Taking Woodstock Recycles 60's Tropes
If you remember Woodstock, you probably werent there, the expression goes. And if you were, can you please stop gassing on about it? Aquarian Nostalgia is the most oppressively sanctimonious and dull stripe of reminiscing. Sure, the three free days of peace and music at Max Yasgurs farm passed without violent incident, but almost the second Jimi Hendrix put his guitar down after playing The Star-Spangled Banner, the marketplace for boomer sentimental-journeys sprang up. Though the fact that Michael Lang, one of the rock shows original four organizers, canceled Woodstocks 40th-anniversary concert because of a lack of corporate sponsorship suggests that 60s narcissism may finally be coming to an end, Ang Lees facile Taking Woodstock proves that the decade is still prone to the laziest, wide-eyed oversimplifications.
To its credit, Taking Woodstockbased on Elliot Tibers 2007 memoir, Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life, and written by Lees frequent collaborator James Schamusfeatures no actors pantomiming Janis Joplin, Ravi Shankar, or Sha-Na-Na; in fact, little music from the concert itself is heard. On display instead are inane, occasionally borderline offensive portrayals of Jews, performance artists, trannies, Vietnam vets, squares, and freaks.
Though his age is never mentioned in the film, the real-life Elliot (whose surname is Teichberg in Lees movie and is played by Demetri Martin) was 34 during the summer of 69. According to his memoir, Tiber was present at another sacrosanct revolution two months earlier: Stonewall. Elliots gayness becomes Lees tenuous overarching theme, awkwardly shoehorned in; Elliot and a butch construction worker he later makes out with meet-cute over a Judy Garland record. But Elliots Uranian tendencies must be kept hidden from his Jewish-émigré parents, Jake and Sonia (Henry Goodman and Imelda Staunton, the latter of whom is seen passed out on a pile of cash, clutching tens and twenties), who run El Monaco, a decrepit motel in upstate Bethel. The good, closeted, budding-entrepreneur son leaves Manhattan to help them, and, after reading that neighboring Wallkill says no to hosting a bunch of long hairs grooving out to some hard rock, sets the wheels in motion for Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) and associates to have the concert in his Catskills hamlet.
Beyond Elliots marginally interesting homo conflicthes given a push to come out by Liev Schreibers ridiculous drag queen, Vilma, who shows up to provide securityTaking Woodstock does nothing more than recycle the same late-60s tropes seen countless times since the Carter administration. The rages and flashbacks of Emile Hirschs fried Vietnam vet are the usual PTSD overacting. The Earthlight Players, a performance troupe that lives in the barn next to El Monaco (Some are Vassar graduates, Elliot explains), are as dumb a depiction of avant-garde thespians as something that Jesse Helms might have concocted. On his way to the concert, uptight Elliot takes acid and sees the truth; back at the motel, perpetually miserable Jake and Sonia unknowingly scarf down pot brownies and frolic in the rain; father and son form a deep post-high bond the next day. Eat, drink, man, woman. Making his way through the political booths at Woodstock, Elliot sees women burning their bras at the United Feminist Front bootha practice debunked years ago, thus making it all the more irresistible to Schamus and Lee, apparently.
Near the films end, theres an allusion to Altamont, the free Rolling Stones concert in December 1969 that would become the anti-Woodstock, but no mention of an even bloodier event that had occurred just the week before 500,000 kids gathered to hear Richie Havens: the Tate-LaBianca murders. Taking Woodstock is a film for those who like childrens stories about tumultuous timeseveryone else can pick up Joan Didions The White Album.
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