An amazing mess of a movie about an amazing mess of an era...
This whacked-out documentary is about the ill-fated Randall's Island rock festival of 1970, which was a financial bust, due to its being picketed by a coalition of 21 radical groups (including such people as The White Panthers and the Weather Underground), chiefly because they wanted the capitalist pigs to give back to the counterculture that made them millionaires in the first place. Among the list of demands was $100,000 bail for a Black Panther, and 10,000 free tickets.
Nonetheless, the fences fell because of the demonstrations, and the venue was overrun with freeloading gate-crashers. As a result, many performers refused to play, even though they were paid half in advance. (One scene has a wimpy exec having the unenviable task of telling the ugly crowds that Sly and the Family Stone wouldn't be showing up.)
In order to pad out this documentary, some fictional footage was shot years later, featuring DJ Murray the K taking calls from people relating what's going down at Randall's Island. Also, there is an actor who portrays the concert promoter. In one pivotal scene, he meets with the demonstrators. And since he is an African-American who has worked his way out of the ghetto, he asks why he is the one who has to solve their problems (remembering that these groups feature a lot of well-fed white people).
And truthfully, he has a point. This is a volatile argument in one angry, sarcastic movie. THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED is perhaps the best film I've seen that describes the dichotomy of 60's counterculture.... where hippies who utter peace and love, or people who take the stances of radicals, use these identities as excuses to freeload off of other people's hard work. What is even more incredible is that this documentary makes this point with its ridiculous fictional footage!
And amidst the documentary footage of people bitching that they paid 21 dollars for this event, and some random clips of the performers who did play, -Mountain ("Mississippi Queen"), Van Morrison ("Come Running")- we see footage by artists who were never there! The Doors' "People are Strange" performance film (later featured in their "Dance on Fire" video collection), is prominently featured. While at first this seems like a silly way to give more running time to the movie, it nonetheless makes sense featuring Jim Morrison, the poster boy of chaos and disorder, amidst a backdrop that is out of control.
Similarly, we see snippets of Angela Davis, Richard Nixon, Vietnam, The Red Berets and Malcolm X interspersed throughout, and the choice of music becomes more symbolic. When we hear Steppenwolf, the song is "America". The movie concludes with Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner", which although played at Woodstock (3 Days of Peace and Love), is in a perfectly Satanic context here.. summarizing this hour-long treatise of a nation (and a generation) out of control.
Sometimes the most profound things occur by accident. This scruffy, out-of-control of a movie is the perfect metaphor of the scruffy, out-of-control generation it eulogizes.
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