What a find! Film footage from a landmark 1970 concert sat in a producer’s garage for almost 3 decades. So finally, after all the music rights and remastering were taken care of, we have a landmark rockumentary. Thank the maker. Festival Express is a rock concert movie about a 3 city train tour, with stops in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary (not to mention a stop in Saskatoon for booze). The performers included The Grateful Dead, The Band, Buddy Guy, and Janis Joplin (among many, many others).
The film doesn’t have the sociological impact of Woodstock and Gimme Shelter, or the melancholic “meaning” of The Last Waltz. Festival Express has more of a backstage pass quality. We get to see the performers (mostly in the bar car) sitting around talking or jamming. The retrospective interviews have some amusing anecdotes (I like the one where the concert promoter slugs the mayor of Calgary). The concert footage is not especially amazing, and some of the songs are merely OK. But Janet Joplin, man, she steals the show. Her two songs in the movie will blow your mind. It’s sad that she died just two months after the festival.
Crank it!! You can listen to this flick in Dolby Digital 2.0, Surround 5.1, or DTS. I’m sorry, but you gotta listen in DTS, man. The track sounds full and very very loud. There are some minor hisses, but this is an excellent restoration. I say again, crank it.
Once again, a miracle of restoration. There is a lot of noticeable grain, but I think the filmmakers couldn’t escape the 16mm source material. The grain is especially noticeable in the train scenes. But I think the home movie quality actually adds the character of the film. And the nighttime concert footage looks fantastic. Janis’s final song is full of color and great blacks.
There are two discs:
On the first disc there is about 50 minutes of extra concert footage. Worth checking out. And the train hopping feature actually takes you to a specific song from the film.
On Disc Two there is “making of” documentary called “Derailed”. It’s a fascinating looks at the journey of Festival Express, and why it took over 30 years to get this film made. There are also some extra interviews, a photo gallery, and a trailer.
Festival Express is a lot of fun. If you’re a music fan, than this is a definite pick up. If you’re a Canadian history fan, who would’ve thought Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia would’ve passed through my home town of Winnipeg? But the audio is fantastic, the video is very good, and the special features are good enough (a commentary track could’ve been nice). It might not be the best rock movie ever made, but Festival Express deserves its place in the concert film pantheon. If only for Janis. Wow.
Special Features List
- Over 50 minutes of bonus concert footage
- Uninterrupted music tracks
- Extended interviews
- Making-of featurette
- Photo gallery