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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Festival [Blu-ray]


(Murray Lerner, 1967)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: Patchke Productions

Video: Criterion Collection Spine #892



Region: 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:38:13.888

Disc Size: 47,810,095,083 bytes

Feature Size: 29,452,812,288 bytes

Video Bitrate: 35.88 Mbps

Chapters: 19

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: September 12th, 2017



Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit



English - enable on-screen text that identifies musicians and the songs being performed!


When We Played Newport, a new program featuring archival interviews with Lerner, music festival producer George Wein, and musicians Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Buffy Saint-Marie, Pete Seeger, and Peter Yarrow (30:35)
Editing “Festival,” a new program featuring Lerner, associate editor Alan Heim, and assistant editor Gordon Quinn (26:33)
Selection of complete outtake performances, including Clarence Ashley, Horton Barker, Johnny Cash, John Lee Hooker, and Odetta (20:52)
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Amanda Petrusich and artist bios by folk music expert Mary Katherine Aldin






Description: Before Woodstock and Monterey Pop, there was Festival. From 1963 to 1966, Murray Lerner visited the annual Newport Folk Festival to document a thriving, idealistic musical movement as it reached its peak as a popular phenomenon. Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash, the Staples Singers, Pete Seeger, Son House, and Peter, Paul and Mary were just a few of the legends who shared the stage at Newport, treating audiences to a range of folk music that encompassed the genre’s roots in blues, country, and gospel as well as its newer flirtations with rock ’n’ roll. Shooting in gorgeous black and white, Lerner juxtaposes performances with snapshot interviews with artists and their fans, weaving footage from four years of the festival into an intimate record of a pivotal time in music—and in American culture at large.


An invaluable record of the Newport Folk Festival, the most important annual showcase for roots music from the late '50s through the next decade, Festival packs an amazing amount of information into its brief running time. Director Murray Lerner assembled footage he and several other cinematographers shot between 1963 and 1966 at Newport. The folk music boom that began in the late '50s with rise to popularity of groups such as the Kingston Trio reached its peak during these years, thanks to one man, Bob Dylan. But Dylan also undid the folk revival when he chose to plug in his guitar at the 1965 Newport Festival and play new, rock-oriented material accompanied by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. That moment is captured here, along with performances by many of the folk movement's leading lights, among them Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Donovan, Judy Collins, and Richard and Mimi Farina. Festival also shows how other genres of music were welcome at Newport, with the inclusion of Johnny Cash, Howlin' Wolf, Son House, the Staples Singers, Mississippi John Hurt, and Sonny Terry. In the case of several veteran blues musicians, Newport provided their first exposure to a white audience outside of the South. The emphasis here is on presenting as many acts as possible, so no numbers are shown in their entirety. There are brief interviews with some of the musicians, but the information on them is largely imparted through their performances. Lerner's cameras also capture the youthful exuberance of the audiences, some of them seen jamming on their own instruments between shows.

Excerpt from BarnesandNoble located HERE



The Film:

The efflux of pop and folk music that is poured forth and thumped out every year at that extraordinary socio-cultural happening known as the Newport (R.I.) Folk Festival is effectively represented in all its rambunctious spontaneity in the 95-minute documentary called "Festival," which opened yesterday at the Little Carnegie.

The clutter and confusion of performers getting in one another's way as they scramble onto that outdoor platform to do their musical acts, the variety of entertainers, the catholicity of sounds and styles, the motley characteristics of the audience and the old-time camp-meeting atmosphere—all these are vividly envisioned in this regrettably black-and-white film. It would have been better had it been shot in color, as was the memorable "Jazz on a Summer's Day," an excellent report on the ancillary Newport Jazz Festival, released seven years ago.

Excerpt from NYTimes located HERE

During the 1960's, throngs of young people descended on the Newport (Rhode Island) Folk Festival to hear most of the top folk music singers and instrumentalists perform in a free-flowing series of concerts. As a showcase for the music and a reflection of the temper of the styles, the festival was photographed by Murray Lerner over a 4-year period (1963--66), and the footage was edited for this documentary. Between shots of the young people attentively listening (even in the rain) to their folk favorites and closeup views of the performers themselves, interviews are conducted with the singers and some of their fans in an attempt to explain the appeal of folk music.

Excerpt from TCM located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Festival looks excellent on Blu-ray from Criterion and is cited as a "New, restored 2K digital transfer, approved by director Murray Lerner".  It's on a dual-layered Blu-ray, with max'ed out bitrate, and the image is rich with grain, exceptional contrast and piercing black levels. This was documented hand-held with kinetic camera movement. I love the visuals, which exclude vérité realism and even the darker, interior, sequences appear attractive. Outdoor shots are lighter but still hold their density. It is surprisingly clean and the occasional close-ups are impressive in their detail. I could have taken captures all day.





















Audio :

Typically flat, linear PCM mono track at 1152 kbps (24-bit) - that actually sounds quite buoyant at times in terms of the film's soulful music. There are production limitations but the memorable standards of songs by Peter, Paul and Mary, Johnny Cash, Baez and Dylan transports you step back in time. The performances are priceless. Festival is presented with optional on-screen text that identifies musicians and the songs being performed by clicking the subtitle button (see sample above). My Oppo has identified it as being a region 'A' disc.


Extras :

Criterion add extras. When We Played Newport, a new 1/2 hour program featuring archival interviews with Lerner (recorded between 2006 and 2010), music festival producer George Wein, and musicians Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Buffy Saint-Marie, Pete Seeger, and Peter Yarrow as it considers the American folk music movement during its most vital years. Editing “Festival,” is Criterion's new 26-minute program featuring Lerner, associate editor Alan Heim, and assistant editor Gordon Quinn sharing memories and history. There is a bonus selection, 21-minutes long, of complete outtake performances from, 1963 and 1064, including Clarence Ashley, Horton Barker, Johnny Cash, John Lee Hooker, and Odetta. The package has a liner notes booklet featuring an essay by critic Amanda Petrusich and artist bios by folk music expert Mary Katherine Aldin.



Festival is such an amazing time-capsule. It allows you to position yourself 'in the moment' - and the feeling of the time and place are 'magical' expressions beautifully exported in the presentation. I've been watching it for the past week - over and over. What an amazing time to be an artist. This Blu-ray package is a very strong recommendation to fans of all music, history or the amazing performers. Don't miss this one!

Gary Tooze

September 6th, 2017


About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze





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