Blog Directory CineVerse: August 2009

Who's the greatest film director ever?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kurosawa or Kubrick? Griffith or Godard? Spielberg or Scorsese? 

CineVerse dares to ask the ultimate question: Who is the greatest movie director of all time. Cast your vote by participating in our new CineVerse poll, found in the far left sidebar (please only vote once).


To see or not to see: A popcorn history of "Hamlet"

Friday, August 28, 2009

by Erik J. Martin

Which is the best version of "Hamlet" on film? For fans of William Shakespeare’s immortal play, the penultimate question is no longer “to be or not to be,” but “to see or not to see.”

For my money, there's nothing rotten in Denmark about Kenneth Branagh’s sprawling, four-hour epic “Hamlet”--released in 1996, filmed in picturesque 70mm and starring himself as the Danish prince. Arguably more than any other adaptation of the literary classic, this version has garnered greater word-of-mouth, critical acclaim and praise from Shakespearean scholars who appreciate Branagh's unabridged, fresh and enthusiastic depiction of the play.

Yet, despite the buzz, Branagh's realized vision may not be the definitive big screen version of Shakespeare’s most famous work. In fact, it is only one of many must-see cinematic renditions of “Hamlet," that timeless, tireless drama that keeps trying to top itself on the big screen.

The earliest celluloid records show that the play was first filmed in 1913 as an uncredited British production starring stage and silent film star Sir Johnston Forbes Robertson. 

But it wasn’t until 1948 that the classic was conquered in full cinematic, strikingly daring black-and-white bravado by Laurence Olivier, who, as director and star, infused the British production with the full-throttle dramatic panache that would make even Orson Welles proud (production note for purists: the film was shot in Hamlet's native Denmark). Olivier was deservedly rewarded with four Oscars, including best picture and best actor.

Twelve years passed before "Hamlet" surfaced again on-screen, this time via an obscure 1960 film version directed by Franz Peter Wirth and with Maximillian Schell in the title role. Nine years later, stage actor Nicol Williamson lent a robust credibility to the role played opposite Anthony Hopkins in a British produced sleeper.

The next major "Hamlet, " a 1980 BBC production featuring the dramatic talents of Derek Jacobi and Patrick Stewart, was a silver screen anomaly of sorts in that it made its debut on television. 

Mel Gibson made female viewers swoon as the lead in director Franco Zefferelli's 1990 rendition, shot on location in Northern Scotland. And filmmaker Michael Almereyda updated the Bard's story in a modern-day setting with his take on "Hamlet" released in 2000 and starring Ethan Hawke.

Other marquee stars who have portrayed Hamlet in stage and screen versions include:

  • John Barrymore (1925, London stage)
  •  John Gielgud (1934, London stage) 
  • Richard Burton (1964, stage) 
  • Christopher Plummer (1964, BBC Television) 
  • Richard Chamberlain (1970, NBC TV)
  •  William Hurt (1979, Circle Repertory Theater) 
  • Christopher Walken (1982, American Shakespeare Theater) 
  • Harry Hamlin (1982, McCarter Theater)


Go ahead, Grampa…make my day

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It was a grand car, and it’s also a grand movie.  

Join CineVerse on Wednesday, September 3 at Oak View Center for “Gran Torino,” helmed by and starring Clint Eastwood--the story of an aging tough guy’s angst over his quickly changing neighborhood and his locked-and-loaded resolve to keep the punks off his lawn (literally). 

For more details on this flick, visit: here.


Mad about Madeleine

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

by Erik J. Martin

Note: This is part seven of a seven-part article on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”; parts 1-6 were posted over the last six days.

The hidden but inherent evil within Judy as Madeleine in "Vertigo" makes her a classic femme fatale--an overpowering, attractive woman who seduces men into danger--so characteristic of the malevolent, sexy "spider woman" indicative of film noirs of the '40s and '50s. Noir blondes have traditionally been depicted as conceited, cold and resistant to love and trust while remaining sexually vivacious.

In Hitchcock's cosmology, blondes must be punished for their self-centeredness and emotional detachment, both to himself as the director and to the characters they portray in his films. Hitch's female characters are usually perverse from the start, leading men astray through deceit, detachment, sex and delirium.

It is important, finally, to realize the extent of the director's invested self-revelation to his audience. Hitchcock was notorious for obsessively coaching his actresses as pupils, and for choosing only voluptuous blondes to play his roles of women sexually repressed by their own sophistication. His goal onscreen was to expose the erotic, carnal female hidden beneath her formal attire, and thus present the perfect physical representation of woman in film.

