What I thought of Glastonbury: The Movie


In 2006 director Julien Temple released his film Glastonbury, a documentary encompassing the then 35 years of the festival. This though wasn’t the first attempt to make a film of the festival, in fact it was the third. The second was Glastonbury: The Movie released in 1996, a fallow year as 2006 was which meant there was no festival  but 1996 was just as the festival was sneaking into the mainstream thanks to Channel 4’s often chaotic but great coverage, and the blending of the alternative into the mainstream culture.  Festivals themselves were just being commodified thanks to the likes of T in the Park or the truly dreadful V Festival all trying to capture and bit of Glastonbury or Reading, rebrand it with the logo of alcoholic drinks or multinationals and flog it back to the kids.

Glastonbury: The Movie captures a time before the festival became such an essential part of summer consumerism in the UK. It tells a story of a time before far too posh students ticked off the festival before going to work for their parent’s company, or before middle class Guardian readers would push their kids around or before marketing directors called Nigel would turn up in their Audi A8 and get drunk on far too expensive wine.

The film was shot at the 1993 festival which also happens to be the second year I went and the first I remember anything of any worth about. In fact I saw them filming several times over the weekend, and to this day I swear I’m in the final film though friends deny that to be the case.

Unlike Temple’s later film it doesn’t tell the story of the then 23 years of the festival, but of the weekend itself through several narratives; the jazz band (this is the early 90’s, jazz was bizarrely popular even though it’s shite), the hippy girl that turned up without a tent and several others in an attempt to create an idea of what it’s like over the weekend. It doesn’t quite work as we watch these people go around the festival as frankly, they’re not very exciting or interesting. What is interesting is just the simple shots of crowds and people just talking or getting on with enjoying the festival which includes the music, though not on the Pyramid Stage, only on the NME Stage (now the Other Stage, the story of how Michael Eavis kicked out the NME needs to be told one day) and around the site. The effect of this is that the filmmakers are forced to look away from the obvious place (the main stage) and to the large part of the festival that til recently was barely mentioned by the BBC, or if they did, it was only in a smug ”oh, it’s not as good as watching Kaiser Chiefs’ type of way by someone as objectionable as Jo Wiley.

Away from the Pyramid means all the little things that are now sadly gone from Glastonbury manage to get captured, so the weird and wonderful improvised stuff from the busker standing on his head to the woman who just turned up selling banana cakes are captured lovingly without comment. Even in 1993 the festival’s scale was such that trying to capture it fully was impossible but what Glastonbury: The Movie does is to grab a snapshot of the festival coming out of the 80’s and the violence that closed 1990’s festival, and standing on the cusp of a massive musical explosion in the UK in the shape of Britpop, not to mention Glastonbury Festival itself was only a few years away from entering the public mindset in a massive way with the mudfest that was 1997. The images of which managed to mythologise the festival in such a way that people who’d never considered going saw pictures of people having the time of their lives in feet of sticky mud and fancied going.

But this film tells a story beautifully of a lost era I only managed to enjoy for a handful of years before the money, the TV channels and the likes of the BBC, Guardian, and endless vacuous celebrities turned up on site to ensure the festival became sanitised and commercialised. This tells a story of shimmering golden sunrises and sunsets. Of popping wood around campfires. Of laughing with friends at 4am. Of kissing someone at dawn at the stone circle. Of just wandering round the festival soaking up all of it; the sight, the smell, the sheer fantastic glory of something that at the time felt like it’d always be there, but as we now know is lost to us. Hence why this film, out of the three main feature films made about Glastonbury, is my favourite.

You never forget your first time, and in effect Glastonbury 1993 was the first time I’d been and managed to take it all in. It was the year I fell head over heels in love so badly with not just a place, but a sense of somewhere and something that 22 years later I’m still trying to recapture by heading back to Worthy Farm every year. It might be commercialised. It might have Wayne Rooney standing there at the side of the stage drinking Bud. It might have endlessly bland Indie bands playing to posh London hipsters working out where the gym and the nearest McDonalds is, but it’s Glastonbury. Scrap away the bullshit and that festival I experienced in 1993 is there. It’s hidden, but it’s there.

If you’ve never seen Glastonbury: The Movie, then do so. I used to have a VHS copy of this that nearly fell apart because me or mates used to watch this as part of an annual ritual to prep up for the festival. A few years ago a DVD came out of it, and it’s simply fantastic with the sort of extras a Glastonbury veteran can look at in awe, but I’ve still not managed to get through all of it. It’s by no means a perfect film, few are and there’s too much jazz in it (I really don’t like jazz you know) but it’s one of the few films that make me happy, sad and overjoyed at the same time as it takes me back to those few memorable, brilliant days of summer in 1993.

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