The opinions expressed within the reviews of Woodstock are varied. Some reviewers claimed that it was the best documentary ever, while others criticized the production’s inability to recreate the actual experience for the audience. In relation to the historical context of the documentary, the largest debates seemed to be over the validity of the festival as a whole. Several reviewers had disdain towards the get-together, while other, and younger, reviewers thought of the Woodstock event as life altering. The thing that most stood out in the contemporary reviewers’ minds was the way in which the musical content of the film was brought to the audience. No matter what the author had to say about the festival, or even the feel of the film, no one criticized the way that the music jumped from the screen and spoke to the audience about the generation which Woodstock has been known to define.
Canby, Vincent. “Screen: Woodstock Ecstasy Caught on Film.” New York Times 27 Mar 1970, natl. ed: 22.
Positive feedback, though at times criticizing the overall length of the movie. Describes it as a great way of experiencing the event second-hand. Though the film is made for entertainment purposes, it does give a good feeling of being at the three-day “love-in.” Although only about one-third of the time was spent covering off-stage events, it gave an overall good interpretation of the event.
Corliss, Richard. “For One Brief Shining Moment: The Screen.” Commonweal 8 May 1970: 191-93.
The movie excels at allowing the performers to speak out through their music. It gives each a backdrop suitable to their style and artistic need. It comes off as a well-filmed documentary, but it is slightly naïve in its undertaking. The film gives the musicians a voice as well as the audience.
Fager, Charles E. “Creeping Corruption.” Christian Century 10 Jun 1970: 733-34.
Discusses the film as an “exploitation of our youth.” Both the exorbitant ticket prices as well as the marketing for the double album anger the author. The marketing feels like a betrayal by the organizers of the festival, since they allowed Woodstock to go on for free, but they now allow for a high-priced movie and other capitalistic objects that exploit the event.
Gelatt, Roland. “Was This Trip Really Necessary?” Saturday Review 18 Apr 1970: 42-43.
Written by a member of the “older generation,” and it clearly shines through. The author doesn’t like Woodstock to begin with but does commend director Wadleigh for amazing camera work. Criticizes the performers and the event as a whole, however, because of his loathing of the festival in the first place. Though not a positive review of Woodstock as a whole, Gelatt does feel positively about the way it comes across in the film.
Holden, Joan. “Woodstock: The Four Dollar Revolution.” Ramparts Oct 1970: 60-62+.
Criticizes the production of the film, saying that it doesn’t give the audience the sensation that they are actually watching Woodstock. Goes on to criticize the event as a whole for being contradictory to its message at some points during the festival.
“Hold Onto Your Neighbor.” Time 13 Apr 1970: 100+.
Woodstock “has been recreated in a joyous volcanic new film that will make those who missed the festival feel as if they were there. Those who were there will see it even more intimately. Purely as a piece of cinema, it is one of the finest documentaries ever made in the U.S.” (100-1).
Kauffman, Stanley. “Stanley Kauffman on Films: Woodstock.” New Republic 2 May 1970: 20+.
More comment on the audience within the movie than anything else. Calls the crowd non-participating in politics and that they are not so much rebellious as apathetic. Goes into the great sound and film editing and ends with saying how it conveys the concert experience justly, if not the Woodstock experience as a whole.
Morgenstern, Joseph. “Friendly Apocalypse.” Newsweek 6 Apr 1970: 97.
Tells how the production of the movie is top-notch, even though some of the acts were mediocre. The gathering was put on the screen well, and it lost little in the translation that was there to begin with.
Walsh, Moira. “Films: Woodstock.” America 18 Apr 1970: 425-26.
“Altogether, the film is a valuable piece of contemporary documentation, by turns funny, sad and provocative and it will probably be ten years before we can assess its significance” (425-26). Lends arguments to both negative and positive reviews of the festival.
Copyright (c) 1999 by James Anthony Clewley, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.
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