As Judy dresses up and submits herself to physical objectification and degradation in “Vertigo” to please Scottie, so is she also, in her non-diegetic reality as Novak, surrendering to perverted and manipulative whims of the director (Vera Miles was originally cast to play Madeleine/Judy, but Hitchcock lost her to a pregnancy and ensuing marriage). Hitchcock's fantasy of dressing and undressing women is embodied in Jimmy Stewart, while the archetypal Hitchcock woman is epitomized in Kim Novak.

Film theorist Royal Brown put it best when he commented that " transforming Judy Barton into Madeleine, Scottie will remarkably mirror precisely what Hitchcock did with his famous blondes. Seen within this perspective, “Vertigo's” Orphism mirrors the sexism inherent in the patriarchal American culture." If we can swallow this observation, we must conclude that, in “Vertigo”, the male viewer is allowed, truly, to have his cake and eat it, too.


A symbiotic relationship

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

by Erik J. Martin

Note: This is part six of a seven-part article on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”; part seven will post tomorrow.

Just as the glossy eye of the woman in the opening credits draws us in to "Vertigo" as though we were peering into a mirror and seeing the "reflection" of our subconscious, so is Madeleine the mirror image of Scottie himself. His obsession can thus be viewed in narcissistic terms, since Scottie is fascinated only by the reflection she offers of his own self.

Consequently, it is easy to see how the two are paralleled. As aforementioned, they are both victims of manipulation by Elster, and by each other, and are hence innately masochistic. Conversely, they both exhibit sadistic qualities, as is evidenced by their cruel, selfish motives:

Scottie uses and abuses the real Judy, and she in turn allures him with her facade, knowingly leading him into a physical and psychological danger. Nevertheless, both characters are ultimately portrayed as tragic figures in their search for a meaningful, romantic-erotic union.

In true patriarchal fashion, however, Scottie's misery is more poignantly depicted. He is worse off than having merely lost Madeleine--he has even been deprived of her image upon the realization that she is a fraud. His hopeless obsession is both self-destructive and irrational, aggravating to his vertiginous symptoms. The death of Judy is utterly tragic, as well, in that the loss of her ordinary reality is even more catastrophic than the loss of Madeleine’s ideality.

Because Judy dies, the question of whether or not Scottie would have accepted her remains a mystery. Scottie recognized a potential in Judy—“Judy, it’s you, too. There’s something in you,” he says. But the sentiment is only connected through her embodiment of Madeleine. He can't even come to touch Judy, since it would bring him no closer to his idealized vision.

The tragedy of Scottie and Judy relates to their desperate yearning for a romantic-erotic union that will redeem them and provide meaning to their lives. But these desires are blemished by the deceit present in their first meeting. They wander around aimlessly, experiencing guilt and anxiety, looking for a romantic illusion that will somehow accentuate their deficient identities.

At the film's conclusion, when Judy sees the shadow she thinks is either the ghost of Madeleine or a vision of death, she is completely confused, as if Scottie's vertigo, which he has now overcome, has been transferred to her: Hitchcock's oft-used "transference of guilt" theme at work.

Scottie has thus defeated death and his affliction through the sacrificial demise of Judy, a concession that guarantees the illusion of his own immortality. It takes the whole film for Scottie to overcome his acrophobia and his fear of death to reach the male-oriented, god-like solitude of the film's closing scene, which is a further commentary on the film's implicit dominance of man over woman and the preservation of patriarchal values.

It has been suggested that the denouement tower scene links religion to sexuality, resulting in death. The emerging shadows Judy sees--the silhouette of the nun--terrifies her, causing her to slip and plummet to her death. The falling motif has come to its fruition as a metaphor for the falling beyond fear into guilt and illusion, which was transferred to her by Scottie.

Tomorrow: Part 7—Mad about Madeleine


In love with an illusion

Monday, August 24, 2009

by Erik J. Martin

Note: This is part five of a seven-part article on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”; part six will post tomorrow.

In "Vertigo," Scottie starts to fall in love with an image, and proceeds to worship Madeleine as a distinguished work of art. He reinforces this obsession when he tries to transform Judy into his everlasting model of the dead Madeleine, a stimulus he needs to regain his desire. Scottie is given a second chance in Judy to recreate his Madeleine. In this, he rejects Judy—who wants to be loved for herself—to seek an ideal love that is totally connected to an image, and a dead image at that. Because Scottie is more intent on loving an effigy than a person, he has this image stripped from him at the film's conclusion.

