Music for rioters, not film reviewers

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Music for rioters, not film reviewers

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I don't like loud noises, parties and drugs, and I know next to nothing about rock music. This makes me a very poor candidate to enjoy “Glastonbury,” a documentary about the world's biggest outdoor music festival, which has occupied a dairy farm in Somerset, England since 1970. (I should also say that my splitting headache was not helped by the house music bands Prodigy, Massive Attack and the Chemical Brothers.)
But for his new film, Julien Temple has made not just a concert flick, but a frank historical and cultural profile of an alternative culture most people never see. Aggressive anarchists, gentle hippies, drunk frat boys and regular old jerks are among the festivalgoers, but much of the footage is of people who can only be described as raving lunatics. And this being a dairy farm, there are cows wandering around ― absurd, and somehow perfect.
The sometime guide on this tour through bizzaroworld is Michael Eavis, the down-to-earth, bearded farmer who founded the festival and owns the land. Michael explains the history of the festival ― and Britain itself ― through the idealism of the 1970s, the disillusionment and violence of the 1980s and the commercialization of the 1990s in a fascinating portrait of a changing subculture. Footage cut roughly together from 30 years of festivals, most shot by amateur attendees, makes for an assault on the senses and an accurate simulation of what it must be like to attend the event itself.
Festivalgoers talk about why they come ― to “escape the horrible realities of life,” to “recapture the Woodstock feeling,” to live for a short time in an anarchist utopia, or, of course, to drink, smoke weed and have casual sex. The socioeconomic cross-section at the festival is remarkable. The middle class ― later footage shows many on cell phones ― mingled with the “convoy,” a group of homeless travelers who lived out of vans and RVs that the festival welcomed in the latter half of the 1980s.
To Temple’s credit, the film presents a less than ideal portrait of the attendees. In one particularly striking shot, a young man stands completely still among a crowd bouncing to the music, his eyes wide and empty. One can’t help but cringe and wonder about his story. Temple also doesn’t shrink from the numerous riots over the years. Still, for all its cacophony, the film’s disjointed structure makes for some moments of startling beauty. In one scene, a woman acrobat hangs and spins on a trapeze floating from a weather balloon, set against the night sky.
Temple doesn’t limit himself to the festival. He also spends time with the police, festival security and with the local residents, many of whom hate the festival for disrupting life in their quiet country town. One elderly man, asked if he is going to the festival, replies, “Yeah, with a Tommy gun.”
But this is a music film at heart, and much of the film is performances, by David Bowie, Velvet Underground, Bob Marley and others.
Rock neophytes will probably find the music goes on too long to hold their interest. But if you’re a rocker curious about 30 years of culture clash in a small English town, this is an unusual treat. But remember to bring ibuprofen ― just in case.


Glastonbury
Documentary / English / 138 min.
Now playing at Spongehouse Apgujeong
www.spongehouse.com


by Ben Applegate

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