Despite the fact Glastonbury Festival is taking a year off for farming purposes, fans of the event can get their annual fix in a slightly different way this year, thanks to the re-working of the 1996 documentary Glastonbury the Movie, and ahead of the films June 29 release, The Fan Carpet's Stefan Pape caught up with the director Robin Mahoney.
The picture - which has been re-worked to suit the modern demands of digital cinema, also features a host of new material, in what proves to be a hugely emotive and atmospheric documentary film. Fully capturing the essence and the spirit of the widely renowned festival, there is little narrative to this one, yet Mahoney's feature offers a mere insight into the dynamics of the festival, almost the viewer dropping right in the centre of the annual event, capturing events from the memorable year of 1993.
We caught up with Mahoney as the film maker was in good spirits ahead of the films pending release, as he discusses what’s changed not only within the film, but to Glastonbury festival itself. The film maker - who has also been behind best-selling music DVD featuring the likes of The Prodigy and Basement Jaxx, also discusses his own experiences at the festival whilst letting us in to the reaction to the film from Glastonbury's very own creator Michael Eavis.
Of course the film was first released in 1996 - so why the re-release now? Is there is a particular reason for this timing?
I've been thinking about that and essentially it's something I've wanted to do for ages as I was never happy with the original. I was happy enough at the time but as years progressed and I got more experienced and had more of an understand of the material we had, it just became an obsession to rework it and get it as right as I possibly could. It was like we closed a mine that still had a rich theme inside it and I just knew there were so many gems to chip out of it and I was kind of proved right as we've managed to get The Orb. On our Facebook page someone just put up the programme notes from Glastonbury and it's had tons of comments - people talking about how '93 was the best Glastonbury ever and they had the best time, talking about The Orb being the best band and that being the best Orb performance ever, and it sort of makes it worthwhile, because it is the only recording of them at a festival.
Was there a particular reason why you chose '93, or was that just when it all came together?
Yeah it just happened to be the time, it's one of those West Country magic moments where it all just happened.
2012 seems to be a real year to celebrate being British, what with the Queen's Jubilee and the Olympic Games - and Glastonbury is a very traditional event, rich in British heritage. This film is almost tapping into the sentiment of the nation at the moment...
I really, really hope so. I didn't choose 2012 to be the year I would rework it, I've been working on this new version of the film... and essentially it is a new version. It's like my kid makes something out of lego, then takes it all apart, throws it across the floor and and picks it up and starts again - that's kind of what we did, we re-pieced everything together. It's taken a long time and it's only just culminated now, by pure coincidence. We did know that Glastonbury wouldn't be on this year though. Weirdly coincidental, is that Danny Boyle is doing the Olympic opening ceremony, and he's got a Glastonbury Tor and a mosh pit and cows, it's just weird. Another weird West Country magic moment I reckon, another stupid coincidence, and Glastonbury is obviously full of that. I actually met Danny Boyle a last year at a cash machine and I introduced myself and told him who I was and that I was a film maker too, and he asked what titles I had done and I said, "Glastonbury the Movie" and he said he hadn't of it, so I reckon he got his idea for the Olympics from me...
Do you think it has helped that the film is being released on Glastonbury's year off?
I hope so, but weirdly some of the cinemas have said that because Glastonbury is not on they won't take it because there is no buzz about Glastonbury. It goes either way, it's a funny one. The first version was released in '96 - another fallow year for Glastonbury, and the year of Euro '96.
Personally I haven't seen the original copy of the film - so what has changed? What is different about this one?
The key thing is we shot the film in lovely, rich cinema scope, using the very same lenses that Stanley Kubrick used to shoot Barry Lyndon, all NASA engineered cinema lenses. The idea was to create something as high definition and as rich a cinematic experience as possibly, and up until now people only had the chance to see this on 35mil - so that was the main reason, to give people the opportunity to see it in its intended format, to be able to see the expression of peoples faces in the mid-distance, to see what was written on peoples t-shirts and to give people a real flavour of actually being there. Essentially the film is about dropping the viewer in the middle of Glastonbury, because there is no narrative, there are no conventional documentary techniques or interviews, we've made it a purely experiential journey for people. The other thing is that there is lots of extra material that we overlooked the first time we used it, and also performances we couldn't use the first time, where either the bands were too big or were too difficult to get through to their record companies, or simply refused to be in it. But now, 15 years down the line, they're a little bit more eager to get in on it! It was a very fundamental year for Glastonbury as it was the last year before the television companies were allowed to come in and it was a real flavour of the original festival culture of Britain that we managed to capture. Everyone who was an aficionado at the time told us we were very lucky to catch it when we did, before it changed.
So how different a documentary would it be if you were to film it now?
