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The Isle of Wight Festival

Message to Love

by [Sony Wonder - 1970]
ASIN: 1573306932

This documentary by Murray Lerner (From Mao to Mozart) was shot in 1970, but for many reasons was not shown to the public until 1995 in Great Britain. In an important way, it is the final chapter in an unofficial trilogy of concert films (along with Woodstock and Gimme Shelter) that together paint a picture of the highest and lowest points of Woodstock Nation politics: from mass goodwill to anarchy to outright stupidity. On the one hand, Message to Love is a rock & roll movie with several performances that are outright revelations (the Who's triumphant show, the Doors' "The End"), some that are awfully good (Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun"), and more than enough that are superfluous (Ten Days After, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Jethro Tull). On the other hand, Lerner's cameras are trained on the increasingly testy relationship between nomadic hippies who travel a long way to see the show but refuse to pay, and concert producers who resort to using guard dogs, cops, and aluminum walls to keep crashers at a distance. Just how bad does the mood become after several days of this? Check out the scene in which Joni Mitchell breaks down in tears after singing her ode to peace and love, "Woodstock," before this lot. In an era when we've become used to extraordinary security and high ticket prices at rock concerts, it's perhaps hard to grasp what the fuss was about at the Isle of Wight. But Lerner's amazing film helps a viewer get a sense of what was really at stake in that period before rock & roll was a corporate matter, and when kids naively thought it was theirs for the taking. --Tom Keogh

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