Judy lacks a strong personal identity, though she can play the part of Madeleine to artistic perfection. In fact, her desire to please Scottie and resemble his artistic ideal is ultimately her downfall--she wears the necklace of Carlotta and is discovered. This is a reflection of Scottie's excessive aspiration, to make art mirror life exactly and to control that image, though this fascination ultimately becomes his tragedy. He must bring Judy back to the tower--the "scene of the crime"--to relive the death of Madeleine, and in so doing seals her fate and his own. Though she is always depicted as non-resistant, even overtly subservient to Scottie, Judy does respond to his affection. In the climactic scene when she is dragged to the top of the tower, her legs appear rigid and lifeless, as if she were already dead.

It has been argued, however, that Scottie's obsession is driven not by a subconscious necrophilia for this "dead" image, but rather by the fetishistic phenomenon of Pygmalionism, which occurs when a person is sexually stimulated by a picture or statue. These fixations are supposedly evoked through psychological imprinting at the height of sexual drive. Scottie surrenders to this attachment almost as masochistically as Judy submits to him.

The fact that Judy fails to entice him points to this implied fetishistic need for the image of the "dead" Madeleine as a catalyst to feel desire. This fetish could, furthermore, be masking a subconscious phobia of women.

Moreover, this self-destructive fixation could represent Scottie's readiness to embrace, through a romantic-erotic surrender, an alternative "death" to the real thing and to the burden of becoming his own self. Whatever explanation one gives credence to, it cannot be disputed that Judy is a self destructive and tragic figure--one who is so pathetically desperate for love that she will take it even through an illusory facade. As one critic posits, she is herself a victim of a vertigo of sorts, in which she accepts the psychological death of herself via the submittance of her body in the form of Madeleine to Scottie.

We can see Madeleine as Scottie's idealized artistic concept in examples throughout the film, as if she were romantic art personified: frequent profiles, lush wardrobe displays, flowers, visits to the church cemetery and art gallery, her resemblance to ''Portrait of Carlotta," etcetera. Even her abstracted, statuesque gaze and the non-diegetic music associated with her character (Bernard Herrmann's Spanish arrangement and tingling violin pieces) conjure up references to Wagnerian lushness and classical art.

Similarly, the mask-like visage of the anonymous woman of the film's title sequence echoes the artistic-feminist thematic inferences of the film. With her stony features and static expression, Hitchcock has taken a living, sexual female and turned her into a cold, dead object of art, like Madeleine. The camera depicting only half of her face, zooms in on the lips, then the eyes (which dart left and right, suggesting fear and disorientation), and ultimately a single, glassy eye that pulls us into a black void where geometrical shapes and surreal patterns emerge.

Tomorrow: Part 6—A symbiotic relationship


Why Midge matters in “Vertigo”

Sunday, August 23, 2009

by Erik J. Martin

Note: This is part four of a seven-part article on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”; part five will post tomorrow.

The character of Midge functions as a motherly, practical alternative for Scottie. She once had artistic potential, but gives it up for a career in designing brassieres. This can be viewed as a clash between art and science, the latter calling which she embraces and which is exemplified through her wearing of glasses. In this, and in her motherly adoration, she is unattractive to Scottie.

In a Freudian analysis, Midge personifies the restrictive, imprisoning world of the mother, a world that supports the superego. Scottie's "fatal flaw" is that he cannot enter this level of "superego" (the world of the father, law and order) due to his recurring vertigo and dependency on a mother figure, his desire for which (Madeleine) is demonstrated by his basic ''id'' impulses (Oedipal complex, necrophilia, dressing her up, his voyeurism, etc.) and his desire to break away, to "wander."

Midge's bra and step stool and Scottie's corset symbolize castration devices. The bra represents the repression of Scottie's sexual drive (his id impulses), the corset is seen as a threat to his masculinity, and the small step stool belittles his acrophobia by reducing it to an absurd paranoia. Midge's character is complex both sexually and symbolically in Freudian and feminist interpretations.

While it is easy to envision her as a life-mother figure (which contrasts nicely to the death-mother persona of Madeleine ), she can also be understood as, what film historian Walter Poznar calls, a "typical young liberated rationalist"--an established woman with a basic insensitivity to Scottie and to the potential for feminine values.

