From Woodstock to Glastonbury to the Isle of Wight: The role of festival films in the construction of the countercultural carnivalesque

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    In this article I want to examine how the film of the 1969 Woodstock Festival is influential on the narrative choices and editing of later festival films, with a particular focus on films made about the 1971 Glastonbury Fayre and the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival – films that have, perhaps surprisingly, received little attention within academia. Glastonbury Fayre (1972) was, like Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music (1970), released within a year of the festival occurring, while Message to Love: the Isle of Wight Festival (1995) was released nearly a quarter of a century later. A contemporary review of Glastonbury Fayre called it ‘a cheapo action replay of all your favourite scenes from Woodstock’ (Partridge, 1973, cited by Anderton, 2019), and it presents a very different event from the contemporary version of the festival. In 1970, the Isle of Wight festival was regarded as Britain’s answer to, or mirror of, Woodstock – a gigantic event that featured many of the same artists that had performed at Woodstock the previous year, and which also ended in the event being declared ‘free’, though for rather different reasons. Over 60 hours of footage was filmed during the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, but legal disagreements regarding copyright meant that it was not edited and released until the 1990s. During this time, festival culture had become stereotyped and mythologised, so the editorial choices underpinning Message to Love are interesting to examine in terms of how they present the story of the festival with those stereotypes in mind, and how both Glastonbury Fayre and Message to Love develop narratives and techniques familiar from Woodstock. All three films help to construct what has been termed the ‘countercultural carnivalesque (Anderton, 2008, 2019) – a way of thinking about festival culture that is informed by a particular understanding of the American youth counterculture of the late-1960s, and the role of contemporary music festivals as modern-day manifestations of the medieval carnival behaviours and ideas described by Bakhtin (1984) and employed in relation to music events by later authors such as Blake (1997), Hetherington (1998) and McKay (2000). Works cited:Anderton, C. 2008. ‘Commercializing the carnivalesque: the V Festival and image/risk management’, Event Management, 12(1): 39–51.Anderton, C. 2019. Music Festivals in the UK. Beyond the Carnivalesque. London & New York: Routledge.Bakhtin, M. 1984. Rabelais and His World, trans. H. Iswolsky. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Blake, A. 1997. The Land Without Music: Music, Culture and Society in Twentieth-Century Britain. Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press.Hetherington, K. 1998a. ‘Vanloads of uproarious humanity: New Age Travellers and the utopics of the countryside’. In T. Skelton & G. Valentine (eds), Cool Places: Geographies of Youth Cultures, pp. 328–42. London & New York: Routledge.McKay, G. 2000. Glastonbury: A Very English Fair. London: Victor Gollancz.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)201-215
    JournalPopular Music and Society
    Issue number2
    Early online date18 Nov 2019
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Nov 2019


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