This summer has seen the 50th anniversaries of a few notable 1969 events that had great social and historical impact, including anniversaries of the Stonewall riots in June and of the moon landing in July. August, too, marks 50 years since another iconic moment in American history — the Woodstock music festival that was held Aug. 15-17, 1969, in Bethel, N.Y.
Although attempts were made in subsequent decades to re-create the magic of Woodstock by reviving the event in 1994 and 1999 for its respective 25th and 30th anniversaries, nothing will likely be seen like the original festival that drew hundreds of thousands and whose sights and sounds are synonymous with what may have been the last major gasp of the 1960s counterculture. Plenty of reasons for that festival’s uniqueness are seen in director Barak Goodman’s compelling documentary film Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation, airing Tuesday, Aug. 6, at 9pm ET/PT, as part of PBS’ superior American Experience franchise.
While Goodman does include some of the acts in his film (you can’t have a proper Woodstock film without Jimi Hendrix’s blistering rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”), the director offers a different primary focus. He spotlights the crowd of coming-of-age baby boomers, as well as older townspeople of the surrounding area, including Max Yasgur, without whose farmland there would have been no event.
The film is told entirely through film and photos of the era; there are no talking-head cutaways. The 50-year-old footage is impressively crisp and cleaned up, and brings an immediacy to the viewer, which, coupled with voice-over recollections from concert attendees, makes for a truly fascinating character study of all parties involved that may still offer surprises even to those who lived through the time.