Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Taking Woodstock

Taking Woodstock (Ange Lee, 2009) [5]

It's near ridiculous to make a film about Woodstock. Michael Wadleigh's documentary is such a landmark piece of cinema, essentially creating the Woodstock mythology, that anything else is going to pale in comparison. Lee has the right idea in Taking Woodstock, in that he goes into a specific person's interesting story of how Woodstock came to Bethel, New York. The problem with the film is that it can never decide if it wants to be a dysfunctional family comedy or a larger, more profound coming-of-age story with the biggest musical event of the 60s as the backdrop. Demetri Martin plays Elliot Teichberg, an interior designer who has packed up and headed back to help his parents run a dilapidated Catskills motel. Elliot lucks into finding that the Woodstock festival needs a new location and he just happens to have a permit and knows of available land. The film plays out as partly the telling of how Woodstock took shape and the happening at the motel, with Elliot trying to get his stereotypical Jewish parents to lighten up and accept these Hippies. There's just too much going on in the story with too many minor characters that no aspect is that effective. Lee is smart to keep the action on the periphery of the festival, showing no concert footage, to differentiate Elliot's story from the festival. The problem is I never found his story that interesting. His story arc follows the standard coming of age storyline with his homosexuality tossed in at times but never examined deeply. Martin is o.k. in the role but his comedic background interferes with seeing him ingrained in the character. Lee does his best I guess, and his re-enactment of certain iconic images in the Woodstock film are intriguing one level but serve no real purpose in his film. The air of nostalgia and near sickening idealism hangs over everything involving Woodstock, making it hard for anything involving it to escape from its large shadow. Taking Woodstock definitely got swallowed up in that cloud.

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