“Taking Woodstock” is a nice relaxing flick that is so laid back, it’s positively Zen. Capturing more the reality of the times than the myth, it gives the viewer the iconic festival from the viewpoint of what most of the attendees actually experienced. To fault this movie for not taking us into the action, either as up- close audience members, onstage performers or backstage movers and shakers is ridiculous. Considering the amount of people who showed up verses those who could actually see clearly what was going on onstage or backstage, why would anyone think that the majority had the chance to experience either?
Have you ever been to a giant festival? Imagine if that giant festival lost control of itself and had neither the room nor the facilities nor the provisions necessary to satisfy the attendees? Imagine if, finally, anarchy reined and the gates were stormed. Add to those catastrophes the double-whammy of terrible weather and terrible drugs. Wow! What a bummer to have missed THAT! And THAT was the reality of all the soft-core rock porn revisionism that has piled up since the event. I spoke to people who were actually there right after they returned. To a girl/boy/man/woman, each one said the same thing: It was an uncomfortable unholy muddy Hell.
Oh sure, the acts were fab and it must have been really groovy if you were one of the lucky few who actually got a space near enough to actually witness those bitchin’ acts in their prime. It must have been glorious to have been the acts performing, being brought into the area by air, having a roof over your head, people to attend to you and all of your needs taken care of. That is, unless you were scared shitless that you might be electrocuted because of the stormy weather or if you seriously wondered if you were actually going to get paid. As to the latter point, The Who are very famous for being very suspect of the organizers and very dogged in their financial demands. I’m sure they had a lot of the faux Hippies running the festival telling them to chill out & not be such buzz kills.
Speaking of which…it’s so cool that this film shows how the alleged laid-back and down-with-the-people organizers were nothing more than acceptable faces for the lawyers, accountants and other buttoned-down suits who really made everything happen. The entire Hippie Movement was as varied as their straighter alleged opposites. And many, if not most, were just as mercenary. Of course, it wasn’t with-it to be materialistic, but SOMEONE was producing and buying all those goods and that lifestyle. SOMEONE had to have the money to make and purchase the fringed suede and head-to-toe leathers and beads and velvet and other finery it took to really affect the ultimate Boho aesthetic, let alone purchase the records and concert tickets and books (despite the dictates of the infamous Abby Hoffman tome Steal This Book). And that’s not even touching on the other accessories, from hookahs to the drugs that went in them. Oh sure, there were some who actually believed in communal ideals, but, basically, the only real and successful communes (with very few exceptions) were Israeli kibbutzim.
However, whatever realism this movie captures is very much offset by pure fantasy. It is, afterall, a MOVIE (though one based on a memoir)…as in…ENTERTAINMENT. For me, the big standout was Liev Schreiber in a small role as…you have to see it to believe it…a Drag Queen. He is so soulful and devoid of kitchiness that he stole every scene he was in. What was so absurd was that everyone immediately accepts him, from the central character’s immigrant parents to the attendees and organizers. Bullshit. At THAT time? He would have been beaten to a bloody pulp in upstate New York, no matter how husky he’s built and no matter how capable he was of defending himself, given his back-story as a former soldier.
In addition, the black hole that is Demetri Martin’s character is another fantastic creation. Martin plays the central character, Elliot Teichberg, who is actually Elliot Tiber, the co-author of the book this film is based on. Tiber is the person who made the festival happen when the townsfolk of its original location in Wallkill, NY denied its initial permit. Tiber was in charge of issuing his nearby town’s permits as President of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce, where his parents had a motel and he threw yearly arts concerts. Then, he either did or didn’t introduce the Woodstock organizers, fronted by Michael Lang, to Max Yasgur (there seems to be disagreements on this point), on whose farm the festival was eventually held.
What I found to be unbelievable…again, because of the times…was that Teichberg/Tiber has less of a struggle with his sexuality (Gay) than with facing the true terror that was his mother (don’t ask). Ummm…no. He wasn’t a stupid man and had lived with her nearly his entire life and had been warned and chided by his sister insofar as his devotion. And he was, apparently, so comfortable with his sexuality that it seems almost a non-issue. To a man brought up in Bensonhurst and upstate New York? Even though he lived in the West Village during this time period? In what universe?
Unfortunately, the most surprising performance was Martin’s. I ADORE him on TV and really looked forward to seeing him in this. However, he comes off as, well, nothing. He has no screen presence and he so underplays that he’s like some ghostly presence just floating through. I found that odd since, from what I understand, the man he plays was extremely colorful. The reason I’m confused is that I saw Eugene Levy being interviewed on TV about this movie and he said that director Ang Lee told him he wanted Levy to act just like Yasgur, even though Levy, originally, thought he should NOT do an imitation. So, here we have Martin not being the person he’s playing. Instead of the alleged flamboyance of Tiber, we get a relatively passive, innocent, easily manipulated nice Jewish boy. We get that he was intelligent and could be crafty when he needed to be, but… it didn’t work for me.
And, by the way, the other standout performance, though, like Schreiber’s, occupying little screen time, is that of Eugene Levy. There is no such thing as small parts, just small actors? Is that how that goes?
Should you see this movie? You could certainly do worse. It’s beautifully filmed (it is Ang Lee!) and it’s certainly not boring. It’s just not exciting. It’s a nice pleasant way to spend an evening. Then, go home, light up a big one and watch “Woodstock”, in both its versions. Somewhere, between the two (or three) takes on this seminal event, you’ll have been there…except you’ll have a roof over your head, a comfortable place to sleep, munchies within reach and no mud.
Remember, if you really want to experience a memorable happening each and every friday and saturday night, check out DJ ERZEN at FLUTE GRAMERCY (40 E. 20th St. New York, NY 10003 (212) 529-7870). You will dig the sounds,be extremely comfortable on the cushy banquettes and have super drinks and delicious food available all night.
Ang Lee at Gilt Groupe and Quintessentially host Focus Features' TAKING WOODSTOCK Premiere and After-Party at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema and Bowery Hotel in NYC
Demetri Martin at Gilt Groupe and Quintessentially host Focus Features' TAKING WOODSTOCK Premiere and After-Party at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema and Bowery Hotel in NYC
Liev Schreiber at Gilt Groupe and Quintessentially host Focus Features' TAKING WOODSTOCK Premiere and After-Party at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema and Bowery Hotel in NYC
Guest and Mike Lang at Gilt Groupe and Quintessentially host Focus Features' TAKING WOODSTOCK Premiere and After-Party at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema and Bowery Hotel in NYC
Eugene Levy at the MARTIN SHORT: FAME BECOMES ME Opening Night Arrivals at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in NYC