Starting as an immensely entertaining recap of everybody’s favorite peace and love fest, the original 1969 Woodstock, “My Generation” gradually turns into a less exciting but thoughtful attempt to make sense of the generational differences that made the 1994 and 1999 Woodstock concerts so different from their model. Barbara Kopple’s latest docu describes these mega-concerts as milestone cultural events in which young people were given a chance to express themselves freely, though heavy security and sponsorship considerations shackled participants at Woodstocks 2 and 3. Through the music of 28 artists from Jimi Hendrix to Sheryl Crow and Nine Inch Nails, the various zeitgeists emerge and ultimately blend. A film that would seem to have wide appeal over a large age range, it should encounter warm response in the U.S. Its appeal will probably prove less potent overseas, though the European co-producers can bank on the musical attractions where the counterculture memory link is weak.
Though best known for her stirring social investigations (“Harlan County, U.S.A.,” “American Dream”), Kopple has a rockumentary in her past, the co-directed “No Nukes” featuring artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
She began gathering Woodstock footage in 1994 to chronicle the fest’s 25th anniversary in Saugerties, N.Y. But the original project, soon orphaned by Polygram Filmed Entertainment, was expanded to include the 1999 fest, held on an abandoned Air Force base in Rome, N.Y., and became a far more elaborate comparison of all three events. The two-hour-plus rough cut shown in January at Sundance has been trimmed to a perfectly adequate 103 minutes in its final version.
Kopple’s obvious fascination with the Woodstock phenomenon comes through in pic’s early scenes, using material from Michael Wadleigh’s 1970 Oscar-winning documentary. Pic documented a unique historic moment when half a million young people gathered together, expressing a generation’s ideas about politics and music. Kopple uses this as a starting point and audience warm-up before launching into her own original material.
Intercutting off-the-cuff interviews with Woodstock producer Michael Lang and other members of the org with snippets of comments from concert participants, she compares the organizers’ changing goals with the three audiences’ similar urges to live a once-in-a-lifetime experience with like-minded peers. Pic chronicles how the fests shifted to a more commercial orientation (though apparently without much financial return), and how the young auds used Woodstock to get a sense of themselves as a generation. Despite soaring entry fees, Woodstock 2 attracted 350,000 people, number three, 250,000.