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If you want to have a real sense of the concert and the mass of young
people who attended, as a crowd, by all means check out "Woodstock"
from 1970. It's all there, the music, the rain and mud, the buzz on the
soundtrack replicating the buzz on the sound system at Yasgur's Farm.
But if you want to get a feeling of what Woodstock meant on a personal level, then Ang Lee's your man and you've come to the right place.
How Lee managed to film this recreation without using real footage, I have no idea. That's apparently what he did.
There in a number of shots is the hillside, mud and slop, with the stage below. The few food stands and portable johns at the top of the hill. The winding pathways through the side venues of jewelry, art, a class for this and a political table for that. The long narrow road that still leads off of New York State Route 17B to the Yasgur hillside where it happened.
It rained a lot, but there was sun, this was mid-August and Lee bathes us in the warm glow of peace. Especially true to the event as I remember, the state cop who returns a peace gesture, the locals making sandwiches and offering water from hoses.
Everyone who was there and lucid has a personal remembrance. Mine began on Friday evening with air mattresses not more than 50 feet from the stage and ended with the sacrifice of a blanket abandoned on the mudslide the hill had become by early Sunday morning. In between, I managed to shuttle down state route 55 and into New Jersey the back way, after the music ended Friday night, Saturday morning. Then back from New Jersey up the same road and finally ending about two miles the other side of the concert where the vehicle stayed untouched until it was reclaimed near dawn on Sunday.
By that time, all though I'd only had a few generous puffs of weed, freely offered by those who had some, I was hearing double and it was time to pack it in.
Yes, the brown acid warnings from Chip Monck (name?), the event "voice" echo'd in the acid trip of Demetri Martin, the young son who blunders into inviting the event to White Lake. The colors and details are incredible as seen from his eyes, slowly beginning to shift and then expanding until the hillside is undulating in waves around the lit stage below. A remarkable shot.
Martin won't win any academy awards; Imelda Staunton might for her portrayal of his paranoid Jewish mother who has hidden a fortune while her rundown motel is nearing foreclosure. And an honorable mention should go to Liev Schreiber as the cross-dressing former Marine who provides security at the motel.
Stereotypes? Sure. Few hippies ever were as mentally vacant as the Earthlite players. Did anyone buy Emile Hirsch's early post-Vietnam anguish? Fortunately, it was left on the doorstep of the main film and Hirsch's character later rings true. Just a high school buddy come home.
But see the film for its personal feel, very true to the event. The wish that Dylan would arrive. The helicopter flights to the medical tent. (only a small number of half-a-million needed any treatment at all.) The question, what about the boys in Vietnam. As one girl says on 17B, "Wish they were here." I was back just a little more than a week. Went with an Army buddy I'd never see again. Yet no one gave us grief for our short hair, mandatory to get out of Vietnam.
The music? Well, Arthur Lee and Love are the perfect accompaniment to the acid trip inside the bus (they never played at the festival.) When the early strains of Friday night's music begin to waft over an idyllic lake where dozens of kids bathe nude, it's Arlo Guthrie and I caught myself thinking, damn, it was dark when Guthrie appeared. But that was forty years ago and the memory can't be trusted.
Just the personal feeling. And despite some of the weaknesses in the subplot, Ang Lee did get the feeling right.
For the personal memories, he absolutely nailed it!
Building a sweet coming-of-age comedy around a major American cultural
event of the Sixties, 'Taking Woodstock' is lodged on the periphery of
the legendary half-million-strong August 1969 "peace and love" rock
concert held on Max Yasgur's 600-acre dairy farm near the hamlet of
White Lake, in the town of Bethel, New York. While director Ang Lee
gives perhaps the most vivid sense on film yet of what it might have
been like to witness the event unfolding as a "townee," he approaches
it crab-wise, getting inside it by hovering on the outskirts.
In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, Quentin Tarantino remarked at how hackneyed biopics are. He suggested the best way to depict the life of Elvis would be to make a movie about one day in the life -- say, the one when The King walked into Sun Records the first time. Lee takes a similar approach to the enormous muddy happening of August 15-18 1969 (this film is a 40th-anniversary celebration). After all it's been thoroughly covered by documentary filmmakers, and most of the acts were thoroughly filmed and recorded. But 'Taking Woodstock' partly trumps that real footage by depicting how the happening built like an invasion, focusing on some of the locals and the promoters and a couple of the acid heads but never even focusing on the stage at all.
