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  Publicity Stills of
"Taking Woodstock"
(Courtesy of Shaw)

Genre: Drama/Music
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Demetri Martin, Kevin Chamberlin, Emile Hirsch, Imelda Staunton, Live Schreiber, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Dan Fogler, Eugene Levy
RunTime: 1 hr 50 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: R21 (Some Nudity And Drug Content)
Official Website: www.filminfocus.com

Opening Day: 1 October 2009


It's 1969, and Elliot Tibe, a down-on-his-luck interior designer in Greenwich Village, New York, has to move back upstate to help his parents run their dilapidated Catskills motel, The El Monaco. The bank's about to foreclose; his father wants to burn the place down, but hasn't paid the insurance; and Elliot is still figuring how to come out to his parents.

Whe Elliot hears that a neighbouring town has pulled the permit on a hippie music festival, he calls the producers, thinking he could drum up some much-needed business for the motel. Three weeks later, half a million people are on their way to his neighbour's farm in White Lake, NY, and Elliot finds himself swept up in a generation-defining experience that would change his life, and American culture, forever.

Movie Review:

Woodstock. The name alone resonates with anyone and everyone who grew up dreaming of becoming a musician or worked his or her way to the top via the independent route. Started in 1969, in a small town off New York, Woodstock has seen the likes of The Rolling Stones, the late Janis Joplin and The Who, to name a few, who have graced its stage. What started as a small town music festival, Woodstock recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. Taking Woodstock is not a documentary about the acts who have performed at the event, it is meant purely as an inspirational story behind an idea that has become a cultural phenomenon.

If you walk into this movie expecting to see footage of Jimi Hendrix or Joan Baez performing at Woodstock, expect none. There are no close-up shots of performances during the inaugural Woodstock event. Also, every shot of this movie has been genuinely shot by Ang Lee who refused to use actual footage of people at the event. What he has successfully done is to recreate 1969 White Lake in Bethel, New York so vividly from its colours down to the people and their fashion, that it is truly an admirable feat.

At the heart of the movie is Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin), a family motel worker, who upon hearing that a neighbouring town, Wallkill had decided to pull the plug on the permit for a hippie music festival, he jumps at the chance to bring it to White Lake. Having organized a small music festival on the lawns of his parents’ motel, the El Monaco, for several years, he calls the organizers of the Woodstock concert and invites them to recce his place. The organizers feel that his venue is too small and this eventually leads all of them to Max Yasgur’s farm – 600 hectres of sprawling green. And the rest they say is music history.

Tiber manages to obtain a permit to organize the concert and despite assuring the town that only up to 50,000 will show up. The town’s people start to protest that the hippie brigade will not bring good while the rest lap up the prospect of a potentially profitable opportunity. This of course causes the whole town to eventually go berserk when 500,000 people show up!

Ang Lee worked with fairly unknown talents on this one. Elliot Tiber is played by Demetri Martin who fans of Comedy Central may recognize and Jonathan Groff plays one of the brains behind Woodstock, Michael Lang who has been part of the company of the stage musical, Spring Awakening. Ang also relies on Liev Schreiber who vamps it up in drag and Oscar nominee, Imelda Staunton, who is sterling as Tiber’s mother. The actors play their characters suited to the period of the movie making this more of an ensemble piece than anything else.

Ang Lee may not be the first person to come to mind to direct the likes of a music movie or one to do with the period of free love but he is of course, known to not have shied away from unconventional styles. He has directed a western in the form of Ride With The Devil, a cowboy romance in Brokeback Mountain, a comic superhero in Hulk and also wuxia movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The Oscar winning director continues to deny convention and succeeds once again, though arguably, this may not be his best.

A friend summed things up best when this reviewer spoke of Ang Lee. The friend, recalling an episode of Will & Grace that he had seen, remembered a scene when Grace told Will that she had a dream the night before that she had had sex with Ang Lee. When Will asked her how it was, she said it felt just like his movies, slow but visually stunning. The trend is continued with Taking Woodstock. There are magnificent colours galore, something natural considering that it takes place during the time of peace and love the hippie way. There is a scene in the movie when Elliot Tiber stumbles upon two hippies in a van while on his way to watch the concert. He is invited into the van and when urged to try their stash, the trio gets lost in a truly, uniquely kaleidoscopic wonderland.

The movie may be pretty on the eyes and the use of drugs is considerably widespread but Ang Lee has decided to hold back on the music (a little bit of it would’ve helped the sensorial experience) and the amount of sex (Ang Lee directed Lust, Caution. ‘Nuff said). Yet, despite this miniscule lament, Ang Lee does get the one thing he needed to get right and that is the spirit of 1969.

Movie Rating:

(What Taking Woodstock lacks for in music diversity, it makes up for in visual display)

Review by Mohamad Shaifulbahri


. Milk (2008)

. Lust Caution (2007)

. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008)

. Glastonbury (2006)

. Rock School (2005)


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