Working as an interior designer in Greenwich Village, Elliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin) is also still glued to the family business out of a sense of - to save his overbearing parents (Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman) from running their dumpy Catskills motel, El Monaco, into the ground. Upon hearing that a planned music and arts festival has lost its permit from a neighbouring town, Elliot calls producer Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) at Woodstock Ventures to offer his family's motel to the promoters and generate some much-needed business. Elliot also introduces Lang to his neighbor Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), who operates a 600-acre dairy farm down the road. Soon the Woodstock staff is moving into the El Monaco, the locals are unhappy - and half a million people are on their way to Yasgur's farm for "3 days of Peace & Music in White Lake."
Review by Louise Keller:
With the same sensitivity he brought to The Ice Storm and Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee takes us back to 1969 to tell Elliot Tiber's untold story - beyond the music, free love and hair-decked flowers of Woodstock. It's a story somewhat left of field involving a small community and a broke, dysfunctional Jewish family whose son inadvertently becomes a vital cog in the wheel of the music festival's birth. Set on the rich backdrop of an era with the Vietnam War, the Moon landing and a tsunami-like wave of optimism that screamed for peace and love, Taking Woodstock is a fabulous trip. It's funny, involving in an addictive way and surprisingly moving.
To begin with, it's a terrific story and James Schamus (who also adapted The Ice Storm), has written an accessible screenplay filled with truths. While all the ingredients are extreme and the subject matter serious (relationships, survival, sexual awakening), there's abundant humour in the characters and situations as the story plays out. Music, drugs and rock'n roll are in the spotlight - for the right reasons. We are there to witness the intersection of the elements.
When we first meet Demetri Martin's uncool Elliot, he is trying to keep it all together. It's a superbly crafted, career-making performance. The run down family motel (El Monaco Casino and Bah Mitzvah) is a battleground for his 'batallion' Russian-immigrant mother (Imelda Staunton, memorable), hen pecked father (Henry Goodman, moving) and Elliot, who keeps his own urges and dreams on hold, as he exploits creative and entrepreneurial ideas to keep the bank at bay. Like the hippie theatre group that bunks down in his barn and is kept safely away from the conservative small-town folk. Chocolate milk, local cows, good grass and the sudden appearance by a former acquaintance inadvertently leads to his involvement with an event considered trivial by some, but for others, the centre of the universe.
Just as the town is (eventually) seduced (by the dollar), we are seduced by the transformation of the dead-end White Lake community to one overrun by thousands of dope-smoking hippies, bikies and peace and music lovers. Liev Schreiber is a great surprise as the blond, tattooed transvestite who excels at resorting and reclining, but unconventionally takes on the running of the security requirements, but all the cast (including Eugene Levy as Max the dairy farmer who can smell the opportunity, and Emile Hirsch as the tortured Nam vet Billy) is good. There's Elliot's riotous press conference while stoned and his trip on LSD in a combi-van decked out with psychedelic paraphernalia. The Earth Light Theatre Group's interpretation of Chekov's Three Sisters is a hilarious nude romp. And there are chocolate hash brownies that enable a fractured family to laugh together.
One thing is for sure, life could never be the same after Woodstock. Ang Lee's film is a hypnotic carpet ride that allows us to understand that - close up and from afar.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
You could call this wonderfully entertaining film The Making of Woodstock, the seminal 1969 music event that brought together a generation for a weekend of outdoor music, the like of which has never been repeated, nor is likely to be. For a start, 1969 was a unique time in the world, when the two extremes of the human condition were battling it out: in Viet Nam, young men were slaughtering each other; in much of the West, young people were loving each other. In July, Armstrong took a giant leap for mankind on the moon, and in August half a million people descended on quiet ole White Lake outside New York. Another million can't squeeze in...
To Ang Lee's great credit, he has not only conveyed the terrible dichotomy that was at large, but he also captures the mood and the feeling of the event - from a unique perspective. Indeed, there is no actual music performance scene in the film, other than a distant glimpse of the stage at one point, yet we can absolutely swear that we have been there, after seeing the film. Much of the credit must go to Lee's cinematic choices; his use of multi-split screens, the montages that create a clear sense of the vibrantly positive mood infecting everyone ... and a beautiful acid trip visualisation from the point of view of the central character, young Elliott Teichberg. Demetri Martin is marvellous as the conflicted Elliott, barely putting up with his morose and difficult parents, and then thrusting himself rather naively into a major music festival which grabs him and his family by the scruff of the neck and takes them on a fast and wild ride.
The rest of the credit, of course, goes to Lee's faultless cast, from Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman as the ageing Jewish parents who had pretty well given up on life, to the Liev Schreiber who gives a standout performance as Vilma, the ex-army transvestite who turns up and volunteers to handle security. Jonathan Groff is terrific, too, as Michael the concert producer, Pippa Pearthree as his sidekick, Miriam, Eugene Levy as Max, the Teichbergs' neighbour whose large fields provide the perfect setting for the event. Paul Dano and Kelli Garner are great fun as a young couple who snare Elliott into their combivan for the acid trip.
The film is based on the memoirs of Elliott Tiber (the Teichberg character) and it feels totally authentic. The music, even though not from the concert stage, is always present, with 30 songs listed in the credits, providing a musical backdrop that seeps into our subconscious. The story also contains a personal journey for each of the three Teichbergs and a sense of something positive having happened for many thousands of people. If it wasn't really like this, it should have been.
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TAKING WOODSTOCK (MA)
CAST: Demetri Martin, Liev Schreiber, Henry Goodman, Emile Hirsch, Imelda Staunton, Eugene Levy, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jonathan Groff, Paul Dano, Kelli Garner, Jonathan Groff
PRODUCER: James Schamus
DIRECTOR: Ang Lee
SCRIPT: James Schamus, Ang Lee (book by Elliot Tiber with Tom Monte)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eric Gautier AFC
EDITOR: Tim Squyres ACE
MUSIC: Danny Elfman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: David Gropman
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 27, 2009