I just wouldn't go, I wouldn't bother with Glastonbury now. It's difficult for people to perceive what it used to be like because of the blanket TV coverage of all of the main stage acts, most people are aware that Glastonbury is just a concert where people stand around in fields squashed together and watching this big money act on stage, but it was never that for me. Every time I used to it was all about the events, about sharing experiences with other people and making friends, just being connected in a field under the stars, that kind of stuff you know. It was never about the bands, and Glastonbury has got more like that.
I'm still a big fan of Glastonbury, but I've only been recently. I would have been four years old in 1993...
There are a few four year olds in there. There is something about the place, unless you've been there you won't get it. It doesn't matter who is on the main stage, the thing that draws people back to Glastonbury once they've been there, is that sort of psychic buzz that they get. It's special.
This documentary captures that essence and the spirit of Glastonbury - you can tell this has been made by a regular goer. Was this a film you had always wanted to make?
No it was a stroke of luck, but when the opportunity arose I took it and went for it with all guns blazing. I knew how special Glastonbury was, I went for the first time in '85 and even then it had kind of started to change, but I just knew there was something special about it. Hardly anyone knew about Glastonbury back then, but I knew some guys who lived near Bath and they dragged me up there, and it was just unbelievable. It was an unmissable opportunity to shoot it.
When I was watching it, I spent the entire time reminiscing about Glastonbury - just making me wish I back there. Yet for those who have never been, what is the appeal of this film?
It's a tough one. To be honest, it's not a film for everyone even if I do think it's a film that everyone in the world should see. It's distinct and a significant bit of culture and everyone should understand what its about, but I guess, pity, poor them.
The film works as an insight into British culture - was that always the intention or something you discovered after getting your footage?
That came from the decisions we made at the time of filming - not to point the camera at the bands the whole time, not to be interested any of these here today, gone tomorrow acts, although weirdly all of the acts in the film are still firing.
One of the most intriguing aspects to the film is that you've presented in split screen, what was the thinking behind that?
That's a new addition. I just think audiences now are much more sophisticated now than they were when we made it, it I mean next year will be the 20th anniversary of the shoot. I just think people are more able to take it more information than they were. When I watch the original copy now it just seems a bit slow, I just wanted to step up the pace and make it a more in your face, full on experience. It's a little bit more languid the other one. Yet there is no moment when you feel you are overwhelmed by the imagery though. Also it draws you back to the film - you can come and watch it again. There is so much material and I wanted to make it an hour and a half, to stick to that traditional cinematic length, and there was so much stuff that just had to go in.
There had been very few Glastonbury features prior to yours - I assume you had to approach Michael Eavis about your project, was he always keen, or did he have any apprehensions towards the project?
No he didn't have any apprehensions. He told us that a lot of people had approached him in the past about making a film about Glastonbury and he had always said yes, but what always came out was a VHS, half-formed thing. I don't think he realised how serious we were with our intentions though, and he was a little taken aback when he had seen what we had done, but now I think he is quite happy. At the time he was a little bit stand-offish, but now he likes it and so does his daughter, who kind of runs the festival.
Of course you had all your equipment with you and you were working hard, but as a film crew were you able to have fun? To drink and go out and watch bands in the evening, or was it all quite professional?
No it wasn't professional at all. What was professional was that we were trained technicians and we knew what we were doing and how to deal with all of these cameras. We were photographers, cinematographers and film makers who had all made films before. We just got off the back of making another feature before that. The fun that we had was filming the event. It was just such fun.
There has of course been another Glastonbury documentary since yours, by Julien Temple - how did you feel when that came out?
Absolutely gutted if I'm honest. It was a funny feeling, and weirdly I was in the process of making DVDs for people like Prodigy and Basement Jaxx, and the reason I got into that was because I wanted to work on this all-encompassing, massive box-set job of Glastonbury material and the original version of the film. Then when I heard they were making their film it completely blew the wind out of my sails and it took me another four years to get this DVD off the ground.
The two are so different though, Temple's is a much more conventional documentary...
Yeah thankfully they followed the route that we didn't. But our one is a tough sell, I mean TV companies want straight, normal narrative productions, something for people to get their teeth into. Someone said to me that this is a piece of pure cinema, and maybe it's a little ahead of its time in terms of television and conventional, middle-of-the-road viewing.
And finally, what is coming up for you now? Anything in the pipeline or is it all very Glastonbury at the moment?
It's all very Glastonbury now, but I have another project which is a kind of AV, abstract, working with some electronic music producers who still produce stuff on vinyl, playing in clubs around the world, and I do these remix versions for them of old media. And I have a narrative feature, which I guess you would call a multicultural thriller set in East London.
Glastonbury the Movie Official Website
Opening Night Premiere with Q&A and special guests including, actor Charlie Creed-Miles, Rob Birch (Stereo MCs), Alex Paterson (The Orb) on Friday June 29th 8.30pm - Tickets here
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