Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Taking Woodstock (2009)

Directed by Ang Lee. You gotta be fucking kidding me. What a complete disaster this thing is. What the hell was Ang Lee trying to achieve here? I hardly know where to begin here.

First of all, what some people may not be aware of is that this is based on a true story. The star of this film is Demetri Martin, who plays Elliot Tiber, the man who wrote the original book "Taking Woodstock." The book is Tiber's memoir of his role in making the festival happen: providing his parent's run-down local inn as a base of operations to organizers and as head of the local chamber of commerce, supplying them with their critical event permit. Sounds like dry stuff, but it's not -- Tiber was central to the event from soup to nuts.

But it wasn't interesting enough to Ang Lee to not turn the whole damn thing into a melodrama you'd never believe is based in reality. Lee opens the Sixties Hippie Cliche triptik and dumps so many props and costumes onto the highway it becomes hard to tell whether he truly believes that is what the country looked like back then or if he thinks the audience will simply forget when the movie takes place and needs to be reminded with road signs for peace and love every 50 yards.

As if that's not enough, there's the obligatory First Acid Experience scene, complete with the hippie couple who assures Tiber it's gonna be great and the camera tricks that recreate what he's seeing and feeling. What the...?

And then there's wooden-headed homage to the original Woodstock concert movie where the screen splits into individual windows and to show different views simultaneously. But it's done simply to wink to the audience members who'll recognize it, nothing more. There's no fresh take on it, no new twist, no irony, no multiple plot lines to follow. In contrast, have a look at 1979's "More American Graffiti" for a real homage and leveraging of this device.

I swear I am not making up that famous festival organizer Michael Lang is portrayed as riding a white stallion. This is just part of the parade of quirky characters intended to color the movie with, I don't know, either the free spiritedness that defined the time or to show that Woodstock was not solely marked by greed or youthful idealism or naivety as it seems alternately to be portrayed by the media.

This may be the fatal flaw of "Taking Woodstock" -- if it's point is that Woodstock was not any one thing and that people should not try to pigeonhole it as such, it succeeds mainly as seeming confused and wishy-washy.

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