Bunch,” “Father Knows Best,” and “The Adams Family” sex was a taboo word, let alone subject of an entire plot of a sitcom.  On prime time television, couples did not even share a bed, let alone an assumed sex life.

 [2]    Although the actual subject of sex is widespread and common in television and film today, the idea of “free love” is not nearly as rampant as it was in the 60’s- especially during the summer of ’69 at Woodstock.  What exactly is “free love” you may ask?  I asked myself the same question and went searching for a definition that really captured the essence of it.  The book, The Hippies and American Values, provided us with an explanation.  The article entitled “The Ethics of Sex” states that the “attitude toward sex in the counterculture was supportive of sexual freedom on grounds of pleasure and individual choice” (p. 62).  The 60’s was the “Age of the Aquarias,” a decade known for its experimentation.  People of the day, namely hippies, were on the lookout for things that made them feel good, natural, at one with their friends and the earth.  It was a time when drug use of all sorts flourished, a time when people became in tune with their bodies and what satisfied them. A colloquialism of the day was “tune in, turn on, drop out.”

[3]    Sex was no different, and the decade of experimentation took a life of its own in terms of sex. Couples began to stray from their lover, experiment with friends, and “love” the many different people around them.  For example, the famous rock and roll group Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, coined a phrase “love the one you’re with.” Since Woodstock was, indeed, the hippie gathering of all times, Woodstock too, became the manifestation for all that they believed in.  The Woodstock Festival, in turn, became the ultimate “free love” experience. “A lot of you people have a misconception about Woodstock.  It was not about the music.  It was a happening man.  It was about all the people coming together for this enormous flow of positive energy…I don’t remember much about the music, but, the drugs and the sex were far-out man!”

[4]    When Michael Wadleigh attempted to document Woodstock in all of this glory he took a very different approach than one would think.  The documentary film, Woodstock, Three Days of Peace and Music , portrayed the topic of sex and “free love” from the “less is more” aspect.  Since sex was not really a politically correct subject to talk about during 1969, the director knew he could not put that much emphasis on it in the actual film.  Scenes full of drug use were rampant in the film; however, sex and nudity were portrayed in only three short and non-graphic scenes.  Although we know there was plenty of free love and nudity on the Woodstock property, Wadleigh did not portray it as such.  The effect, therefore, became “less is more.”   This effect not only left a lot up to our imaginations regarding “free-love,” at Woodstock but also reminded us that the most important ideas aren’t always the most documented ones.  Even though sex was not the focus of the documentary, it played an integral role in shaping our perception of the festival at large.  Through the director’s careful film editing he was able to show us just enough to leave a taste in our mouths but not enough to swallow.  The swallowing was left up to our imagination.

[5]    The entire idea of “less is more” pertains not only to the film as a whole but also to individual scenes- especially the scene of the young man and woman that begins to take place right outside of the woods on Yasgur’s farm.  As the film pans the area, it first slowly skims the pond where there is a gathering of skinny dippers, and then slowly makes it’s way over to the edge of the pond near a clearing before the woods.  The young couple (perhaps genuinely a couple or maybe just an experimental, “free love” couple) begins to kiss and embrace each other.  They become more intimate and start to take off each other’s clothing.  As they begin kissing more passionately and begin to take their clothes off in this moment of passion, they head further into the woods.  This is precisely where the camera cuts to another scene.  It is almost as if Wadleigh left the audience hanging; the director left the rest up to our imaginations.

[6]    Although our imaginations have a tendency to run wild at times, it would have been hard for them to run much further than the sexual happenings at Woodstock in 1969.  Woodstock was indeed the “mind-fucker of all times.”  Although the director’s understated approach regarding sex in the film proved successful in capturing the main ideas of sex and “free love,” he failed at capturing the emotion of the people involved.  He failed at providing the viewing audience with quotes or “voices from the crowd-“ quotes that would have added a personal touch to the film.  The people of Woodstock were light hearted free-spirits who spoke their minds regarding all subjects, taboo or not: “We’ll that’s the basic thing here, there’s a lot of girls here, and they’re probably a lot freer than, you know, than other places, and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of balling.”  Back on the home-front the subject may have been hush-hush, but at Woodstock that year sex was freely spoken about.  The director failed to capture that essence in his documentary.  He did his job- got the facts straight- and provided an audience with an idea of what kinds of things went on during those three days.  He did not, however, captivate his audience with stories, emotions, or anything personal that left an impression on the viewer.

 [7]    Ironically, this particular approach characterized the generation gap that was part of the 60’s tumult. Older folks could see what was going on but did not attempt to try to understand by prying into the emotions and stories of their children.  This approach, therefore, leaves the viewer with a surface idea - a tease about what really went on inside the festival that summer.  If people wish to dissect the real experience and emotion from the people who were there, I urge them to view web pages of the attendees; host to thousands of first-hand accounts of a “true” sexual experience at Woodstock, not just the top layer of the cake that the film delivered to us.