Her self-inverted portrait represents the cruelty and pragmaticism of her imperceptive interests, and has served to disgrace and humiliate Scottie's idealized obsession. Midge's portrait scheme is a throwback to the callous, manipulative intentions of Gavin and his yearning for freedom and power: a longing for the past, when a man could seduce and violate a woman (Carlotta and, for that matter, Judy), force her to have a child, and then abandon her.

Midge immediately suspects promiscuity when she spots Madeleine exiting Scottie's apartment--she can't even conceive of his romanticized, ideal fascination, nor the mysterious and beautiful quintessence magnified in the enigmatic Madeleine.

Tomorrow: Part 5—In love with an illusion


Vertigo’s voyeurism and sexual politics

Saturday, August 22, 2009

by Erik J. Martin

Note: This is part three of a seven-part article on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”; part four will post tomorrow.

It is evident that males are the dominant, controlling sex in the world of “Vertigo”, and in the case of Gavin, even some powerful males can manipulate other males.

Gavin's power lies in negation and destruction. Not only has he murdered his wife and abandoned a lesser woman who loved him (Judy), but he has completely used and deceived an old crony (Scottie). Thus, Scottie is the victim of Elster’s crime, as he is the victim of acrophobia--the very handicap that allows Gavin to frame him into becoming a witness for the wife's staged suicide.

Judy is taken advantage of by Gavin, who even following her splendid performance of Madeleine is jilted by him once the murder is successful. Likewise is she dominated by Scottie, who also demands that she resemble Madeleine in his rejuvenation of an image. The real Madeleine also is victimized by her husband's evil intent. Even the mythical Carlotta Valdes is reputed to have suffered a great ordeal at her husband's insensitive hand.

Through Scottie's hidden pursuit of Madeleine, we are given a classic example of acceptable voyeurism. What he is led to believe, like Judy, is that he has been hired to do a job. But in reality he is duped into spying on a very attractive female who will wholeheartedly win him over, through the brilliant disguise and performance, to this symbol of feminine perfection.

Kim Novak allures us, as she does Scottie, with her captivating sensuousness and immutable beauty. Because Madeleine is so odd (yet still so totally sensuous) and vulnerable to her own suicidal quirks and her fixation with Carlotta, Scottie is justified in spying since he is "responsible" for her--he will inevitably protect her. His voyeurism suddenly doesn't appear so perverted in this light.

Tomorrow: Part 4—Why Midge matters


Themes, patterns and techniques in “Vertigo”

Friday, August 21, 2009

by Erik J. Martin

Note: This is part two of a seven-part article on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”; part three will post tomorrow.

“Vertigo” is a film imbued with rich, deep themes, including guilt, manipulation, obsession, voyeurism, fetishism, and the objectification of women as sexual and artistic symbols.

Several motifs and patterns are evident throughout that play on these themes. Hitchcock uses patterns of wild and rising crescendo, animated or exaggerated images that contradict reality, shadows and music that transform a character, depictions of towering structures arrayed almost menacingly across our vulnerable hero's horizon, and many more to spin his celluloid yarn--to utterly overwhelm our senses with a barrage of recurrent stimuli via cinematic devices (many of his own signature) that we may submit to his mastery as a storyteller.

Numerous deep space camera techniques were used to create the illusion of depth and great stretching of distances: the corridor shots in the Empire Hotel, the asylum, and the alley adjacent to the floral shop, as well as the driving scenes occurring down San Francisco streets. The lens often tilts skyward to give the perspective of Scottie looking up at tall, phallic-like monuments (trees, the bell tower, buildings, mountains, crosses, the Golden Gate Bridge, etc.), and, conversely, high angles are also used in occasional scenes, such as the view from the top of the bell tower just after Madeleine's death. These images reflect a dominant male hierarchy at work in the film.

A plethora of tracking shots are implemented to create the phenomenon of Scottie stalking Madeleine. During the :first half of “Vertigo”, the camera pans from right to left, and from left to right for the second half--an attempt to impart the feeling of vertigo itself. And of course, there is Hitchcock’s famous forward zoom/reverse tracking method to provoke the most heightened sense of agoraphobia. These forward zoom/reverse tracking shots were done with miniatures laid on their sides, since it was impossible to do them vertically. This shot—which produced the view down the mission stairwell—cost a whopping $19,000 for just a couple of seconds of screen time.

