Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Movie with Abe: Taking Woodstock

Taking Woodstock
Directed by Ang Lee
Released August 28, 2009

Renowned director Ang Lee has built up quite a reputation for himself after directing universally-praised films like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Brokeback Mountain.” Audiences have come to expect something incredible from him, and when his films aren’t quite as stunning (like “Lust, Caution”), they are often ignored and quickly fade from the public conversation. That’s what seems to have happened with “Taking Woodstock,” but it doesn’t deserve the less-than-friendly reception it got. It may not be a carefully-choreographed revitalization of film technique, but it’s still a great film that’s entertaining and engrossing.

The theatrical release of this film coincided with the 40th anniversary of the so-called taking of Woodstock, and this movie seems meant as a tribute to those times. Therefore, it’s perhaps a bit peculiar that the film doesn’t actually show the concert itself and really only tells the story of one person. It’s actually an effective strategy, however, because it captures the experience of one person that was actually felt by so many. It’s especially interesting because the man who helped make it happen by offering up lodging and space for the thousands of attendees wasn’t actually personally invested in the concert. This film could have tackled a dozen threads like “Bobby” did a few years ago, but this route seems to have been the way to go because it provides a look at how this monumental event came together from the perspective of the guy who pretty much made it happen.

Music is, of course, the background for this story, and the soundtrack is very fitting, especially since the actual concert isn’t ever quite visualized amid all the craziness Elliot encounters. The performances are also fun, particularly Imelda Staunton as Elliot’s hard-headed mother and Liev Schreiber as the cross-dressing head of security. Demetri Martin makes for a good lead because he’s not concerned with stealing the focus of the story, and therefore interacts with all the zanier characters but doesn’t get too wacky himself. The film is wise in not wasting too much time on drug-induced hallucinations, and one extended scene doesn’t detract from the overall magic of the film and the experience.

“Taking Woodstock” is a funny dramatization of a historic event, and where it could have gone wrong with hundreds of young actors acting like stoned hippies, it succeeds marvelously. It isn’t an incredible film to be remembered for ages, but it’s harmless and serves as a fine tribute to a legendary musical event. The story of Elliot may not be as interesting to some as that of those who actually thought up the concert, but it succeeds where something more focused on the content rather than the experience might not have.


Watch the Minute with Abe here.

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