The famous stage where Jimi Hendrix, the Who, and Crosby, Stills and Nash played before a half-million people in 1969 is never closer than a mile or so away in Taking Woodstock
. Similarly, some of the familiar live music in Michael Wadleigh's Oscar-winning, 1970 documentary Woodstock
is never louder than a distant echo in this period film by Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain
). That's because Taking Woodstock
is not really about the music, but about a little-known figure who had everything to do with making the Woodstock concert festival happen. Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin) is the very young president of a chamber of commerce in the Catskills town where he grew up. Burdened with the failure of his parents (amazing performances by Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman) to make a go of a crummy motel, Elliot is making himself crazy trying to be a dutiful son and civic leader.
His trials are both lightened and intensified by an accident of history. Elliot sees a newspaper article explaining how the organizers of an outdoor rock concert have lost the use of a nearby field they were counting on. In short order, he makes contact with the promoters, putting them together with dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), who has plenty of available pasture for rent. He also sets up the groovy but cryptic boss of the whole enterprise, Michael Lang (astute work by Tony Award-nominated Jonathan Groff, a talent to watch), as well as Lang's movers and shakers, at the motel. In no time, the Tibers' life becomes a three-ring circus, while a steady stream of young people clog the roads on their way to a legendary concert. Lee, a master at creating precise milieus for the varied stories he tells (Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), gets the look and texture and energy of a counterculture Happening in 1969 close to perfect. He also makes Taking Woodstock look vintage, bleaching colors to approximate the tones of many a big movie from that era, and using a split-screen to challenge the idea of the camera's singular perspective. In the end, Taking Woodstock is itself a pretty far-out version of a heartwarming coming-of-age tale--Elliot's coming-of-age, that is, as the excellent Martin's boy-man looks beyond that motel and discovers a big, wide world out there, just waiting for him. --Tom Keogh
Comedy drama from celebrated director Ang Lee, based on the memoir 'Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life' by Elliot Tiber and Tom Monte. The year is 1969 and Elliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin) has had to move back to work in his parents' run down Catskills motel after an unsuccessful attempt at interior design in New York City. With the bank threatening to shut down the motel at the same time a neighbouring town pulls the permit on a hippy music festival, Eliot comes up with a plan to save his family's business. Seeing the potential to generate customers for the motel, Elliot calls the festival producers but things turn out to be much bigger than he expected when, just three weeks later, over half a million people make their way to his neighbour's farm. Elliot now discovers himself caught up in a generation-defining adventure after which his life will never be the same again.