This might sound like a Robert Altman knockoff, but it's really quite different. Lee isn't trying to build up Woodstock through lots of vignettes and pieces. This is more like Tolstoy's vision of the Battle of Waterloo, but instead of the battle itself, the distant noise and tumult is that of a concert with thousands swarmed around it. That's true for a moment or two, at least, and those moments are haunting. But Ang Lee is no Tolstoy (though he did his own peripheral (Civil) war picture in Ride with the Devil). In the end he doesn't focus on the battle at all. Though Lee's young protagonist, Elliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin), a gay Jewish every-youth and the dutiful son of an impoverished middle-aged couple whose decrepit motel has useless pretensions to being a Catskills resort, is depicted as making it all happen by, as head of the minuscule township's Chamber of Commerce, linking up charismatic, bushy-haired young promoter Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) with enterprising dairyman Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), Ellie remains a peripheral figure of the concert, not even the witness of any of the 32 acts performed on stage. Ang Lee's new film lacks the somewhat hackneyed solemnity and pretension of his (admittedly far more emotionally powerful) 'Brokeback Mountain' or (much more stylish) 'Lust, Caution,' but his idea of depicting a great event, like Breugel, by magnifying peripheral figures, is a nifty one.
Elliot Teichberg is the main such Breugel figure, but his parents, the long-suffering Jake (Henry Goodman), and the rigid, paranoid Sonia (Imelda Staunton) loom large for him and us, humble laborers who make the crucifixion come to life. So do the damaged but charismatic young Vietnam vet Billy (Emile Hirsch) and Vilma (Liev Schreiber), the drag queen security guard who's a link with Ellie's New York life as a budding interior decorator, and with the Stonewall riots that had happened just a couple weeks earlier when Elliot was in Lower Manhattan. And there are plenty of others, notably the VW Guy (Paul Dano) and VW Girl (Kelli Garner), who start Ellie on a wonderful acid trip in their van, becoming his guides on an introductory tour of psychedelics. Yeah, "you had to be there," but as hackneyed as the Trip trope is, this is a good one: in its details as in its overall approach, 'Taking Woodstock' often succeeds because it doesn't try too hard and is cozy, offhand, and humorous.
The Sixties aren't about heroics or style, but about getting down, smashing barriers, breaking free -- way-stations of the romantic experience and milestones in any coming-of-age. Woodstock didn't really happen on the stage but in the mud and vans and tents, and Lee shows it that way. Its realities also included an insufficient number of Porta Potties, and townspeople raging at Elliot and Max for making the event happen but then charging big fees for cabins or sandwiches or a drink of water. Elliot's own mother is one of these. But then, somebody gets Jake and Sonia high and they dance in the rain. The motorcycle cop comes to do crowd control and ends up wearing a flower and giving rides. It's corny, but it happened. On the other hand, the borderline caricature depictions of Jews, Schreiber's amiable but overly broad transvestite, and even Emile Hirsch's clichéd, if lively, battle-scarred vet, all could have been thought through better.
Broaching such large events even peripherally, Lee and his writers, James Schamus, Elliot Tiber (author of the source memoir) and Tom Monte, arguably do owe us a bit more of the sex, the bad trips, and the music itself -- which can't be left outside the story of a great concert, whether its protagonist got to the stage or not. If you look at the real people -- Michael Lang, for instance -- they were rougher and sexier than anybody in this movie. The images of Elliot Teichberg's coming-of-age are as lightweight as everything else, and in the superficial sketching of his gayness the movie is as bland as the ditsiest biopic. 'Taking Woodstock' is a sweet, gentle, easy take on events. But remember that it's a coming-of-age comedy that happens in the midst of a tumultuous event, and you'll see that the light touch is not invalid. This was not the great Bad Trip concert; it was the great Good Trip concert. And the light touch allows the film to feel comprehensive with delicacy and keep its focus on the young man's sensibility.
Perhaps more than most films, you'll either get this or you won't. Ang
Lee seems to have conjured up the past with an accuracy that most
filmmakers would spoil with reverence. Through a series of vignettes
and very small references to Wadleigh's 1970 documentary, "Woodstock,"
a legendary moment in culture gets celebrated with a sweetness that was
part of the era that quickly evaporated.
I was reminded of the film "Dirty Dancing" not just in the setting but in the tone. Ang Lee keeps the humor from becoming too broad in depiction of the locals whose lives were about to up-ended in a way that no one anticipated but few would not welcome. The actors in particular find a common level to play with that draws the audience into the excitement. We know what will happen, but as the momentum builds to the actual event the audience is swept away just as the characters in the film are.
The key character, a very unimposing Demetri Martin, never falters in this coming-of-age story that mirrors the culture changes swirling around him. He gives a very strong performance and is virtually never off the screen.
I had read that the "main event" isn't recreated, and that's partially true. However, we "see" what most of the actual participants of the event saw of the performances on a stage set up in a cow field. It's a stunning moment in the film and as magical as the experience must have been. I was roughly the same age as the character, struggling with the changes of adolescence at a moment in time when there really weren't road-maps for the future. While I was far away from the East Coast, this event reached me in many of the same ways as the characters in the film. I suppose for most people my age that was also true.
