Who remembers Woodstock hasn't been there! For the 40th anniversary Oscar director Ang Lee creates the ultimate comedy for all those who want to remember or who weren't there. A hilarious, partly psychedelic trip behind the scenes of Woodstock. Cineclub tip!
Elliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin, middle) in the psychedelic VW bus
of a hippie couple (Kelli Garner und Paul Dano).
The run-down El Monaco Motel in Bethel, New York, is not particularly profitable. One of the reasons is that the jewish Russian immigrant Sonia Teichberg (Imelda Staunton) and her resigned husband Jake (Henry Goodman) run it in a gruff and thrifty way. The hyped-up hippie theatre group Earth Light, who live and rehearse in the barn, don't bring in money. Sonia puts off even the last guest, although the bank threatens to take away their motel. Son Elliot (Demetri Martin) succeeds in wheedling a last prolonging out of the bank.
Elliot wants to be an interior designer and actually teaches creative writing in New York City, but he returns to Bethel and helps out in the motel in order to save his parents from financial ruin. As a sideline Elliot is chairman of the chamber of commerce, where he gets a permit for his White Lake Music and Arts Festival, which he plans as a small chamber concert on the motel premises, in a public session. With a heavy heart Elliot watches his old friend Billy (Emile Hirsch) return emotionally disturbed from the Vietnam War.
One morning Elliot opens the newspaper and reads that Wallkill, a town nearby, has banned an open-air music festival. With his proper festival permit Elliot sniffs a chance to bring at least a little bit of business to the El Monaco. Elliot calls the organizer Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) and proposes to host the festival on 15 acres behind the motel. When Lang arrives in Bethel with his entourage it becomes obvious that the property is mainly useless marshland.
Elliot with his mother Sonia (Imelda Staunton) and his father Jake
(Henry Goodman) at the bank.
The pastures of milk farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy) is the last option which comes into Elliot's mind. This location with its curved hillocks is perfect and Yasgur charges only 5.000 dollars. Lang books the complete El Monaco as festival headquarters and pays in advance in cash. Sonia's business sense awakens as more and more guests invade the town, and she occupies the rooms multiply. Soon it becomes obvious that almost a hundred thousand visitors are to be expected.
The festival is endangered once again because Yasgur demands more money and many residents balk at the festival. Some town youths spray slogans of hatred on the motel walls. When a mafia-like band wants to extort protection money, it's too much even for the phlegmatic Jake and he beats them to flight. Fortunately the former soldier and striking transvestite Vilma (Liev Schreiber) offers his security service. Vilma becomes a good friend to Jake, which seems a bit fishy to Elliot, who is still a closeted gay.
The motel is completely overcrowded, the pool is closed off as a drinking water reservoir and everybody is running out of food. Already cars are parked along the road into the village and the El Monaco is the centre of the hippie hustle and bustle. But still nobody has the faintest idea how big Woodstock is really going to be. For when Elliot gives a press conference being stoned, the media quotes him that the festival is entirely for free, which sets a mass of millions into motion towards Bethel.
After the rain Billy (Emile Hirsch) slides through the mud.
Free love, naked skin, flowers in the hair, space cookies and psychedelic LSD trips, fun in the mud, electrified objects, freely distributed food and the legendary gigs of true music icons—the overcrowded and chaotic Woodstock Festival in the middle of August 1969 was a peaceful demonstration against war and for brotherly love. Woodstock has revolutionized fashion and pop culture. It is one of the most important moments in the history of music. Woodstock has become a modern myth—perhaps also because many who were there hardly remember it.
Right on time for the 40th anniversary of the culmination of hippie culture, the successful Taiwanese director Ang Lee, famous for his dramatic movies "Sense and Sensibility", "The Ice Storm", "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Brokeback Mountain", brings back the easy-going attitude towards life of the 60s and the zeitgeist of the music festival. It has become a 120 minutes long, fantastic film for all who want to remember and those who couldn't be there but wanted to. A coming-of-age film, which draws on the essentials mentioned above except for the live performances.
Festival organizer Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff, left) leases land
from dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy, middle).
Since the movie is based on the life story "Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert and a Life" by Elliot Tiber (the name Teichberg used for his biography) and therefore mainly focuses on him, Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock" is not a music film. Rather it is about the events which made Woodstock possible at last, and which changed the Teichbergs' life. All those who want to relive the gigs of the famous festival better watch the Oscar-winning music documentary "Woodstock" from 1970, at best the longer director's cut. Stylistically "Taking Woodstock" resorts to the documentary (e.g. for the split screens). Some takes from the documentary have been recreated and costumes have been replicated one to one. In "Taking Woodstock" Jonathan Groff, for example, looks precisely like the real Michael Lang in the documentary.
At the beginning of "Taking Woodstock" many people who don't know anything about the circumstances how the festival came about will think that it is a parody. What has the wacky family Teichberg to do with Woodstock? But in time it becomes clear that this is the true story of Woodstock and that Elliot Tiber was a key figure for the festival. The audience gets an authentic impression of the circumstances and the swarming, even if Tiber's story doesn't bring it close to the stage. The soundtrack, however, makes use of musical heroes of the time: The Doors (who didn't perform), Janis Joplin, Melanie, Richie Havens, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, etc. The score comes from Danny Elfman ("Terminator Salvation", "Spider-Man" and many Tim Burton movies).
Transvestite Vilma (Liev Schreiber) provides security in the El
Imelda Staunton ("Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", "Vera Drake", "Shakespeare in Love" or "Sense and Sensibility") is phenomenal and excruciatingly funny as the surly mother Sonia. The prancing hippie drama group led by Dan Fogler ("Fanboys") radiates exuberant joy and a big smirk. Henry Goodman ("Notting Hill", "The Saint") as father Jake, Eugene Levy ("American Pie") as milk farmer Yasgur as well as Hollywood freshman Demetri Martin as Elliot act delicately calm. What exactly the disturbed and shaggy Vietnam vet Billy is doing in the story is debatable, however, but especially the female audience will enjoy looking at Emile Hirsch ("Milk", "Speed Racer", "Into the Wild") as well as at curly Jonathan Groff as festival organizer Lang.
The biggest surprise is Liev Schreiber, well-known from the "Scream" trilogy, "The Hurricane" and "The Manchurian Candidate" (each with Denzel Washington) and recently as Sabretooth in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine". When this hunk with long hair and purple dress exposes his pistol, it takes the spectator's breath—hysterically unsexy! Schreiber's appearance as a tranny is no coincidence: after "The Wedding Banquet" and "Brokeback Mountain", "Taking Woodstock" is Ang Lee's third film with a homosexual protagonist. Elliot Tiber became a co-founder of the gay rights movement when he participated in the Stonewall Riot, the resistance against police raids in gay bars, six weeks before Woodstock. This is remembered and celebrated as the annual Gay Prides.
Millions are on their way to Woodstock, but not all of them arrive.
James Schamus wrote the screenplay, like he has done for all Ang Lee films except "Brokeback Mountain" and the short film "Chosen". Additionally Schamus has produced every feature film by Ang Lee, from "Eat Drink Man Woman" to "Ride With The Devil" and "Hulk".
Apposite to the film and the anniversary, Sony has published the complete concert recordings of Janis Joplin, Santana, Jefferson Airplane and Johnny Winter each under the title "The Woodstock Experience".