Movie Reviews

“Taking Woodstock” Movie Review

"Taking Woodstock" movie poster“Taking Woodstock” brought home the experience of the 1969 cultural phenomenon without ever seeing a single on-stage musical performance. Based on the memoir “Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life” by Eliot Tiber, the film follows Eliot as the central figure responsible for bringing the three day concert to the small town of Bethel. The concert was slated to take place in Woodstock, but the locals had it shut down and in steps Eliot into water way above his head.

Why you’ll like this:
Coming of Age; great cinematography; hippies teaching love

There has to be something ironic regarding a movie that is set in the historic concert of Woodstock yet it never shows a single Woodstock performance, unless you count the local band “Hairy Pretzel” performing “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, which I don’t, valiant though their effort may be. “Taking Woodstock” is largely about Eliot (played by Demetri Martin) growing up and experiencing the world for the first time, stepping outside all of his responsibilities of being the President of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce, running his parents’ hotel and being a generally reliable think-tank of goody goodness. Woodstock changed all of that for him as he witnessed the freedom that the first mega national concert brings.

I loved how the presence of the event is ever-present through the variety of personalities that show up. You have cops being peaceful and friendly, and beatniks mixing with the residents, particularly the transvestite Vilma (Schreiber) connecting with Eliot’s father, a great juxtaposition of personalities. There was a lot of authentic feels to the film, the entire land seems overrun with cars and hippies and filled with the desire for peace and an end to the Vietnam war. Ang Lee brought a genuine texture and I felt like I definitely witnessed what the inner workings of Woodstock probably were. There’s also a few obligatory scenes such as sliding down the mudhill and nude bathing in the lake, as well as a ton of visual references from videos and pictures which I’m sure I would’ve picked up on more if I really knew anything about Woodstock outside of a few movie references.

One scene in particular will probably play in my mind periodically and it involved Paul Dano, Kelli Garner, our main character and a few drops of acid. I’ve never used a hallucinogenic before, but I imagine the way Lee portrayed it is probably exactly what it’s like. Colors bleeding into one another and slightly swirling together to form slightly new images. A simple and effective way to show a unique experience induced by drugs.

Why you won’t like this:
slow moving story

“Taking Woodstock” is never in any rush, because there’s really no specific grand scene or memorable climax. I think it’s meant to be a lot like Woodstock itself, just a gradual experience you slip in and out of before you know it, just go along for the journey. I think one of the final lines summarizes it best in response to Eliot asking what happens next, “Everybody’s gotta chase the money right? Everyone’s probably going to sue each other, but that’s cool. We’ll figure it out.” Perhaps the aftermath should be the sequel, I’d line up for that one too.

3 out of 5 stars.

Starring: Demetri Martin, Emile Hirsch, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Liev Schreiber, Eugene Levy
Director: Ang Lee
Genre: Drama, Coming of Age
Rating: R (nudity, sexual content, drug use, language)
Running Time: 2 hr.
Release Date: August 28, 2009