The Wisconsin Film Festival is off to a great start. Kicking things off in rockin' style was Festival Express. Woo boy, what a ride!
For those of you who have never heard of the Festival Express, and are too unmotivated to click the link, here's the scoop: In the summer of 1970 there was a series of three rock festivals across Canada--Toronto, Winnipeg, and then Calgary. Instead of the typical "fly in, fly out" method of getting everyone to the shows, the promoter arranged to have a train carry everyone from city to city. It became a non-stop party and jam session. (They actually had to make an "emergency" stop in Saskatoon, because they ran out of booze.)
There was some delightful modern-day interviews, as some of those involved reminisced and relayed anecdotes. However, most of the film was simply footage, with occasional voiceovers. The footage was full of jewels. From the joyful comradery of musicians giddily (and sometimes tipsily) jamming together on the train, to the skinny "children" of Canada dancing with abandon in the summer sun, to Janis Joplin flinging her body and soul into "Tell Mama".
I've been at movies where the audience applauded at the end. However, this was the first film that I've ever seen where the audience applauded after the musical numbers. We did, and it felt totally right. There was no way that you could hear The Band smoke their way through "The Weight" like that and *not* burst into cheers along with the original festival crowds. I think it would have felt unnatural to sit in silence after that.
The "cinematography" was that of a guy with a handheld camera in the 70's. Very much a home movie feel. However, the editing was great. There were some great split screen moments, allowing us to see close-ups of different angles at the same time, or near/far juxtapositions.
Some of the thoughts I had while watching:
*How priviledged the "music must be free" kids were that protested the $14 ticket charge. When you demand that you should be able to attend a concert for free, you have an extreme sense of entitlement, and very little idea of how the world works (are you prepared to feed and clothe the musicians and sound techs, since you are demanding their services for no compensation? It's their livelyhood, duded.) When you are ready to get violently up in arms about the price of a rock concert, there are probably not a whole lot of real problems in your little world.
*Janis Joplin was an amazing performer, and yet probably wouldn't have gotten very far in this day and age. Not a pretty face, not a pretty body, not a pretty voice. Given how shallow and obsessive the entertainment business is at the moment, it seems unlikely that a non-petite, husky-voiced woman, with a thick chin and acne would get very far. Which is crazy, because onstage she *was* sex and drugs and rock and roll.
*What was really great was that even with the close quarters, the lack of sleep, the sun, the chemical "additives", etc...there seemed to be very little negative energy. As far as what we were shown, at least, everyone seemed to be genuinely positive and at peace with themselves and each other. Now, it may be that they just left out an petty squabbles, hangovers, and other small upheavals to focus on the good, but even so it looks like it was an absolutely amazing trip.
It was certainly an amazing evening of film. My face started to ache from the grinning. Here's to tomorrow night.