Forty years have passed since the little town of Bethel, New York, took in over 500,000 hopped up hippies and, after three crazy days, became the definitive music festival known informally today as Woodstock. “Taking Woodstock” is the new film by two-time Academy Award winner Ang Lee. “Making Woodstock” would have been a much better title as essentially this is what Lee treats us to – an occasionally quirky but mostly uneventful backstage look at one of the biggest events in rock and roll history.
Down on his luck interior decorator Elliot Teichberg (Comedy Central’s Demetri Martin in his first lead film role) was just spending another boring summer at his parents’ motel in the Catskills when his annual music festival suddenly went from records being played on the lawn with a few people on blankets to half a million people rolling around in the mud. Martin’s earnest face is pleasing enough to carry the film, his expressions going from wide-eyed and naïve to determined and brave, but James Schamus’ script reduces him to little more than a tour guide for the audience to tag along with from one expected obstacle to the next. Progressive theatre troupes run around naked while local citizens complain that their town has been taken over by degenerates. There was apparently very little insight to be found amongst all the drug-addled ramblings.
Lee attempts to weave equal parts peace and equal parts commodity into the Woodstock equation but he leaves out one of the most important parts, the music. At the time, the kids who never made it to the show just tripped out all weekend and had a plenty good time regardless. With no single concert scene to be seen though, Lee got me there but he left me cold sober and shivering in the mud.
Review by Joseph Bélanger