MVD Entertainment 2018
Fascinating look into one man’s vision that lighted up a million smiles.
It was one of the least celebrated music gatherings, the festival whose name had to be seen as pronoun rather than an abbreviated name of the country it was staged in, and such a difference seemed to be its very gist. Devised by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak as an idealistic project where “US” stood for “unity” and bound to create a clean experience, as opposed to similar attractions of the past – especially Woodstock, which the inventor perceived as miserable in terms of comfort, the festival became an oft-forgotten precusor to today’s jamborees, and this point is one of Glenn Aveni-directed documentary’s highlights. The film’s short chapters interweave the story, in piecemeal fashion, with interviews and concert numbers, never delving too much into a talking heads – nor TALKING HEADS – territory, yet taking the spectator into the very center of activities – from the earlier plans, laid out by Woz and his kindred spirits, to post-concert comedown, as recalled by Stewart Copeland.
There’s original footage of surveying the site with a prospect to terraform it, because using existing venue seemed illogical, of building the stage, of constructing state-approved temporary off-ramp, of navigating behind-the-scene chaos – everything so Californian, even given a hi-tech spin. Taking care of fans and installing porta-potties, showers and beer gardens – oases of sorts – Steve didn’t forget himself and arranged “The Woz Spot” with a sofa right behind the spot where the artists mingled, and also had all-access passes printed for his friends; all of which only contributed to the chaos. Not a lot of people objected, though, except for the legendary promoted Bill Graham who was hired to book most interesting musicians, but such a conflict – and many other details that organizers, like Wozniak and Dr. Peter Ellis, and participants, like Mick Fleetwood and Mickey Hart, reveal now in the movie with a lot of warmth – is one of the things making this film so riveting.
Of course, the documentary has its share of musical performances, albeit not too many, and these – culled from the festival’s three days – are truly precious. SANTANA providing a link to Woodstock and delivering a velvet take on “Black Magic Woman” while sharing the stage with FLEETWOOD MAC, from whose repertoire they appropriated the classic cut and who serve up the sprawling hypnotism of “The Chain”; Eddie Money giving “Give Me Some Water” a new meaning by having Graham spray the crowd with hoses; THE B-52’s at their idiosyncratic, sexy best performing “Strobe Light”; fiery, if ethereal, THE POLICE raving through “I Can’t Stand Losing You”; Tom Petty and THE HEARTBREAKERS, pumped, having the audience eat from their hands on “Refugee”… The variety on display feels stunning, yet somehow most of it fails to linger in memory – eclipsed by the next year’s follow-up and metal day, graced by TRIUMPH, Ozzy and their ilk – and that’s why this movie is essential: to preserve good times, when “us” was much more important than “me” of our era, for posterity.