I'm not exactly sure what I want in a documentary about a rock festival, but I'm sure that it's not in Glastonbury. The film covers the 40-odd year history of the British Woodstock and bleeds the comparison so dry that there hardly seems to be any new ground worth covering. Before I even sat down to watch the film, it occurred to me that director Julien Temple might try for mileage by wedging in some references to druids or other ancient stone-worshippers that populated the Glastonbury landscape eons ago. Turns out Temple was way ahead of me -- Glastonbury begins with a re-enactment-history-lesson that has everything but Simon Schama to narrate it. Moving forward a few thousand years, we get a predictably odd parade of oddballs arriving from all corners -- seemingly on foot -- to rock out and dip into some easy-breezy spiritualism at the festival location -- Worthy Farm in South West England. We see nude moped riders, a dude playing guitar upside down in a harness, people with Braveheart-faces, a gorilla carrying a man in a cage, and knights in chainmail.
Much of the film is organized around the point of view of Michael Eavis, a farmer who owns the festival site and has hosted it since 1970. His love-hate relationship with all attendees who show up every year is interesting to explore, to a point, but it eventually give the film a tinge of officialdom; for every stellar captured performance by Radiohead or Nick Cave, there's a scene delving into whether or not Eavis has overcharged some itinerant worker for labor, and so forth. When Temple isn't focusing on Eavis, he's leap-frogging back and forth between footage from different eras with no concern for centering the audience in a time and place even for the duration of a scene. For example, a shot tightly focused on Cold Play's lead singer during a performance might be paired with what seems like a reaction shot of someone from 1971 -- there's a bizarre compulsion at work here to 'Oliver Stone' the film up with a complicated, busy visual pallette. Also, the older the footage is, the more it has the feel of impersonal stock footage.