Woodstock: Director's Cut - Ultimate Collector's Edition Review

Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music, a comprehensive, Oscar-winning documentary of the biggest musical event the world has ever seen, makes its way onto Blu-ray glory with the Director’s Cut (1994) in a truly impressive presentation Warner Brothers has chosen to call The Ultimate Collector’s Edition. Lasting just 15 minutes shy of 4 hours, Woodstock features performances by musicians who left a lasting impression on the world scattered in between clips of the festival, its audience and its organizers.

The significance of Woodstock is hard to overplay; in an age of public turmoil, when rifts existed between countless subsets of American culture, Woodstock set everything aside for three days political expression through music. Some artists delivered mini-sermons before playing their set while others let their instruments do all the talking. There are those who insist Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” used guitar distortion to emulate the dropping of bombs from the Vietnam War, to others it was nothing but creative instrumentation.

It’s truly fortunate this event had a film crew to capture so much material. Unto itself, the traditional cut of Woodstock already features an incredible set list, even if a vast majority of the concert will never make its way to a final release (or was filmed at all). But when a concert stretches on for three days, with little rest, a four hour film of highlights gives audiences more than most have a right to expect from a documentary. Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Joe Cocker & the Grease Band, Jefferson Airplane, Arlo Guthrie, Santana, Janis Joplin and Crosby, Stills & Nash make up but a part of the artists performing. Woodstock was originally an event of political expression for an entire generation, now it’s a historic happening and a crash course in rock ‘n’ roll greats.

For the Blu-ray transfer you have to consider which aspect of the film you value most. For the most part the video has no real chance of getting a substantial boost in quality. It’s crystal clear picture at some points, but the blur and haze of the original film can’t be removed, so in that way the documentary will never have pristine video. However, outside of a minor case of distortion at the beginning of the film, the film’s audio, the part that truly matters on a film such as this, sounds magnificent. Guitars sound crisp, vocals have outstanding depth and the songs will have you in musical Nirvana should you have a surround sound system on hand.

Director’s Cut Performances:

Crosby, Stills & Nash – “Long Time Gone”

Canned Heat – “Going Up the Country”

Crosby, Stills & Nash – “Wooden Ships”

Richie Havens – “Handsome Johnny” & “Freedom”

Canned Heat – “A Change Is Gonna Come”

Joan Baez – “Joe Hill” & “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”

The Who – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” & “Summertime Blues”

Sha Na Na – “At the Hop”

Joe Cocker & the Grease Band – “With a Little Help From My Friends”

Country Joe & the Fish – “Rock and Soul Music”

Arlo Guthrie – “Coming into Los Angeles”

Crosby, Stills & Nash – “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”

Ten Years After – “I’m Going Home”

Jefferson Airplane – “Won’t You Try”

John Sebastian – “Younger Generation”

Country Joe McDonald – “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag”

Santana – “Soul Sacrifice”

Sly & the Family Stone – “I Want to Take You Higher”

Janis Joplin – “Work Me Lord”

Jimi Hendrix – “Voodoo Child”, “The Star-Spangled Banner” & “Purple Haze”

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – “Woodstock”

Crosby, Stills & Nash – “Cost of Freedom”

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The tricky thing about offering extra features, as we define them currently, on a 40 year old film is that save for retrospectives there’s precious little to include. Before discussing

“The Museum at Bethel Woods: The Story of the Sixties & Woodstock” is the video brochure for exhibit in the museum celebrating the event that was Woodstock hosted by Living Colour’s Vernon Reid. Sound like a bit of a stretch for an extra feature? It is. It serves as little more than a 4 ½ minute long advertisement for the Museum at Bethel Woods’ exhibit which blends multimedia with genuine artifacts. Not really worth watching.

“Woodstock: Untold Stories” might hold the material of greatest interest to lovers of the film: musical numbers never before released on previous DVD releases. Additional performances include:

The Who – “My Generation” & “We’re Not Gonna Take It”

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 – “Southbound Train” & “Beside the Sea”

Grateful Dead – “Turn On Your Love Light”

CCR – “Born on the Bayou”, “I Put a Spell On You” & “Keep on Chooglin’”

Jefferson Airplane – “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds”

Joe Cocker – “Something’s Coming On”

Johnny Winter – “Mean Town Blues”

Paul Butterfield – “Morning Sunrise”

Sha Na Na – “Teen Angel”

The Blu-ray version of this release has an additional feature (the only Blu-ray exclusive to be mentioned) allowing you to compile a playlist of the performances and watch them in any order you choose.

Of secondary importance in the “Woodstock: Untold Stories” section are two aptly titled features, “Opening of Festival” and “Closing of Festival” which feature authentic footage of people milling about as radio reporters and the concert’s announcer give updates on the concert’s progress and general public instructions. Combined the two don’t run longer than 5 minutes, but even then it’s not worth watching since it’s so dull.

“Woodstock: From Festival to Feature” is a series of 15 segments ranging from in-film clips, to brief exposés on production, camera placement and film requirements, organizing the festival, getting the film through the studio system and much more. Some of these are the most basic of featurettes that virtually every film these days includes on the disc. But some of these featurettes could only occur with a film like Woodstock. Director Michael Wadleigh appears in a good number of these 1-5 minute featurettes with his take on every angle imaginable on how Woodstock was filmed. Considering most of these are remarkably short, it’s in your best interest as a fan or history buff to take them all in.

Now, considering this is the Ultimate Collector’s Edition, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the plethora of physical goodies included in the packaging. While some “Special Editions” come in booklet cases with 30-page inserts about the film, this behemoth goes so much further. First off, it comes in a hefty case covered in frayed leather to resemble a piece of hippie clothing with a detachable iron-on patch in the front. Once you open it up you’ll find replications of notes found at Woodstock, fake tickets, a reproduction of the LIFE 1969 Special Edition Report on Woodstock in a handy little booklet format and a lucite lenticular display of vintage festival photos (which is one of the things that makes this package so hefty).

It’s a great example of packaging, though Blu-ray buyers should consider whether they want to shell out the $70 for the Blu-ray version when the only thing separating it from its DVD counterpart is the playlist option for the 18 bonus performances.


"Woodstock: Director's Cut - Ultimate Collector's Edition" is on sale June 9, 2009 and is rated R. Documentary. Directed by Michael Wadleigh. Written by N/A. Starring Various.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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