Major music festivals have come and gone over the years (Lollapalooza went from a touring festival to one weekend in Chicago and found it to be a successful change of plans) and, with the music industry having one of its worst periods ever, it’s impressive that the Glastonbury Music Festival is still going strong since the 60’s.. Directed by Julien Temple (who previously did a documentary following the Sex Pistols called "The Filth and the Fury", as well as helming quite a few music videos), “Glastonbury” isn’t just a concert documentary, but a tribute to the diverse group of musicians, fans, crew and others who have managed to make Glastonbury a success. Starting off with a bit of “history“ of the area, Temple‘s documentary attempts to put the viewer right in the middle of things.
The documentary mainly focuses on the present-day festival, but provides concert footage from festivals past (the Velvet Underground) worked in throughout the show. As interesting to watch as the bands are, Temple is also just as interested in the quite varied cast of characters wandering about in the audience, such as an insurance salesman who feels he can finally be himself here after the routine of his daily life. There’s also the older gentleman who seeks the Woodstock vibe that is in short supply these days.
As interesting as the people are at the festival these days, what’s really fascinating is the contrasts Temple offers up between the early days of the festival and the current one. We see the creator of the festival, Michael Eavis, talking about his fears of not attracting enough crowds, and the smallish crowds dancing in the fields in front of a makeshift, rugged stage. He’s worried about gatecrashers to the concert (and we see some of the creative ways people have broken into the festival on a couple of occasions.) Contrast that with today’s Glastonbury, which has a security force, high gates and loads of cameras. The small crowd of people that came out into the beautiful scenery to catch the first concert pales in comparison to what is now a sea of tents and people as far as the eye can see.
Temple's movie is really rather like being in the middle of the muddy field in Glastonbury in a sea of people. It's crowded, it's messy, some of it is quite beautiful while other patches can give off a bit of an odor. This is about as epic a music-related documentary as one can get, as the thing spills out past the two hour mark and marches along to its own beat until nearly the 150-minute point. An even 120 minutes would probably have been a better length for the material.
Those going in expecting a concert documentary are going to be disappointed, as Temple frequently cuts away from songs and doesn't show the full performances. Instead, this could be more accurately be described as an "experience documentary" that plops the viewer right down in the middle of the tents and crowds and field muck and providing a look at how those audiences have changed so greatly over the years. Yes, there's a bit too many random crowd shots, but Temple's film is otherwise a pretty wild documentary of this cultural event that has evolved and expanded over the years so greatly.
VIDEO: "Glastonbury" is presented by Thinkfilm in anamorphic widescreen and, while a few hiccups occur, this was a mostly pleasing transfer of quite varied material that was all shot on different cameras over different years. The older footage is mostly in pretty decent shape, with only some sections appearing mildly worn and a little faded. The newer footage looks crisp and detailed, with no issues. Aside from the minor wear present on some of the older footage, few issues were seen - a little bit of edge enhancement here, a little bit of artifacting there. Colors looked somewhat faded in some of the older footage, but newer footage appeared bright and bold.
SOUND The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's sound mix is surprisingly good, using the surrounds to provide an enveloping, open feel to the audio and get viewers into the middle of the experience. Audio could seem a little muddled during some of the interviews, as the noise in the surrounding area seemed to result in dialogue suffering at times. Otherwise, audio quality was fine, considering the material, with crisp, full-sounding music.
EXTRAS: Director Julien Temple and Jarvis Cocker provide commentary for the film on the first DVD. Those who were looking for uncut performances in the documentary will find them by heading over to the second disc, which houses uncut performances from Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney, Radiohead, REM, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Fun Lovin' Criminals, Goldfrapp, the Killers, White Stripes and Kaiser Chiefs. The second disc also offers up bonus interviews with Noel Gallagher (who talks about getting harassed more backstage than out front), Moby, Michael Eavis, James Brown, John Peel, Coldplay and the Dandy Warhols, as well as from additional concertgoers. The interviews are fun and informal, with the musicians sitting down and chatting about their feelings about the festival and its atmosphere. Finally, we get the film's theatrical trailer and two featurettes: "Glastobury: Freeing the Spirit: 1999" and "Glastonbury Ceremony."
Final Thoughts: Yes, there's a bit too many random crowd shots, but Temple's film is otherwise a pretty wild, rather epic documentary of this cultural event that has evolved and expanded over the years so greatly. The DVD presentation offers fine audio/video quality and a good selection of extras. Recommended for fans.