in Review

Two Hours of Peace & Music

Taking Woodstock

Bored last Labor Day my dad and I saw this on a whim. I wasn’t expecting much and have never been much of a fan of Ang Lee but Taking Woodstock was probably the most intriguing and genuine portrayal of Woodstock I’ve ever seen.

Adapted from Elliot Tiber’s book by frequent Lee collaborator James Schamus, Taking Woodstock is the story of Elliot Tiber an aspiring artist trying to save his parents dilapidated motel in Upstate New York. Desperately searching for a solution, Elliot hears of “Woodstock Ventures”, a group of people looking to host a music festival. So with the only music permit in his town, Elliot decides to invite Michael Lang and company to have the festival in White Lake and offer accommodations at his parents motel… The rest is history.

What’s unique about Taking Woodstock is it’s approach at such a historic and gigantic event from a significantly smaller perspective. We essentially see everything (including the actual show) from Elliot’s eyes and get a far more personal view of what went down in the summer of 69.

The cast is made up of an odd collection of performers but it somehow works. Demetri Martin plays Elliot fairly soft-spoken and reserved but it feels quite befitting for the character. Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman are highlights as Elliot’s old-fashioned parents and Liev Schreiber is worth note as a gun toting transvestite named Vilma. Emile Hirsch and Jeffery Dean Morgan don’t really have a lot to do here but they’re a nice addition and Eugene Levy pops in for an enjoyable performance as Max Yasgur.

Next I thought I’d address some of the surprisingly negative comments I’ve heard about this movie, which has mostly received a luke warm reception. The most common complaint being “The audience is teased by the fact that we never actually get to see much of the show.” Fair enough but what do we really need to see that we haven’t already? Some guy impersonating Jimi Hendrix? People have to remember that were only seeing what Tiber saw and the truth of the matter is he never got close enough to see much of the show. Tiber spent most of his time fraternizing with fellow concertgoers as the sweet sounds of the festival lifted through the air. “Demetri Martin’s performance” is another beef but I honestly didn’t see anything wrong with him and the third common complaint is the handling of Tiber’s homosexuality. Particularly the fact that it’s never quite delved into but once again, were only shown Tiber’s first hand experiences. So what if he’s gay, how’s it relevant to the rest of the film? Perhaps him embracing his sexuality would feel akin to the spirit of the festival but that just didn’t happen.

Overall Taking Woodstock isn’t the most exciting film but it has heart and according to my dad, the most accurate portrayal of an acid trip he’s ever seen in movie. Not to mention all the good tunes and visual homages to the original film (some 16mm camera work and occasional split screens) very groovy in a far out happening kind of way.