We need not despair entirely that the Glastonbury Festival isn’t taking place this year, for Robin Mahoney’s 1995 landmark documentary Glastonbury The Movie re-releases this week, re-constituted from a stockpile of previously unseen material, aiming to once again capture the spirit of a type of festival that, amid heightened commercial concerns, is fading away.
What Mahoney’s original film did and this one manages even more efficiently is to provide a swift, energetic travelogue of the A-to-Z of a music festival. Beginning just as we do, arriving at the campsite and setting down, Mahoney and his crew provide beautifully-shot glimpses of the sun setting as revellers drink, dance, and prepare for the three days of partying to follow.
Initially pitched as a Pagan festival, Glastonbury is perceived by many as the most carefree and hedonistic of the summer’s musical gatherings. The footage here – largely taken from the 1993 festival – predates the mass-televised nature of modern festivals, and so naturally feels a little more intimate; an early shot of a nude patron washing herself in full view without shame is particularly telling.
Once the music itself kicks off, judicious use of split-screen allows us to observe some fantastic musical performances – from the likes of The Lemonheads, Porno for Pyros, and in their first festival gig, The Verve – while remaining immersed in the audience atmosphere. It is precisely this that will keep those not overly fond of the music featured nevertheless glued to the screen.
It might be perhaps due in part to our own feckless, underwhelming summer thus far, but Mahoney’s glimpses of the baking sun, combined with faceless banter about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll manage to stir up a certain viewer desperation, an enthusiasm for this sort of experience that our own summer hitherto has not provided. The vibrant, hallucinogenic imagery will, for many viewers, be par for the course. More so than any similar film in recent memory – of which there are not many – Glastonbury The Movie perceptively covers every aspect, big and small, of the event, from the novelty book stores, to the police presence, and of course, the Hell-sent toilets we’re all familiar with any festival.
Most interesting, though, are the cultural – or rather, counter-cultural – insights. Were it not for the bands on show, one might easily mistake portions of the film for being shot three or four decades ago. Hippies are visible at every corner, often taking to the screen to espouse their ideologies, but mostly their energy, something refreshing in our present time of overall austerity. Meanwhile, chats with the average punter accentuate the escapist appeal of a music festival, to be yourself, or as one young lad puts it, “drop acid and drink beer”.
And just like that, it’s over. People pack up and wearily make their exits, while volunteers stay behind to clean up the sizable mess. The escapism is done for another year, and while Glasto is giving 2012 a miss, thanks to Mahoney’s exceptionally-constructed, visually stunning documentary film, we can glean just a little of its essence in the meantime.
Few films capture the vibe of live music as well as this sublime documentary.
Glastonbury the Movie (In Flashback) is on limited release from Friday.