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Taking Woodstock

2010-04-30 17:30
Taking Woodstock

What it's about:

Inspired by a true story, this film introduces Elliot Tiber, who inadvertently played a role in making 1969’s Woodstock Music and Arts Festival into the famed happening it was. Featuring songs from a score of ’60s musical icons including The Grateful Dead, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and Country Joe and the Fish - plus a new recording of Freedom from Richie Havens, the film is a joyous voyage to a moment in time when everything seemed possible.

What we thought:

A feature film about making of the Woodstock Festival (which wasn’t actually held in Woodstock at all) could have been an overblown two hours of boredom. But this movie - based on a disputed memoir by Elliot Tiber; adapted for the screen by director Ang Lee’s regular writing partner Jame Schamus - is funny, meaningful and stirring. It’s everything a good coming of age story should be.

In fact, like all good movies, Taking Woodstock is not a retelling of historical events, but the story of a great personal event. It’s about a moment in life that we should all experience at some point: the "now or never" one when we must seize the day, step out into the world, and make sure we don’t miss out on what life has to offer.

Demetri Martin plays the good-natured young man at the centre of the world behind the scenes of the famous festival. He’s too old for his years, and he a world weighed down by his parents’ fears of persecution and abandonment, on his shoulders. A struggling artist and interior designer, Elliot has already left his parent’s motel farm in the nearby Catskills and moved to New York. But he has only physically made the move. Actually, like his parents who can’t forget the anti-semitic persecution they faced in Russia during World War 2, Elliot is trapped.

When he gets involved with Woodstock in an attempt to prevent his family farm being reclaimed by the bank, Elliot winds up with a mind-altering event taking place literally in his backyard. If you’ve seen the rockumentary Woodstock (1970), you’ve been given a close-up view of the legendary music of the festival and the spirit of the event. So Elliot’s situation is painfully funny to watch: The most amazing hippie event of last century is taking place right under his nose and he’s not at it.

He nearly gets there a few times. But of course, he’s waylaid, by a friendly couple (the volcanic trip scene is something else), by a chat near the toilets.

The legendary hippie romance of the event is gloriously hyped. They cleverly avoided including any onstage scenes, the marvellous madness comes through anyhow. You’re left pretty sure that there many vastly more dangerous things than a meadowful of naked hippies taking drugs in the mud – like war, and the madness it leaves lingering. Idealised moments of play and kindness celebrate the crazy notion that we could all just love one another, although somehow, the ogre of "the real world" always lurks at the edge of the frame.
As Elliot tries to do the right thing by others, he winds up doing himself great wrong. Taking Woodstock reminds you that the same people who make events happen don't often experience them. Until, of course, they insist on getting their share.

Will Elliot grasp glory? Won’t he? And more importantly, how? This movie blends two stories – that of an iconic cultural event, and that of a personal watershed moment, creatively, lovingly and humorously.     
Not everyone has raved about this film. But it’s better than they realise. Director Ang Lee has somehow made an epic that feels like an art movie, and a cautionary comedy. While many scenes are huge and visually stunning, the actors aren’t supermodel A-listers, and the central characters are detailed, real people, who are learning that there’s a great party to be had in life. But also that if you wait too long to show up, it might all be over before you arrive.

"Make history, before you’re history" – this seems to be the message of this tragic-comic and inspiring coming-of-age epic.

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