Taking Woodstock feels like the experience I might have had if I had been able to attend the concert. From cross dressers to naked dancers to meeting new friends in a van at the concert, This movie is a great time.
Taking Woodstock is the adaptation of the memoir Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert and a Life by Elliot Tiber. The story revolves around Elliot, played by Demetri Martin, who seems to be the perfect son, putting his life on hold to dig his parents and their motel out of financial ruin. His character embarks on a journey of self discovery of being gay, and trying to find a way to be more open about it and maybe tell his parents. Martin was a very convincing actor and this was quite a stretch from his normal comedy routine.
His parents own a motel in Whitelake New York and as he comes back for the summer to help them out, Woodstock’s previous venue gets pulled and he sees an opportunity for the motel and his family to make some money. This opportunity makes it possible for Elliot to host the generation of change in his backyard.
So Woodstock decides to set up shop in Whitelake and in come the characters. First there is Vilma, a cross-dressing gay war veteran, who is offering security for the motel during all of the chaos, played humorously well by Liev Schreiber. His character had some laughs, but also had a way of being very caring and compassionate and seemed to bring people together.
Next was Emile Hirsh as a freshly returned Vietnam veteran, Billy. His look fit the part perfectly, but sometimes his acting was a fine line between feeling the part, and being too silly. Towards the end though, the audience can really connect with Billy as he clings to a childhood memory with his friend, Elliot. The best line he had in this film was, “Over there, I’m normal,” referring to Vietnam, as opposed to how people look at him here with his flashbacks.
His parents were quite the characters as well. His Dad (Henry Goodman) was just the lonely man behind the woman, slowly drowning in his life of misery. When the concert came into full swing, he seemed to come to life. His Mom (Imelda Staunton) was a bitchy old maid that was very stingy with money along with towels and soap. She could be funny at times, and just sad at others. Staunton played her so well, I hated her at times.
The theme circling through out the film is the idea of showing what else went on at Woodstock besides the music. Showing that it wasn’t just about the music, but more about the peace and love and relationships that formed around it. Director, Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) showed Elliot taking acid for the first time at the show, and portrayed the effects on the screen beautifully. It was such a wonderful way to show what it might have been like to have been at Woodstock and taking this drug. It seemed very realistic in a dream-like state and amongst all of the chaos of Woodstock, the acid made everything very calm and serene. The scene was beautifully shot by Lee and we were able to watch Elliot react to the drug and when looking through his eyes, see the world become brighter as it started to dance around him.
Lee has a brilliant way of filming tolerance in his movies as well. His stories seem to take the differences in everyone’s lives and make everyone seem equal and ok. He portrays homosexuality in this film as a sign of the times and people seem to be just fine with it, in the world of hippies and love at Woodstock; which is eye-opening considering how homophobic people still are today.
Even though this was a story of life around Woodstock, I felt there was more opportunity to showcase the music from the event in the film. When one scene started playing The Doors, I thought, “Yes, here we go.” Even though The Doors didn’t play Woodstock, it was hearing the period music that got me excited. But there wasn’t a lot of music after that. There was the distant humm of unrecognizable music coming from the stage when Elliot ventured over towards the excitement, but that’s not exactly what I wanted.
There were also some scenarios left open that might bug some, but to me, it felt like the story was trying to stay open for the sake of opportunity and possibilities. Leaving it to your imagination that everyone went on with their lives doing great things.
Woodstock ’69 was a moment in time that many have tried to recreate and all have failed. The peace and simplicity of those three days will never be possible again, and it’s understandable that many wish they could return to that time. Lee captured the essence of Woodstock in a film that probably few will see. The movie is a love/hate kind of film. I loved almost every bit of it, my husband disliked a lot about it. He wanted more music and thought it would be a film about the concert itself. So if you clear that up before you go see it, I think everyone will enjoy it.
I give Woodstock 4 misunderstood Jimi Hendrix lines out of 5.
by Angela Davis