DVD Review "Woodstock: Ultimate Collector's Edition"

The fringed-up and far-out
The fringed-up and far-out "Woodstock: Ultimate Collector's Edition" set. ((Warner Bros.))
By Jen Chaney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 5, 2009; 12:00 AM

Baby Boomers may find it hard to believe that four decades have passed since Woodstock transformed a dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y. into the epicenter of hippie culture. But 2009 does indeed mark the 40th anniversary of that watershed music festival, a fact that Warner Bros. commemorates with the release today of "Woodstock -- 3 Days of Peace and Music: 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition," a DVD ($59.98) and Blu-ray ($69.99) set that contains the remastered director's cut of this sprawling, Oscar-winning documentary.

The collection arrives more than two months before Woodstock's mid-August birthday, just in time to make it an ideal Father's Day gift for the dad who vaguely resembles Jerry Garcia and still regularly uses the term "far out." Actually, the men and women who truly embraced the communal, non-corporate vibe of Woodstock may be amused by all the carefully packaged, '60s-era pseudo-merchandise overflowing from the case, including a reprint of Life magazine's commemorative Woodstock issue, reproductions of the original concert tickets, an iron-on patch and other festival memorabilia, all sheathed within a fringed, suede DVD jacket that pretty much screams summer of '69. Excuse me while I kiss this swag ... that's how the Jimi Hendrix song goes, doesn't it?

Sift through all those nostalgic bells and whistles, though, and you'll find a film that still seems daring and revolutionary, despite its age. By filling the screen with multiple camera shots and employing a meandering narrative structure that allows the audience to feel like they are wandering all 600 acres of Max Yasgur's farm (and meeting the dancing, mud-sliding, meditating and often naked young masses who overran it), "Woodstock" does more than merely record the events of a legendary concert. It drops the viewer into a significant cultural moment, when it seemed like the pot-smoking-but polite youth of America really might change the world by smiling on their brothers (and, reportedly, backing up traffic for 17 miles on New York's Route 17B).

But let's not forget the music. At a running time of nearly four hours, the director's cut already includes padded appearances from the likes of Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and Hendrix. The Ultimate Collector's Edition inflates the rock 'n' roll experience even further with a customizable playlist of 18 more tracks, including some from Woodstock artists -- among them Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Grateful Dead -- who got cut entirely from the original and extended versions of the movie. Like the concert footage in the film, captured courtesy of numerous camera guys who perched their 16mm Eclair cameras on the edges of the Woodstock stage, these newly revealed performances are as close-up and intimate as it gets. Yes, the power of DVD and Blu-ray now makes it possible to examine every strand in John Fogerty's pageboy haircut.

The interactivity of the build-your-own-playlist feature extends to other areas of the Blu-ray set, which also allows viewers to create their own picture-in-picture commentary tracks and set up chats with friends who want to discuss "Woodstock" while watching on their own Blu-ray players. While the regular DVD isn't as advanced, it does contain the same informative series of featurettes, entitled "Woodstock: From Festival to Feature," that give director Michael Wadleigh, Woodstock organizer Michael Lang, Martin Scorsese (assistant director and editor of the film) and others the opportunity to explain the challenges and rewards of making one of the most enduring rockumentaries ever.

"It was kind of the last time when a group so large ... could be so sincere and uncynical about what they were doing," says Penny Stallings, assistant to Woodstock's head of operations, during one of those featurettes. In 2009, a time when cynicism often seems more like common sense than a bad attitude, reconnecting with some of that sincerity may be one of the best reasons to check out "Woodstock." I mean, who among us couldn't use a few tokes of groovy idealism right now?

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