Melbourne Documentary Film Festival Review: Woodstock At Fifty paints the famous concert with too broad a brush

Woodstock was one of the most important concerts in history. This year marks 50 years since those infamous three days of peace, love and music. The film, Woodstock at Fifty is a documentary that gives a rather backstage view to the show thanks to some interviews with various key players. While some parts of this work well, this film ultimately paints things with such a broad brush that the point is often missed.

This film is directed by Melbourne filmmaker, Aidan Prewitt, who has also written a book about the same topic. The likes of D. A. Pennebaker, Dick Cavett, Country Joe Macdonald, Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) and Michael Shrieve (Santana) feature here. They offer some great anecdotes but the most exciting talent is certainly Chip Monck, the lighting tech who got people to avoid that pesky brown acid.

This documentary is very broad in scope even though it’s called Woodstock at 50. There are questions about Monterey Pop (because Pennebaker made the famous film) and Altamont (because Chip and other interviewees were there). While it’s useful to know what came before and after Woodstock, some viewers might be disappointed at not having things examined more deeply. This is especially the case when you consider that this film is quite short at 52 minutes.

Some of this documentary feels like a psychology experiment. Prewitt investigates the enormity of this mass gathering and draws parallels to the Nuremberg Rally. This is a novel approach and not what you’d expect from a standard Woodstock doco.

Unseen 8mm footage from the concert also features here. There is an excellent moment where Janis Joplin is seen in her element laughing in the background, but for the most part this new footage is of different crowd shots. Some more video from the performances, particularly rarer ones (like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s set) would have really hit the mark.

People approaching this film thinking they’re going to get an in-depth look at Woodstock will be somewhat disappointed. Instead, Prewitt looks at Woodstock in a new light and offers up the broader context in terms of cultural history. Some of the results are very illuminating while at other points you could glean more from watching the original Woodstock film. They say if you remember Woodstock you weren’t really there, but Prewitt’s documentary certainly helps people to remember some things.


Woodstock at Fifty plays as part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. For more information head HERE.

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