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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Taking Woodstock

MOVIE REVIEWS

TAKING WOODSTOCK (2009)

Starring Demetri Martin, Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman, Jonathan Groff, Emile Hirsch, Liev Scheiber, Eugene Levy, Dan Fogler, Mamie Gummer, Paul Dano, Kelli Garner, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Skylar Astin, Kevin Chamberlin, Daniel Eric Gold, Edward Hibbert, Richard Thomas and Paulo Costanzo.

Screenplay by James Schamus.

Directed by Ang Lee.

Distributed by Focus Features.  120 minutes.  Rated R.

 

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Taking Woodstock

It takes a good amount of self-confidence to make a movie about a concert that was one of the defining generational events of our time and have the main characters never actually make it to the show. 

Taking Woodstock is not about the music - though there is some of it sprinkled about in the background we never see any of the performances.  If you want to see that, the documentary Woodstock is still widely available on video.  No, Taking Woodstock is more interested in the peace and love from the 3 days of peace, love and music.  They were also interested in the cosmic coincidences that turned a local arts festival into a party for a half million people.

Just in time for the 40th anniversary of the festival, Taking Woodstock takes a leisurely fond look back at some of the people behind the scenes to get the whole thing off the ground.  It also about how a small, conservative town in upstate New York dealt with suddenly being inundated with hundreds of thousands of hippies.

Now I have to admit, I was never quite privy to the Woodstock experience - I was alive when it happened but I was way too young to have even considered being there.  I've never been one of those people who obsessively watched the documentary, lamenting an experience that I had lost.  I'm not even a huge fan of some of the more legendary performers at the show.  I'm not completely virginal when it comes to iconic concerts - I was at Live Aid in 1985 and have been at several other legendary shows.

That said, this little movie, which gives you a sweet (if slightly unstructured) and laidback look at the concert from behind the scenes has finally awakened my Woodstock jones.  And it did it without even showing any of the performances.  Nice trick.

And, for the record, Taking Woodstock has the most realistic LSD trip ever captured on celluloid.  Or so I've heard.

The funny thing about Taking Woodstock, and I think one of the reasons that it does work as a movie, is that lots of things are happening and yet not much is.  The film does not have a typical screenplay structure and it works best for it.  The film is laid back in much the way the concert was.

It's also nice to see legendary director Ang Lee lighten up again after so many wonderful but dark and tragic films over the years.  This is a looser, funnier Ang than we have seen since the early days of The Wedding Banquet and Eat, Drink, Man, Woman.

The film stars comedian Demetri Martin in his film debut as Elliot Teichberg, who was a closeted gay man living with his parents in a rundown hotel which they ran in the Catskills in New York and also working in local government.  He had gotten a permit for the area's annual performance arts festival - which was probably going to be a string quartet and an oddball hippie theater troupe.  Then he heard about a huge concert with stars like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Who and the Grateful Dead losing its venue in nearby Saugerties.  Thinking it may be a boon for the local economy, he contacts the promoters, suggesting that perhaps it could be held at a local dairy farm.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Still, it is interesting to see this well-known tale told from a different perspective.  Taking Woodstock is mostly about the townspeople who were effected, the people behind the scenes at the concert and even the concert-goers.  It gives the story a new resonance. 

And it goes with out saying, directed by Ang Lee it looks stunning.

If you get technical, not all that much happens in Taking Woodstock.  However, what did happen - at least for a short while - changed the world.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright 2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 28, 2009.

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Copyright 2009   PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 28, 2009.