Saturday, October 03, 2009

Taking Woodstock


I always find a certain magnetism with the 60s being portrayed on screen, with the likes of the hippie movement, the space race, the Vietnam war, rock and roll, the list just goes on. It does seem like a definitive time on the loss of innocence, and Lee Ang's movie Taking Woodstock takes a look at the formation of the Woodstock music festival, based upon the memoirs written by Elliot Tiber and Tom Monte titled “Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert and a Life”.

Demetri Martin plays Elliot Tiber, the protagonist of the story whom Fate had chosen to have led his sleepy town into hosting this iconic music festival. However the journey in getting there is nothing quite expected, and surreal even as it transformed the landscape of his parent's dilapidated El Monaco Motel in White Lake, Bethel, along with his neighbour's vast farmland which will become the venue of a memorable 3 day festival of music and peace in 1969.

An interior designer who can't seem to lead his own life, no thanks to his parents playing their cards right in evoking a sense of helplessness, we learn that Elliot has to plough into his savings to keep their “international resort” afloat from creditors, as well as spending his free time helping out in the family business. Then comes this huge money making opportunity when one plays host, and soon enough, with the publicity cranking and the hippies a-coming, it translates to cash registers ringing non-stop, and it seemed that all his troubles had vanished in one fell swoop.

It's interesting to see the amount of schmoozing that goes on behind the scenes in negotiating for rights, approvals and permissions, and the hypocrisy that goes along with it when the townsfolk are overcome by their disgust for the hippies and squarely blames Elliot for the undesirable elements invading their serene estates, but on the other hand they never fail to profiteer in charging their visitors sky-high prices for the most basic needs, like water.

I didn't see how this film could be classified as a comedy, unless of course one counts laughing at some of the antics the characters get themselves into, or at the actors that put up a superb job in playing them. Eugene Levy shines with that glint in his eye in not wanting to be short-changed by the visiting businessmen, and Liev Schreiber's role in drag as Vilma was a hoot as well, hired as Elliot's security personnel when thugs try to make things difficult for his parents. Emile Hirsch as a disillusioned and crazed Vietnam-vet was somewhat of a let down with his frequent unfunny f-bombs, but the real scene stealers here were the characters of Elliot's aged parents Sonia and Jake, played by Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman respectively. They chew up the screen each time they're on with their performance, especially the former as a cranky old lady doesn't flinch at being nasty to her customers, and having a siege mentality and a knack for making money. If anything, her role alone is a one woman tour-de-force, and is worth the price of an admission ticket.

If you're expecting Lee Ang to recreate and feature music from Woodstock, then you're looking for the wrong film and would be better off with the documentary Woodstock. Here, you don't see the class acts that take up the stage, nor do you see anything else of the iconic event other than its preparation stage, and strained sounds from the background as we follow Elliot around the venue. It's akin to being shut out from the concert, but with so many other things going around the sprawling, muddy grounds, the real action is on the outside anyway as far as the film is concerned.

It's a look into the workings of a small town community which sees the coming of some half a million people as opportunity for some fleecing, and about how family members sometimes take things for granted, worse if being deliberate about it for selfish reasons, which provided the real sucker punch for this memoir picture.

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