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Movie Reviews

Film Review: “Taking Woodstock”

(Focus Features. 2 hours. Rated R for graphic nudity, some sexual content, drug use and language. Directed by Ang Lee.) Demetri Martin (Elliot Teichberg), Henry Goodman (Jake Teichberg), Imelda Staunton (Sonia Teichberg), Emile Hirsch (Billy), Liev Schreiber (Vilma), Eugene Levy (Max Yasgur), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Dan), Jonathan Groff (Michael Lang), Paul Dano (VW Guy), Kelli Garner (VW Girl). Music by Danny Elfman.

Pleasant trifle which gives you the backstory on how the iconic festival came about. Based on Elliot Tiber’s memoir, the movie tells how his family’s rundown motel became the launch pad for the events which took place over a summer weekend in 1969. What it doesn’t give you are any musical performance scenes. Yes, you’ll hear many of the Woodstock artists on the soundtrack while Elliot interacts with his wacky mother and resigned father; the irate townsfolk of Bethel, New York; Billy the wacked-out Vietnam vet; festival founder Michael Lang; and a hulking transsexual named Vilma who’s hired for “security.”

However, there’s neither actual Woodstock festival footage, nor any reenactments; a movie about Woodstock without the festival itself doesn’t add up to much. I could almost forgive that, if some framework had been added to the tale highlighting more events in that extraordinary summer. America had just experienced the Stonewall riots, Chappaquiddick, the Moon landing, and the Manson murders in the six weeks leading up to Woodstock. None of that’s mentioned here (there’s an allusion near the end of the movie to Altamont, but that was four months off). Don’t know if the Taiwanese-born Lee is to blame; he did pretty well with ’70s American suburbia in The Ice Storm. Elliot does go on a pretty good acid trip, though. Verdict: OK, but could have been a lot more. Now where did I put my love beads, man?