To many, the last weekend in June represents a special time of pilgrimage to Glastonbury festival, a kind of hedonistic Mecca. Three days (or more) of tents, mud, live music and general mayhem ensue.
This year, however, festival organiser Michael Eavis and his team are taking a well earned break, and as a kind of replacement we have Glastonbury, a documentary charting the festival’s evolution from small 1970s hippy gathering to present day multi-brand behemoth.
The film is a mixture of professional video and home recordings, sent in by festival punters over the last few years. Director Julien Temple, whose previous work includes Sex Pistols documentary The Filth and the Fury, took on the mammoth task of editing the 900 odd hours of raw material received into a rather more manageable 128 minutes.
The result is a perfect encapsulation of the real essence of the festival, and its sometimes turbulent history. Difficult subjects, such as the 1990 riot and the incredible overcrowding of 2000, are all tackled frankly, and mix in well with the pleasant shots of people lying around in the sunshine. Temple’s work is excellent, and he wraps the historical footage around personal recordings of groups of friends at the modern festival, giving the piece a pleasant sense of continuity.
There’s plenty of humour, mostly knowing laughs at people shambling around or spouting cod philosophy under the influence. The mud and grime are as well captured as the camaraderie and good spirited nature of the whole thing, and there are some thumping live acts to boot, Faithless in particular standing out. Its main appeal may be the nostalgia though, so I’m not sure theres much here for those who have never been.
The film was commissioned by Michael Eavis, and features him prominently, so it feels quite autobiographical. He’s a thoroughly likeable personality, but as with all autobiographies it does have a tendency to take itself quite seriously. The festival’s political heritage is heartily lent on, with speeches from Tony Benn and plenty of George Bush masks. Eavis himself calls the whole thing a “battle of good versus evil”, which seems a little strong.
For me, the link between 150,000 city folk ingesting all kinds of substances in a field and effective political activism has never been particularly clear, and the modern day festival, with its monolithic security fence and corporate branding, seems more like a huge celebration of modern capitalism than a rejection of it.
Nevertheless, no-one can deny it’s an experience, and for those who are missing their Glastonbury fix this year, this might help satisfy some of the craving. By the end, I was certainly longing to be back in the green fields.