Friday, August 27, 2021

#2,606. Taking Woodstock (2009)


I always thought Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock would be the perfect companion piece to my all-time favorite documentary, 1970’s Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music, but I have yet to watch them back-to-back because I can’t decide which should play first! 

Set in the summer of 1969, Taking Woodstock stars Demetri Martin as Elliot Teichberg, a New York-based artist whose parents, Sonia (Imelda Staunton) and Jake (Henry Goodman), own a bargain-basement “resort” in the small upstate town of White Lake, near Bethel, New York. 

Hoping to earn some extra money to save his parents’ floundering business, Elliot decides to expand his annual music festival, and contacts Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff), whose upcoming Woodstock rock venue has been turned away by nearly every small town in the area. 

Together, Elliot and Michael strike a deal with farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), who agrees to let them use his land, and just like that, Woodstock, the most famous (and infamous) music festival in history, was born.

Taking Woodstock is, at times, a very funny movie; Staunton is hilarious as Elliot’s intensely angry mother, and Dan Fogler (leader of the Starlight theatre group, which rents the barn adjoining Elliot’s property), Emile Hirsch (a PTSD-stricken Vietnam vet) and Liev Schrieber (a cross-dressing ex-marine) get their share of laughs as well. 

But more than anything, Taking Woodstock is a celebration of the festival itself. Like the 1970 documentary, Lee utilizes split screens throughout the film, occasionally showing us the same scene from different perspectives, and some of the more recognizable images from those three days (the mud slides, the nuns flashing the peace sign, the brown acid, etc) are lovingly recreated. 

I’ve seen Taking Woodstock four times now, and it always makes me wish I could have been there (I was born two months too late). Woodstock was an iconic event, and all the chaos, the insanity, and – yes - the magic that made it so memorable has been captured by Lee and his cast, and is here for the taking. I love this movie!
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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