Movie of the Day – Taking Woodstock
August 22, 2011 1 Comment
It was the summer of love and a ton of other cliche saying when referring to the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Most of the movies that cover the time when free love, cultural movements and the best music in any genre are just based around the festival. Think of them like concert dvd’s more than a theatrical movie. Sure the music is what it was all about, this convergence of the era’s finest musicians is something to cherish and admire. So few movies even make an attempt to capture the early beginnings of the festival, showing how it was done and built up into the iconic moment in American history. So Taking Woodstock isn’t necessarily a documentary, more so a comedy drama about the making of Woodstock. I am sure there are people who were wishing that it was about the reverberation of guitar strings or the soulful wailing of a songstress, belting out her ballad to the crowd and allowing us, the viewing audience, a chance to place ourselves in the time of the summer of love. Well if you were expecting something of that nature I suggest you go watch “Woodstock” which is hailed as one of the finest concert movies about Woodstock. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy an Ang Lee directed comedy about the quirkiness of an interior designer and how he seized the opportunity to bring Woodstock to life.
The year is 1969. Change is brewing in America, and the energy in Greenwich Village is palpable. Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin) is working as an interior designer when he discovers that a high-profile concert has recently lost its permit from the nearby town of Wallkill, NY. Emboldened by the burgeoning gay rights movement yet still tied to tradition in the form of the family business — a Catskills motel called the El Monaco — Tiber phones producer Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) at Woodstock Ventures and offers boarding to the harried concert crew. Later, as the Woodstock Ventures staff begans arriving in droves, half a million concertgoers make their way to Max Yasgur’s (Eugene Levy) adjacent farm in White Lake, NJ, to witness the counterculture celebration that would ultimately make history as one of the greatest events in the annals of rock & roll. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi
Now the movie claims to be based on a true story, I have not read the memoir it was based on titled, “Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life” by Elliot Tiber and Tom Monte. So there I can’t say that what transpired was the actual story of the beginning of Woodstock. I am sure since the movie was more a lean towards a quirky comedy about Elliot Tiber, that there might be a few liberties taken. Still this doesn’t detract from the movie at all as it was engaging and the amount of characters that show up on screen kind of mirror the patchwork of lives that comprised the whole Woodstock experience. Characters are interesting and unique, side characters float in and out of the frame as it gives this free flowing spirit to the movie. I can imagine that the experience of running into such a large amount of people from all walks of life to be this constant rotation of stories and experiences. I think Ang Lee captured this essence and made a really entertaining film.
I like that the movie doesn’t really focus on the music of the festival. It toed the line in a sense where we know what Woodstock is about or have this certain association with Woodstock, but the film focuses more on the people that made the concert possible. It was about the concert goers and the interpersonal connections that brought them to the fabled festival. Some people were probably upset that a movie about Woodstock featured little to no music of the actual festival. I think that’s a relief seeing as if I wanted to watch a movie about the music of Woodstock, I would just watch a concert dvd or something. I like that Ang Lee focused on the people and their eccentricities.
Overall the movie is enjoyable, although I do wish that Demetri Martin would have had a bit more emotional range other than just bewilderment. Yes his character is gay in the movie and trying to find himself in all this free love movement, but it would have been nice to see him explore more of the boundaries of his character. Thankfully we got a stellar cast of secondary actors, particularly with Liev Schreiber playing a transgender woman. Eugene Levy shows up playing the dairy farm owner whose plot of land is used for the staging of the concert and finally in a non-America Pie dvd role. The secondary characters is what the movie is about, focusing on this mosaic of human experience and culture that Woodstock brought together.