Lehigh University, Class of 2003
May 2000

A Not So Accurate Slice-of-Life

[1]     Some people would call movies magic, illusions, but, most of all, fake.  When the word documentary appears with a title of a movie most viewers take it to be true, a realistic portrayal of a certain person or thing.  But, is it possible for directors of documentaries to take the truth, cut and paste it, stretch it, and fill it in to show reality through a blurred lens?  In the documentary, Woodstock; 3 Days of Peace and Music, Michael Wadleigh portrays the festival through his own eyes, making the viewer see the events as he wanted them to, rather than how they actually occurred.

[2]     Woodstock as it is shown in the film seems to be a three-day period where there was nothing but happiness, music, peace, sex, and drugs.  Wadleigh shows the sense of community at the festival as perfect; over 400,000 people joined together peacefully to protest a good cause and to simply have a good time.  This sense of a huge family uniting together to help one another, such as the breakfast in bed scene, is the way that everything seemed throughout the film, but what about all the imperfections that occurred off the camera?  The stereotype of the entire Woodstock festival is what Wadleigh aims to create.  The question remains, is it what really happened?

[3]     Hippies, flower children, the 60s, Woodstock, these are all times, people, or events that are greatly stereotyped in today’s society.  Why and how these things got their reputations has never been asked before, until now.  When watching Wadleigh’s portrayal of what really happened, it is weird to only see what falls in direct line with the stereotypes of how we know these things today.  Michael Wadleigh went into Woodstock with an ideal in mind, a movie he wanted to make; he got all his footage and interviews based around that fact, and therefore cut and pasted together a documentary that fit the way he wanted Woodstock to be remembered for years to come.  This stereotype he created contained four main elements: drugs, sex, freedom, and togetherness.  Now obviously these things all did occur at the festival, but how much; were these things really all there was?

[4]     One scene of Wadleigh’s documentary sums up the entire festival.  The scene known as “Helicopters” (1:38:31) shows a split screen throughout.  It starts off with Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld, two of the organizers of the festival, on stage being interviewed, while the other side shows the roaring crowd.  The scene slowly moves into the crowd on one side and helicopters dropping dry clothing to everyone, and then it slowly moves back into the interview of Lang and Kornfeld with the other side being a couple’s romantic interlude to become one with nature. This scene has great relevance to the movie because it brings the whole thing together.  Nearing the end of the first tape the viewer does not have a good idea of what the whole festival was about; this one scene brings all four elements together into one to prove Wadleigh’s point about the festival as a whole.

[5]     On camera everything looked golden, perfect, everything was going well, but what was going on off-camera that the viewers were unable to see?  As any viewer can find out from the web site entitled “How Woodstock Happened” ( there were financial fights that occurred among many different people including the town itself, and, worst of all, the four main producers. John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld, and Michael Lang were the four most important people in making Woodstock actually happen.  Kornfeld and Lang came up with the idea and presented it to Roberts and Rosenman for the money.  The two supported the idea and offered to put up the money.  From that meeting until the concert all four were hard at work, but only Artie and Michael are showed on film.

[6]     There are many explanations one can think of for this: they just liked being on camera, they were not as busy as the other two so they had time for interviews, or they just knew how to work their publicity.   One other explanation is that Wadleigh purposefully cut the other two out of the film.  As described in the web site, Roberts and Rosenman were known as “yuppies,” an image that strongly contrasts with the perfect image of Woodstock as Wadleigh wanted it portrayed.  If the viewers saw that people who ran the concert were not all for free love, did not live in a commune, or did not fight for their freedom, their idea of the festival would drastically change, and Wadleigh realized this.    For this reason Lang and Kornfeld held major roles in the film while the other two were left unnoticed.

[7]     After the festival ended, Lang and Kornfeld walked away happy; happy that their creation had worked and come true.  But once all the glow was over, Rosenman and Roberts were left with the debts.  They were very much in debt from the concert itself, and then on top of it they were getting sued from all kinds of people -- from people who attended the festival to the actual town of Bethel where the concert took place.   So the two of them were not so happy with all that had gone down, but that was not shown or publicized ever.  On camera in the “Helicopter” scene Lang and Kornfeld actually were asked if the festival was a financial disaster or not.  While looking into the crowd, they said well, yes, but you can not buy this for all the money in the world.  That is true because they did not buy it, no one there did, it was a free festival, and the only people that paid were Rosenman and Roberts.  On camera, Artie and Michael tried to portray this view that no one cared that they were losing so much money, and the fact that all these people came together was really the important thing, but this was not at all the case.

[8]     The sense of community portrayed in the film was meant to show that everyone was getting along perfectly, and there was simply peace in a world of chaos.  At one point in the scene, Kornfeld says, “Some people were saying that this is the second largest city in New York, there has been no police, there has been no trouble.”  Everything that was used in the tape was used to build the stereotype that we now know.  It is virtually impossible for there to be over 400,000 people in one confined area and to not have any fights, whether verbal or physical.  Although the details might not be recorded in history, the likelihood of everything being as perfect as it is portrayed is unlikely if not impossible.  Wadleigh has a power over the rest of society.  He has a camera, and he has the word documentary. Because of this, society believes what his “slice-of-life documentary” has to say.  It is time that people look beyond what is showed to them and discover the reality in life, in hippies, in free love, in communes, in Woodstock itself, and in the 60s as a whole.  People from the next generation would do anything to live life as open and perfect as the 60s are portrayed, but many people don’t realize that not everything is as it seems, even if it does have the word “documentary” on it.