Music documentaries require a couple key factors to be successful: performance footage, and interviews with principals involved. How well the doc is received generally depends on how well the director works within this framework and, of course, how much you like the music in question.
In “Glastonbury” director Julien Temple has the advantage of having the longest running music festival in the world as his subject. The Glastonbury Festival has been running more or less continuously since 1970 (the festival was canceled in 2001 following a riot the previous year that resulted in a number of deaths). Temple also benefits from access to footage from those first seminal years of the festival (including both amateur footage and Nicolas Roeg’s 1971 film), when the crowds consisted largely of dirty hippies and the artists they supported.
Temple hits many of the festival’s highlights (or lowlights), including the decision by Michael Eavis, the farmer who first opened his 150-acre farm to the festival, to ban the Travelers, a group of nomads who were given free access to the festival following their being driven out of the rival (and free) Stonehenge Festival. We also see the change in the atmosphere of the festival following the election of Margaret Thatcher, the dramatic logistical upgrades required to accommodate the growing crowds, local reaction to the festival, and finally, the measures put in place following the 2000 riots, measure which included on-site security and a 20-foot high wall ringing the festival grounds.
The concert performances run the gamut from Marianne Faithfull to David Bowie to Bjork to Radiohead. Throughout it all, the musical selections offer a means of thematic transition as Temple uses the songs to introduce the various aspects he wishes to cover.
The festival’s audience is as integral a part of the proceedings as the music, and we get a rich portrait of the wide variety of pranksters, iconoclasts, and freaks that descend upon the West Country of England in the hundreds of thousands every year. “Glastonbury” offers an exhaustive look at what remains the largest event of its kind.