"TAKING WOODSTOCK" Movie Review
Independent Films, Movie Reviews
If I could have the opportunity to go back in time and visit the 1960s, I will first choose 1969. Two big life-changing events happened that year. First, the Stonewall Riots in June which marked the beginning of the Gay Liberation movement; and second, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair in August that changed the face of popular culture forever.
From August 15th to the 18th in 1969, half a million people attended and more tried and failed to get to the Woodstock concert site in White Lake, NY. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most pivotal moments in music history.
Forty years later, director Ang Lee (Lust, Caution, Brokeback Mountain) captures the event in the new film Taking Woodstock. Based on the autobiography by Elliot Tiber called Taking Woodstock: A True Story on a Riot, a Concert, and a Life, the film aims to tell more on what happened behind the scenes and less on the concert itself. Taking Woodstock is about what Tiber saw at the countercultural revolution.
Demetri Martin stars as Elliot, an interior designer in Greenwich Village whos deeply entrenched within his family business a dumpy Catskills motel called the El Monaco. His overbearing parents, Jake and Sonia (Henry Goodman and Imelda Staunton), have ran the business into the ground.
So in the summer of 1969, Elliot moves back upstate to the El Monaco to help save the motel from being taken over by the bank. One of his solutions is to invite Woodstock Ventures producer Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) to hold his planned music and arts festival in White Skills.
Elliot also introduces Michael to Max Yasgur (a brief but memorable performance by Eugene Levy), who operates a 600-acre dairy farm. Soon, the Woodstock staff is using El Monaco as their command center and hundreds of thousands of people are on their way to Yasgurs farm for three days of peace and music.
Written by James Schamus, Lees perennial writing partner, Taking Woodstock is a thought-provoking yet funny meditation on life and how one single event changed America forever. Although many people will complain because the film does not contain any music or concert footage featuring the likes of Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, and Jimi Hendrix.
But if you want to see those great performances, there are many documentaries devoted to the concert such as Michael Wadleighs Academy-Award winning documentary Woodstock. The movie is more concerned about the little town that hosted a generation-defining party.
Like most Ang Lee films, the performances are excellent especially Emile Hirsch who plays Billy, a recently returned Vietnam veteran, and Liev Schreiber as the cross-dressing ex-Marine Vilma. She is supposed to be Elliots angel, and the one who broke down the closet door wide open for the young, gay man.
Groff as the most beautiful hippie in Woodstock is a delight to watch. Taking Woodstock is the actors first full-feature film after his triumphant turn in Broadways Spring Awakening. But Martin is the one to watch. This is the actors first lead role and he is the crux of the movie.
Martin, who had a huge YouTube comedy hit called Jokes with Guitar, is the heart at the center of Taking Woodstock. If we dont believe in him as a character, then the movie would have failed. But Martin was able to break away from his comedic persona and shows the journey of a young man told through the psychedelic lens of Woodstock.
I have some trouble with the films slow pacing, but once the preparation for the concert begins, the narrative picks up. I also like the way Lee and company painstakingly recreated the iconic images from the event such as the mud dancing, nuns participating in the event, and hippies with daisies painted on their faces.
But above all, Taking Woodstock is a perfect snapshot of a by-gone era. Its a heartfelt and deeply engrossing coming-of-age film about a time when fighting for freedom truly meant something. Take a trip with Taking Woodstock. Peace.
And for that, Taking Woodstock gets 3 ½ Far Out kisses
Year of Production: 2009
Country: United States