Festivals: love ’em or hate ’em, we’ve all been there, done that and – most likely – bought the T-shirt.
Indeed, millions of people across the world attend music festivals every year, with the combined allure of live music, an open invite to consume an ample array of beverages (and more), and the prospect of losing yourself in a muddy, overpopulated field for a weekend remaining a big pull for so many of us.
Naturally, the setting of a music festival has appealed to filmmakers for many years; a creative urge that is no doubt heightened upon viewing such iconic concert films as Glastonbury The Movie, Monterey Pop and Woodstock – all of which did a very good job of faithfully documenting classic music festivals.
However, when entered into the realm of fiction, plenty of filmmakers have proven that they just can’t do a very good job of representing a music festival accurately. It’s as if the idyllic notion of music festivals that we all forlornly hope for – which is pretty much summed up in the sepia-tinted Strongbow (ugh) TV advert that’s been doing the rounds recently – is what directors actually take as gospel. Maybe if they did their pre-production research on day three of a rain-soaked event in rural Derbyshire, then things might be different…
One film which is attempting to present a more realistic portrayal of the modern music festival is the appropriately-titled The Festival, which stars Inbetweeners actor Joe Thomas getting into plenty of (and sometimes literal) shit at a hedonistic, mud-strewn UK festival. No doubt its producers did a bit more due diligence into how to properly depict the warts’n’all version of a music festival than some of their peers – examples of which you can find below, if you can bear to watch…
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
What happens: Er, we’re not really sure, to be honest. The short, Worthy Farm-set (apparently) scene in the sequel to the 2014 comic book adaptation sees Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (played by Taron Egerton) going into Clara Von Gluckfberg’s (Poppy Delevingne) beautifully-decorated and spacious VIP tent in order to plant a tracking device in her – a scene which, naturally, caused a fair bit of controversy upon its release last year.
What they got wrong: Aside from the very questionable scene we’ve just mentioned? Well, how about the horrific line “What happens in Glasto, stays in Glasto” which ends this sorry scene? Or the fact that Clara’s tent has an actual chandelier in it?
It’s everything a grizzled hippie might expect when whinging about modern Glastonbury – despite having not actually been for years. Kingsman: The Golden Circle portrays the festival as some kind of grassy Chelsea, full of posh people quaffing champers. Delevingne, Egerton, all of you: get yourselves down the Stone Circle and huff something insensible RIGHT NOW.
Bridget Jones’ Baby
Festival: Not specified, but it was shot in the grounds of Windsor Great Park
What happens: Our titular diary-writing heroine goes to a nondescript Glasto/Bestival/Isle of Wight-type festival (with an all-white outfit and wheelie case), bumps into Ed Sheeran in the VIP tent, falls face-first in the mud, falls into a yurt, and falls for a handsome stranger.
What they got wrong: The VIP bar is like none NME has ever seen. And headline artists do not prop up the VIP bar at any festival: that’s where corporate sponsors loiter about avoiding watching any actual music.
There’s one bit in the whole sorry sequence – excerpts of which you can see in the featurette below – which sees Bridget on her friend’s shoulders in the front row of the crowd during Sheeran’s subsequent slot at this festival. And she’s not even having piss-filled bottles thrown at her by irate punters who want a better view of the show.
Festival: The Stones Roses’ famous 1990 gig on Spike Island
What happens: Five lads, having it laaarge at the scene of arguably the Roses’ defining moment. Oh, and Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke is in it!
What they got wrong: While the coming-of-age film wasn’t universally panned, Spike Island‘s overdose on nostalgia (which no doubt many viewers enjoyed) couldn’t make up for its heavily-clichéd love triangle plot – or the fact that the actual Stone Roses are increasingly reduced to peripheral figures as the movie staggers to its inevitable climax. Still, the soundtrack was pretty decent, eh?
Festival: Woodstock Festival
What happens: The iconic 1969 staging of the festival is the subject of this middling film, which puts a fictional spin on the story of how Woodstock was staged at Max Yasgur’s farm in New York. Not that you’d know that Woodstock was a music festival by watching Taking Woodstock, mind: there’s such a frustrating lack of focus on the musical aspect of the festival in the film that it almost feels like a deliberate troll from filmmakers.
What they got wrong: Ang Lee’s largely music-less depiction of Woodstock may have included mud, overcrowding and the uptight attitude of the squares who opposed the festival, but the stereotypical hippie tropes which flood the movie are also a huge turn-off. Take, for instance, the LSD-taking scene – which of course features the straight-laced lead character Tiber saying “oh, what the heck” after being pressured into taking his first-ever trip. Zzz.
The Girl From The Song
Festival: Burning Man
What happens: Filmed on location – yes, you read that right – at the infamous desert festival in Nevada, this 2017 film attempted to re-tell the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to a modern, wide-eyed audience of young festivalgoers. And what better place to tell that tragic story than at Burning Man, right?
What they got wrong: While the film student producers of The Girl From The Song amazingly succeeded in securing permission to make their film at Burning Man, festival organisers later revealed that the experience of having a film crew on site left them never wanting to let another one in again.
“Seeing the film… though kind of intriguing, also felt really weird,” they wrote in a blog post back in November. “Basically, we don’t believe the film reflects the best of our culture, though by that measure there is a lot of video content on the web that wouldn’t pass the test. We gave this project a shot because we generally believe in supporting student projects as a form of self-expression and as an opportunity for growth and learning. As with most Burning Man experiments, we learned a lot from the experience.
“For one, it has confirmed our belief that Black Rock City just isn’t an appropriate place to shoot fiction films,” the post continued. “Moving forward, no narrative films will be allowed to be shot in Black Rock City. It just doesn’t feel right to have Black Rock City portrayed as a backdrop.
“And while this experiment has affirmed some of our beliefs and strengthened our media process for the future, it probably won’t even make it onto the long list of things that have ruined Burning Man.”