The costumes, although not particularly significant, are relevant in reflecting the personality of each main character. Scottie is always donned in formal garb, and Midge's appearance expresses her practicality and motherliness. But Madeleine's very shapely, stylish attire, though dignified and refined, elicits her natural, sexual beauty: she doesn't wear a bra, as evident by her wearing of a strapless gown and the fact that it was neither on her in bed or hanging up to dry in the scene after her rescue. Also, Madeleine wears only darker colors, indicative of her preoccupation with death. Judy, likewise, flaunts a strikingly buxom appearance, but in a more coarse, almost concubine style.

These are all examples of how the primary techniques implemented in “Vertigo” become imprinted to elicit certain conditioned response via repetition. Through all these aspects--camera techniques, misc en scene, editing and so forth, we are given mental, and even spiritual (with the religious insinuations somewhat manifest) dimensions functioning in the protagonist's (and our own) universe. As a composite, they create the entire picture that Hitchcock the director wishes to paint. The challenge lies in delving beneath the shapes, colors, and even the canvas, to reach a truer, fresher perspective through subjective interpretation of the given stimuli.

Tomorrow: Part 3—Vertigo’s voyeurism and sexual politics


Don't start the revolution without me

Thursday, August 20, 2009

They say there's a word in French for everything.

Next Wednesday's word of the day is "Danton," the name of the 1983 feature starring Gerard Depardieu and directed by Andrzej Wajda.

"Danton" is based on the last months of Georges Danton, one of the leaders of the French Revolution.

Make a date to join us on August 26 for this gripping film.

Also, the new CineVerse September/October schedule is posted and ready for viewing by clicking here.


Scaling new heights

Dig deeper and you’ll discover why Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” is an indisputable classic

by Erik J. Martin

Note: This is part one of a seven-part article on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”; I will post a new part each day over a week’s time.

For more than 50 years, one movie has continued to climb dizzying heights toward the top of favorite film lists without looking down. And why not? “Vertigo,” considered by many viewers to be director Alfred Hitchcock’s best movie, and a perennial choice among critics as one of the greatest films of all time, certainly has a winning formula for phobia.

Based on the novel D’ Entre Les Morts written by Pierre Boileua and Thomas Narcejak, “Vertigo” stars the late, great James Stewart in a bravura performance as detective Scottie Ferguson--retired from the force due to his uncontrollable fear of heights--and Kim Novak as Madeleine Elster, the voluptuous femme fatale who leads Scottie into a world of intrigue and dangerous psychosis. The film is, quite simply, is a masterfully paced murder mystery tour de force for the Hitchcock, who also served as the “Vertigo’s” producer.

Filmed on location in and around San Francisco, “Vertigo,” is vibrantly photographed by cinematographer Robert Burks and features stunning shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, the hilly city streets, the bay, and the majestic sequoia forests. Add to the mix Alec Coppel’s and Sam Taylor’s intricate screenplay, imbued with haunting themes of obsessive love at its core and topped by a clever plot twist or two, and the brilliantly moody score a la Bernard Hermann, and it’s no wonder how this 1958 film has stood the test of time.

Amazingly, “Vertigo” netted only two Academy Award nominations: for best art direction/set decoration, and best sound. But 40 years later, in 1998, the film was named to the American Film Institute’s list of 100 greatest movies.

Of interesting note to fans is that Novak--then a hot property in Hollywood--was not originally cast as Madeleine: Hitchcock envisioned actress Vera Miles–who would go on to star in “Psycho”-- as the female lead, but Miles had become pregnant, and declined.

The film helped make Novak bankable as a dramatic actress, and even more so as a curvaceous blond bombshell (Hitchcock once said that Novak was proud enough of her naturally well proportioned figure that the actress did not wear a bra during filming).

“Vertigo” benefited from a million-dollar restoration in the late 1990s that brought the movie back to theaters--introducing it to a new legion of fans in all of its originally intended colorful, wide-screen splendor. The restored letterbox version is also available on VHS, and DVD, which includes a rarely seen final shot that Hitchcock chose to cut prior to the film’s release.

Trivia note: The director makes his traditional cameo in this film 11 minutes after the opening. Hitchcock is donning a gray suit and walks past Gavin Elster's shipyard.

Tomorrow: Part 2—Themes, patterns and techniques in “Vertigo”


A new breed of stylized violence

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"You've heard the story of Jesse James
Of how he lived and died
If you're still in need
Of something to read
Here's the story of Bonnie and Clyde."

Make your plans to join us on August 19 to rediscover a landmark picture in film history: Arthur Penn's 1967 magnum opus "Bonnie and Clyde," as chosen by Joe, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. This is one of the most influential movies of all time with its in-your-face stylized violence and rhythmic editing style, and should be a real treat to dissect.


