September 3, 2009

Taking Woodstock

takingwoodstock1_large1969 saw something amazing happen that has never been duplicated and will never happen again. No, I am not talking about the first time mankind set foot on the moon, nor am I talking about a Mets World Series (that has happened one more time, although who knows when it will happen again). I am referring to the festival that took place in Bethel, NY, the "3 Days of Love & Music" festival. It was a phenomenon that brought the best of the music scene together with a million like-minded individuals celebrating freedom in a field. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be there, especially not having been alive at the time. I have spoken to more than a few who made the mistake of not going and if they had it all to do over again they would have been there. I know I would have made the attempt, in retrospect.

takingwoodstockpic7All of that said, director Ang Lee and screenwriter James Schamus have adapted the book by Elliot Tiber and Tom Monte, taking us back to 1969 and the events that led up to the concert. It is not so much a movie about the concert itself, as it is about the people and personalities involved that made it happen and what happened to them. It is a sweet natured, light hearted film that is warm and inviting and is sure to make you smile. Watch as the eclectic collection of characters cross your screen adding to the colorful tapestry of the era. It is not really a great film, nor is it a terribly deep one; however, it is still an involving film that you cannot help but enjoy.

Elliot Teichberg (now Elliot Tiber, played by Demetri Martin) is a young interior designer living in New York City. He moves back home with his parents, Jake (Henry Goodman) and Sonia (Imelda Staunton) in White Lake, NY, to help manage and care for their motel, the El Monaco, and also serve as the president of the chamber of commerce. The family is well behind in the mortgage payments and the bank is going to foreclose, thus forcing them out of their home. Elliot has plans to bring in more tourists and hold his annual art and music festival (which amounts to lawn chairs and records) to help make the money needed to pay the mortgage.

takingwoodstockpic1The young man ponders his family's future. Jake continues to work around the motel, re-shingling the roof, whatever there is to do. Meanwhile, Sonia runs the place with an iron fist, when a customer complains there are no towels, she points to a sign that says "Towels $1." Then fate steps in, while conversing with the avant garde theater troupe that lives in the barn (featuring Dan Fogler as their leader), he notices a story about a hippie concert that was being kicked out of Wallkill.

That news gives Elliot an idea. You see, he has the permit from the chamber of commerce saying he can put on an arts and music festival. A phone call later and the motel is crawling with men in suits discussing the possibility of staging the show there, led by hippie entrepreneur Michel Lang (Jonathan Groff). Before you know it, the motel is taken over by a mass of planners and construction workers as they set up their offices and prepare the neighboring fields, owned by dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy).

takingwoodstockpic4Watching the festival come together is pretty interesting thing. I can honestly say that I never gave any thought to what went into planning the event. Thinking about it now, the logistics must have been a nightmare. Taking Woodstock gives us a glimpse at the preparations, the construction, the promotion, the phone calls, it is all rather crazy. And to think, they did not have he aid of the internet! Still, this is all just backdrop to the people involved.

This is a slice of life type comedy. The story remains backstage and distanced from the actual concert itself. We watch Elliot as he goes about getting the project going and the changes it brings around him. We are ringside as his parents lives change, driven by both an influx of money and revitalization of themselves, spurred by the great influx of people.

How true this is to the actual events, I do not know. I tend to believe that there have been changes here and there, a slight twisting to accommodate the story that Lee wanted to portray. The final product is colorful, sweet, and very laid back. It sort of drifts around the chaos, allowing moments and characters to come through. Elliot finds himself separating himself from his parents, Jake finds himself able to live again, and even connecting with his son in a way he likely never did before. We also meet Michael Lang, who takes everything in stride, always confident that the right outcome will come. There is also a plain talking Vietnam veteran and cross dresser played by Liev Schreiber. There are plenty more along the way just waiting to be discovered.

Bottomline. Fun, interesting, and plays very nicely as counterpoint to the loud and violent movies that often litter the cinematic landscape. It will make you smile, introduce you to interesting characters and give you a different look at one of the most famous concerts ever, an event never to be duplicated.



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