Various Artists

Message to Love: The 1970 Isle of Wight Festival [DVD]

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This 135-minute documentary of the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, which was released in 1996, is (along with Monterey Pop) the finest film or video of any of the late '60s/early-'70s rock festivals. Director Murray Lerner had 26 years to assemble the work, and achieved an ironic distancing from the material that makes this a lot more watchable than Woodstock. Add to that the fact that most of the acts common to both were playing better (and had a better sound system to work off of) here than they did at Woodstock, and you've got a must-own video. The key event wasn't so much the festival itself, but the fact that it collapsed of its own weight, as counterculture kids, resenting the fact that tickets to the three-day event cost about three pounds (roughly $8.00 American), overwhelmed the fences and the gates and swarmed in, assuring that few artists got paid and that the promoters lost a fortune. Some of the performances are very good (Leonard Cohen, doing "Suzanne"; the Who, in what was probably their best festival appearance, doing "Tommy"; Miles Davis in a too-brief clip), others historically vital (the Doors in their waning days doing "When the Music's Over" and "The End"; Jimi Hendrix in his final concert appearance, 12 days before he died), some merely interesting (the Moody Blues singing "Nights in White Satin"; Free, on the eve of stardom, doing "All Right Now"; Taste) and one or two downright weird (Kris Kristofferson leaves the stage during "Me and Bobby McGee" because of disturbances in the audience, and a bearded freak interrupts Joni Mitchell as she's singing "Woodstock," and attempts to kiss her), and two are downright embarrassing (Tiny Tim, Donovan). Where Woodstock runs over three hours and feels like three days, Message to Love, with a lot more humor and honesty over the ludicrousness of the times, runs just over two and feels just under.

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