CineVersary: Warriors, come out and play again

by Erik J. Martin

Back in the late ’70s, before modern day gang menaces like the Crips and the Latin Kings ruled the urban roost, law‑abiding citizens cowered in terror before outlaw cliques like the face‑painted and Louisville Slugger wielding Baseball Furies and the chic chick muscle of the all‑girl Lizzies.

At least that’s what the laudable though sometimes laughable cult favorite "The Warriors"--released 30 years ago--had us believing.

These are the armies of the night. They are ten thousand strong. They outnumber the cops five to one. They could run New York City. Tonight, they are all out to get The Warriors.

That, in a blackjack’s crack, is the premise for the film, which stars Michael Beck as Swan, leader of the leather‑vested interracial brood who, at a New York gang convention, are falsely accused of shooting Cyrus, the hood overlord who had proposed an intergang truce for the purpose of a unified hooligan march against the Big Apple.

The nine‑man Warriors’ do‑or‑die mission? Get back to their Coney Island crib alive and expose Cyrus’ real killer, Luther, The Rogues’ reckless big daddy, who utters the movie's most memorable sing‑song line: “Warriors, come out and play‑i‑ay.”

Upon its release in 1979, The Warriors generated plenty of boxoffice bucks, as well as its share of controversy. Gang activity erupted at theaters, leaving several viewers dead and resulting in protests of Paramount’s film and an unsuccessful lawsuit levied against the studio.

Though The Warriors’ overscripted street jive and bell‑bottomed and bandana afroed overall look hasn’t exactly aged well (director/writer Walter Hill originally wanted the gang to be all black, but the producers over-ruled him), the film’s stylish comic book-like look, creative editing and carefully choreographed fight scenes add an artistic credibility that is hard to deny.

Add to these plusses an infectious underdog‑against‑the‑underbelly script that validates the flick’s campy closing lines, delivered by the Riffs’ head cheese: “You Warriors are good. Real good.”


It's Fellini's world--we just live in it

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Venetian Night may have come and gone, but here's a chance to celebrate the best of Italian culture--join CineVerse on August 12 as we view and discuss Federico Fellini's 1974 masterwork "Amarcord."

Considered one of the director's most audience-accessible films, "Amarcord" is a wistful, reflective picture that harkens back to Fellini's childhood growing up in Remini, the coastal Italian village where he was born. Join us for what should be a fun, festive and Felliniesque evening.


CineVersary: Woodstock and Altamont 40 years later

Hard to fathom that next week will mark the 40th anniversary of one of the biggest cultural milestones of the 1960s, the Woodstock music and art festival, which convened August 15-18, 1969 in Bethel, New York.

Drawing nearly half a million people a
nd featuring rock royalty acts like Jimi Hendrix, Crosby Stills & Nash, Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead and many others, Woodstock set the standard for major music shindigs, setting an important precedent that later festivals like Lollapalooza, Ozzfest and Bonnaroo can aspire to.

Filmmaker Michael Wadleigh brilliantly captured the sights, sounds and countercultural vibe that permeated the unforgettable three-day event in his groundbreaking documentary "Woodstock," which was released in early 1970. "Woodstock" freed the standard rock concert documentary from the restraints of the stage and static camera by utilizing 16 cameras, which filmed approximately 100 miles of footage and ensured that the spectators as well as the performers would be well represented.

Supported by a hungry lot of talented young filmmakers--including Martin Scorsese--Wadleigh assembled the footage into an amazing sensory pastiche. The film's creative use of split screens helps juxtapose diverse images and tell the story of Woodstock in an innovative way.

Warner Brothers recently remastered the original 70mm print and cleaned up the multi-channel soundtrack, as evidenced on the brand-new "Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music Director's Cut (40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition)" DVD boxed set--a worthy buy or rental.

If Woodstock was remembered as the intoxicating high point of the '60s flower power counterculture movement, Altamont—the notorious free show the Rolling Stones hosted in December of 1969 in California—was later regarded as the hangover from hell.

And that’s quite an appropriate description, considering the Stones hired the outlaw Hells Angels as concert security, who proceeded to beat audience members and even knife to death one particular concertgoer.

All this (plus the music and more mayhem) was captured on film by the Maysles brothers--outstanding documentarians in their own right--who in 1970 released "Gimme Shelter," a sobering testament that signaled the end of an era and which still stands as one of the greatest rock documentaries ever made—warts, welts and all. Check out the Criterion Collection edition DVD of this must-see flick.


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