"Glastonbury", Julien Temple's 2006 documentary of the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts.
I've wanted to go to Glastonbury ever since I was too young to afford the amazingly attractive triple album of the second festival from 1971 – featuring Hawkwind, Marc Bolan, David Bowie, the Pink Fairies and a host of others. There have been 25 festivals there since. I never did get to go. This week I rented the movie of what I've missed.
It really wasn't what I expected, and it took me a little time to get in sync with what is really a chain of two hours of images linked by a slight narrative – the words of the organizer of the festivals, Michael Eavis. He comes across as one of those wonderful Britons who has spent countless hours – years – bringing ordinary people what they want, but whom you never expect to get a gong from Her Maj. She proved me wrong. He got a CBE this year. Eavis was inspired by Led Zeppelin's open air appearance at Bath Festival in 1970. He developed a desire to host his own festival, and put on his first one, called the Pilton Festival, at the same site in 1970. You won't find any such facts in this film. It really isn't set up to disseminate facts, but to deliver a champagne-pop of color and sound instead.
The short clips are edited together without identification, so you will see footage of the original Glastonbury Fayre pyramid of 1971 next to a modern scaffolding; Woodstock-era hippies toking up in 1970-era tie-died cotton-based clothing and 21st century men in carbon-fiber costumes, cell-phones on their hips. You'll see Travelers welding their cars into a Carhenge and an acrobat tumbling and dancing in a hoop under a glowing hot-air balloon ten meters above the audience. You'll see can-can dancers; naked crowds surfing in half a meter of English mud; nude men dancing inside floating bubbles and Joe Strummer attacking the camera with a mike stand, apparently believing it to be a proxy for the CCTV Surveillance Society outside the barrier fence of Glastonbury. Fire-twirlers, dinosaurs, an incredible variety of hash delivery systems, over a million tents. Hundreds of ordinary people talking, or in some cases attempting to form words, about their feelings regarding the festival and other festival goers. Pulp, the Scissor Sisters, Velvet Underground; many others.
For the first hour, I was fairly convinced I'd been to Glastonbury in the late seventies/early eighties, but then Eavis started talking about Stonehenge and how that was the festival that attracted the less well-off and the poorly-behaved. Then I remembered; yes, it was Stonehenge I'd been to. There is a section on the fortunes of the Travelers, the unruly caravan of people who roamed Britain for many years, at first settling for the summer at Stonehenge and then later allowed by the remarkably laid-back Eavis to graze at Glastonbury. Most of the generations of people I recognized, but if you don't know your tipi people from your Travelers from Hippies and punks, you may well have no clue which century some of the footage is from.
There's so much material in this movie that I was overwhelmed by the sheer color, noise, speed and variety of things that are fun and yet can still be done in those dense crowds of up to 300,000. With that amount of visual stimulation, it almost seems like the music is afterthought in the film. But in fact there's plenty here, ranging from Melanie, being Melanie, through Bjork, being Bjork, to a latter-day David Bowie, now looking like an asteroid belt-dwelling Dickensian shifty character, singing 'Heroes' to a hundred thousand upturned faces.
It's a bit long for my tastes, and there is a rather British focus on toilets, but it's well worth a Netflix.