While I flinched a few times when a "plot" would intrude into this whole dazzling work, it served the purpose for the power and point of the final moments: Standing in the muddy aftermath the hope of what was going to happen next was palpable for a whole generation, but the next event, Altamont with the Rolling Stones, ended it all with crushing horror. Yet, the optimism is still alive, I think. Equality for many racial and sexual minorities were fulfilled or are being so fulfilled at this time and one of the more ironic points of the film was actually scored during the trailers that preceded the feature: the previews for Michael Moore's "Capitalism" and that subject is what really ended the counterculture.
But for Ang Lee he gives the 40th Anniversary of the Woodstock festival an original and unsentimental celebration. (And if hippies annoy you, this isn't the film you need to see.)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I went to an early screening of this movie on 2/4/09 with my father who is 54, my mother who is 49, my fiancé who is 23, and I am 21. We all loved this movie! It was hilarious, if I could go see it again right now I would. It is about the supportive son of two struggling hotel owners, and on his quest to help keep his parents from defaulting on the mortgage he stumbles upon a huge concert (Woodstock) that has lost it's venue. This has everything you could possible want in a movie. The only thing that keeps this movie from being family friendly in my opinion is the few scenes with drug use and some prolonged scenes with nudity, but other than that I feel like it sends a great message of tolerance and understanding.
From reading some of the other comments it sounds like most people that
are disappointed in this film were mainly put off due to their
expectations for a film that focuses on the music.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I loved the unique focus on the small town that hosted the festival and how it affected all of their lives. I believe it was a great way to really capture the vibe of Woodstock without getting too rapt up in the actual musicians that were playing, which to me has been focused on enough over the years.
If you have been to a multiple day festival before you will have a wonderful sense of nostalgia. This movie completely captures how amazing people can be when they remove themselves from the hum drum monotony of their day to day lives and get together with like minded strangers for a few days of complete freedom and joy.
A great feel good movie with a lot of veiled depth about the people that helped make Woodstock one of the most famous events the world has known.
Taking Woodstock is a personal story about a young man finding himself at a time when his generation was trying to do that throughout the world. It is not a "docudrama" about the event, so people expecting to relive the Woodstock festival, take note. Elliot's struggles and evolution through this unique event are another of Ang Lee's wonderfully textured allegories. That this fellow raised in China can so pointedly create the full emotional spectrum of the "youth movement" of that time is a testament to his artistry. This movie takes on a series of serious ideas with a light flair. Go in prepared to "go with the flow" and you'll leave feeling free, man.
I like how director Ang Lee offers something different with every film. The first tim ei laid my eyes upon his work was with 2003's "Hulk".....now a lot of people hated that movie, but i found it very enjoyable. Then of course there is "Brokeback Mountain", in which i found it rather bland. But his last movie, "Lust Caution" was probably the one i disliked the most. However, each of his films are very different......no, not just with their stories, but the way they are each presented.......and in my eye, he presents them very well. And honestly, i cannot wait to see him take a hack at a period piece such as Woodstock. Here is something i liked more than anything in the movie.......rather than WOW you with awesome music, or have them cut the camera away to show Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix.......they actually focus on the how this all came together, which was great......because not only was the story very entertaining, but it created this essence about the concert, that it was something far off in the distance that you would never see, and you only heard people talking about it......i mean you obviously know now what it was all about.....but it takes you on this incredible journey of this small town family, and when you finally get a small glimpse of the concert......oh my goodness, it was enough to take your breathe away. Mainl because you see all this preparation, and all these people.....you want to see what all this fuss is about, but it never goes deep inside, and that is what i loved about this movie. It focused its lense on the people to the side, the ones who were the most important, and it showed how they viewed this concert. But the one thing that i must talk about is the scene when our main character first arrives at the actual field......hence, the acid phase. Now im sure you have seen some cool stuff in other movies like "Fear in Loathing" or "Yellow Submarine", because i surely have........but i can assure you this.......that was probably the realist acid trip ever caught on camera. At times, i literally had to look away from the screen and wipe the drool off my face, because it was too real. It captures the feeling of being at an actual festival, better than anything i have ever seen on film before. Job well done in that department. Bottom Line.......great movie. That is it. Now im sure most of you want the whole, hey lets meet the bands and what not......if you want that, you can watch a million documentaries about it on VH1. But this movie takes you on a much different trip. One that i actually liked. Let's face it.....i have lived that life, and it is now gone from me........but it certainly created those old feelings in my soul once more. Fantastic period piece. Easily my favorite Ang Lee film to date.
