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DVD: Festival Express, 2-Disc Special Edition (2004)
    Film Music Masters: Jerry Goldsmith    
Review Rating:   Excellent  
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1 (NTSC)

November 2, 2004



Genre: Concert / Documentary  

Documentary of the 1970 multi-band tour by train, featuring top folk, blues, and rock musicians of the era.




Directed by:

Bob Smeaton
Screenplay by: none credited
Music by: various
Produced by: Gavin Poolman,  John Trapman
Cast: The Band,  Delaney & Bonnie & Friends,  The Flying Burrito Brothers,  The Grateful Dead,  Buddy Guy Blues Band,  Ian & Sylvia & The Great Speckled Bird,  Janis Joplin,  Mashmakhan,  Sha Na Na
Film Length: 89 mins
Process/Ratio: 1.78 :1
Anamorphic DVD: Yes
Languages:   English (Dolby 5.1),  English (DTS 5.1),  English (Stereo) / English, Spanish Subtitles
Special Features :  

Disc 1: "Off The Tracks" - Indexed & Play All Option for 10 Additional Concert performances (48:15)

Disc 2: "Chugging Along: Additional Interviews" (19:14) / "Derailed: The Making Of Festival Express" (14:16) / Theatrical Trailer for “Festival Express” (1.78:1)

Comments :

2004 was a privileged year for fans of orphaned concert films. After decades of unavailability, "Wattstax" finally debuted on DVD (with its original ending and archival extras), although the political themes that sired the event and affected the tone of that documentary were sometimes pushed aside by rambling performances (and a chicken dance).

The thirty-year story and saga of "Festival Express" is more intriguing because footage was shot by producer Gavin Pooleman, Sr., and original director Frank Sotonovich; roughly edited into a working print; and subsequently shelved because of a music rights nightmares and multiple lawsuits, resulting from the festival's heavy financial losses.

The making-of featurettes and extra interviews on Disc 2 present an archeological mystery and a fascinating cultural snapshot of an event that was meant to travel from Toronto to Winnipeg to Calgary, and guarantee a rich series of performances. Costly and hampered by hippie thugs jealous of paying audience members, the producers of the travelling show were faced with ugly conflicts between selfish youths, musicians loyal to their audience, cancellations, and police who sometimes were caught in the middle of nasty verbal clashes, egos, and a physical fracas in Toronto.

In assembling the existing concert, behind-the-scenes, and surviving newsreel footage in to a finished work, we get a snapshot of a noble but money-losing venture, and had a film crew not been around, the entire event would have remained a minor footnote, and fading, collective memories. Even more important for historians are the informal moments of musicians on the train: different styles jamming for long sessions, lotsa booze and drugs, and glimpses of icons, like Janis Joplin away from the concert stage, offer rare glimpses into the lives of people without the usual p.r. spin.

One dilemma with any concert film is that no matter how good the movie is (and "Festival" is that good), if you don't like the bands or songs, the film becomes personally meaningless. As a document, the film provides enough historical material so non-fans can appreciate the purpose of the travelling concert; plus there's a sufficient diversity of music styles, ensuring the film doesn't become dull for most. (It also doesn't hurt in having a brisk 89-minute running time.)

"Festival" also gave local bands, songwriters, and lesser-known musicians an opportunity to reach more people, and some of their delight in revisiting the event is captured in Disc 2's interview montage. Extra performances on Disc 1 also contain excellent, edited performances of songs (some in trippy two-panel format) that are far from B-side tunes, filler, or outtakes.

The film and ten additional performances have been effectively tweaked in 5.1 mixes, although there's a bit too much enhancement during some of the applause. Shot in 16mm and blown-up to 35mm, the film looks surprisingly good; the grain levels and colours are well-balanced, and the 1.78:1 matting is acceptable and less pinched than a forced scope ratio.

A superb document of a rich period in rock's history.


© 2004 Mark R. Hasan

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