Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 2, 2018)
Even for those of us of concert-going age in the early 1980s, the US Festival remains semi-forgotten. For a look back at that attempt to revive the Woodstock spirit, we go to a 2018 documentary called US Festival: 1982 The US Generation.
Generation follows the standard template, as it mixes archival footage with modern interviews. In the latter category, we hear from Apple co-founder/US Festival co-founder Steve Wozniak, former Apple developer Andy Herzfeld, UNUSON Corp. president Dr. Peter Ellis, US Festival attorney/co-founder John Collins, UNUSON Corp. CFO Carlos Harvey, former booking agents Gregg W. Perloff and Sherry Wasserman, manager Steve Power, marketer Peter Block, and musicians Mick Fleetwood, Stewart Copeland, Marky Ramone, Kate Pierson, Mickey Hart, Eddie Money, and Joe Sharino.
The documentary traces the festival’s origins and early developments. We hear how Wozniak and company chose/pursued various musical artists as well as their experiences at the festival and related domains.
Of course, some musical performances come along for the ride, so we hear bits of the shows played by the Ramones, Gang of Four, English Beat, B-52s, Talking Heads, Police, Dave Edmunds, Eddie Money, Cars, Santana, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Grateful Dead, Jerry Jeff Walker, Jimmy Buffett, and Fleetwood Mac.
Don’t expect many full songs, though. We do get some complete – or nearly complete - tracks, but a lot of the performers bring us short excerpts. Some last a mere 15-20 seconds.
Given the size and nature of the US Festival, there’s a very interesting story to be told. Millionaire tech developer decides he has too much money so he throws a massive party – sounds like the subject of a great tale, right?
Maybe Generation exploits the source as well as possible, but to me, the film feels like a missed opportunity, as it brings us a less than coherent take on the subject matter. Despite access to many of those closely involved in the project, the film comes across like a loose “event journal” more than a well-developed documentary.
Some of this stems from the project’s scattered nature, as it leaps from one topic to another without much apparent logic. Granted, I understand some of this, as I get the choice to intersperse information about event planning with live footage.
This detracts from Generation’s chronology, but it also allows viewers some variety. If taken in order, the film would backload with performances, so even though it can feel a little confusing to jump in and out from “prep” to “event”, I get it.
Nonetheless, Generation still seems haphazardly edited. It includes a lot of information but it doesn’t attempt any form of clear throughline, so it tends to undercut the quality of the material it boasts.
Maybe Generation should’ve gone with a chronological narrative after all. While I understand the desire to “spice up” the proceedings and avoid a solid hour of little more than talking heads before we see Talking Heads, I think the jumpy nature of the information becomes a real distraction.
We learn a fair amount about the project and the performances, but the lack of coherence damages the impact of the material. The information doesn’t stick like it should because it feels thrown at us randomly.
Generation makes no reference whatsoever to the Memorial Day Weekend 1983 iteration of the US Festival. Director Glenn Aveni already created a program to cover those shows, so I guess that’s why he avoids it here, but it still seems odd Generation doesn’t even bother to acknowledge this “sequel” festival.
Given that it brings attention to a semi-forgotten event, Generation still musters attention from music fans. It’s a frustrating documentary but I’m glad I saw it.