I saw this movie being very attracted by the trailer which seemed to offer fun and deep involvement. Now I have seen it, and I can say that it is enjoyable, but not fully convincing. Obviously, Ang Lee drifts attention from the concerts and the music of those three epic days in 1969 to focus on the personal story of a young man and his odd family who worked and lived in the background of this great event. The characters are engaging, very well interpreted, but in the end I missed the real protagonist, music, being it the powerful means through which these young people gave voice to their need for change and revolution and which was revolutionary, indeed. The atmosphere of those days is rendered vividly, we get many physical perceptions, of naked bodies, mud, rain, sun, but not acoustic ones, and I perceived this as a flaw throughout the movie. In the end you ask yourself: wasn't Woodstock mainly a three-day concert? Where is music? The movie is solidly directed, the director knows perfectly what kind of product he wants to offer, and in the end we get fun and reflection around, but never inside an event, which never comes to be explicit. Very good actorial interpretations (Imelda Staunton playing the mother is simply wonderful), although the characters themselves appear to be looking for a soundtrack which lacks till the end.
Taking Woodstock is a hilarious film, beautifully photographed and
filled with performances that capture the idealism of the '60s. Ang Lee
does a masterful job capturing the madness and chaos associated with
trying to stage a major rock festival in a rural community, even to the
point of borrowing split-screen techniques from the Woodstock
Demetri Martin plays Elliot Tiber (Teichberg) and does a fine job as the son torn between independence and duty to his aging parents, Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman (five-star performances by both). Eugene Levy plays the shrewd Max Yasgur with a twinkle in his eye, and Liev Schrieber is unforgettable as the ex-Marine and transvestite who provides security for the Teichberg family's motel.
Taking Woodstock is a highly entertaining movie.
Ang Lee and James Schamus like their hippie culture, and love
themselves that August 1969 summer of Woodstock, and also the act of
trying to capture it on film as it was to be there, on the outside and
suddenly coming into the fold of looking in. One can feel the love for
the period, the people, the music, the drugs, the whole scene, man. If
it doesn't make for the greatest movie it might just be cause Lee has
decided to make a precisely light-hearted affair with some fun moments
but nothing really hard-hitting with its coming-of-age story. It's a
been-there-done-that affair in terms of the major characters, and its
more significant background subject provides more of the color and
excitement in its two-hour run time.
It's basically about the people behind the scenes at Woodstock (we never see anyone famous, aside from certain semi-figures like Michael Lang and Max Yasgur, portrayed by actors), specifically the young guy Eliot who got together the Woodstock-financial people to his small town as part of Bethel, New York, and helped also to give (politely putting it) a boost to his parents' motel business. We see some of the ups and downs, the downs being things like gangsters trying to muscle their way into the earnings of the thousands of people flocking upstate to frequent the motel (and the up of getting 'security' with transvestite Liev Schreiber in an awesome performance), or just with Elliot's parents and how their attitudes stay mostly the same- what's with these damn kids and their hair and sex and drugs anyway- until towards the end of the three days of peace/love/music.
It's a funny movie for at least a good amount of its run-time. The writer Schamus knows how to milk some laughs out of small-town fears and those scenes of freak-outs that shake up the quiet veneer of rural upstate New York. One good example of this are the folks in the 'theater troupe' who live in Elliot's barn and who remind one of the mime troupe from Easy Rider (lots of naked reenactments of Chekhov). And I even liked how Martin navigates himself in scenes where he has to act perplexed but not show it too much like, "oh, hey, lots of hippies, OK, got to get back to work, whoa!" When it comes time for the more dramatically demanding scenes from Martin (a relatively inexperienced actor and mostly comedian by the way) he falls flat, or looks wonky when tripping his ass off with Paul Dano - a weird but affecting scene, by the way.
Lee decided, more or less, to just take it easy this time around. After the heavy head-trips of Hulk, Brokeback Mountain and Lust Caution, the guy needed to have a laugh, and what better way than to have some good times and breezy moments in reflecting on the one time hippies didn't get stomped down by cops or just wear lots of flowers in their hair. And when its airy and fun it works. When it tries to add some complexity (i.e. a gay innuendo moment is put out there and then never really mentioned again much to my dismay) and starts to get a little preachy towards the last quarter with Elliot having to come to terms with his life and working at his parent's motel (and discovering a dark secret about his rambunctious, irascible old Russian-Jewish mother played respectably by Imelda Staunton) it falls flat on its face. But its worth watching for those little moments - like when Elliot rides on the back of the motorcycle cop through the dense traffic of the road to the Woodstock concert. It's like the good-natured version of the traffic jam from Godard's Week End: less a-holes and more hippies.
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