Taking Woodstock is Ang Lee's latest picture that takes a look at the origins of the Woodstock festival in New York in August of 1969. It is based on the autobiography of Elliot Tiber, the son of two Russian Jewish immigrants who maintain a not very successful farm in upstate New York. James Shamus wrote the screenplay together with Tiber, which is a delightful one. The film gets great support from the outstanding performance of Imelda Staunton as Eliot’s mother Sonia and this is an actress who truly is able to play a wide variety of roles and still remain unique in every one of them.
The story of Woodstock is taken from the point of view of Tiber. In this film he is called Eliot Teichberg, played by newcomer Demitri Martin. This is a great way to look at the Woodstock event for after all must of us have already seen or can see the concert footage. Instead Ang Lee shows us the metamorphosis of the land mass that later was to be home to thousands of middle class young people who came to listen to some great artists perform 40 years ago such as Joe Cocker Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Though the concert is the impetus, the behind the scenes of the concert is what make this film tick. Lee shows us the periphery of the concert, and we are never taken close to the stage. From the hills of Woodstock, the concert epicenter looks like a shiny jewel with orbits of people in concentric circles as far as one can see. The pulse of the concert is just a boom boom boom for so many of them, and Ang Lee shows us that how much of a happening this actually was.
Not only is Demitri Martin excellent as the enthusiastic and hardworking young Eliot who is on the verge of coming to terms with his sexual orientation, but members of the cast shine such as Liev Schreiber who plays a rugged drag queen named Vilma who helps Eliot to keep order on the farm and drive off the unwanted. It is exciting to watch how Woodstock came to be in humble origins - a gesture on the part of Eliot to give a space to the festival promoters who were tossed out of another community. From there we see how the town gears up for the event and how the preparations begin and take form. Taking Woodstock is about Woodstock, the people who surrounded the event, as any mass event that is about a main attraction that brings everyone together. It is as such an excellent human-interest story that is warm and entertaining. Eliot gets his chance to attend the festival on the last day when Joe Cocker is performing and the rain came and muddied the farmland, but he will always be the man who gave the festival its home.
For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan San Francisco.
Movie Magazine International