Ang Lee Ruins Woodstock

Ruining Woodstock
Who knew that three free days of peace and music would oppress us for 40 years? (Plus: this movie)

The expression goes, “If you remember Woodstock, you probably werenNt there.” And if you were, can you please stop gassing on about it? Aquarian NostalgiaT is the most oppressively sanctimonious and dull stripe of reminiscing. Sure, the “3 Days of Peace N Music” at Max YasgurNs farm passed without violent incident, but almost the second Jimi Hendrix put his guitar down after playing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the marketplace for boomer sentimental journeys sprang up. Though the fact that Michael Lang, one of the rock showNs original four organizers, canceled WoodstockNs 40th-anniversary concert because of a lack of corporate sponsorship suggests that N60s narcissism may finally be coming to an end, Ang LeeNs facile Taking Woodstock proves that the decade is still prone to the laziest, most wide-eyed oversimplifications.

To its credit, Taking Woodstock—based on Elliot TiberNs 2007 memoir, Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life and written by LeeNs frequent collaborator James Schamus—features no actors pantomiming Janis Joplin, Ravi Shankar or Sha Na Na; in fact, little music from the concert itself is heard. On display instead are inane, occasionally borderline-offensive portrayals of Jews, performance artists, trannies, Vietnam vets, squares and freaks.

Though his age is never mentioned in the film, the real-life Elliot Tiber (whose surname is “Teichberg” in LeeNs movie and who is played by Demetri Martin) was 34 during the summer of N69. According to his memoir, Tiber was present at another sacrosanct revolution two months earlier: Stonewall. ElliotNs gayness becomes LeeNs tenuous overarching theme, awkwardly shoehorned in; Elliot and a butch construction worker he later makes out with meet-cute over a Judy Garland record. But ElliotNs Uranian tendencies must be kept hidden from his Jewish-NmigrN parents, Jake and Sonia (Henry Goodman and Imelda Staunton, the latter of whom is seen passed out on a pile of cash, clutching tens and twenties), who run El Monaco, a decrepit motel in upstate Bethel. The good, closeted, budding-entrepreneur son leaves Manhattan to help them, and after reading that neighboring Wallkill says no to hosting a bunch of longhairs grooving out to some hard rock, he sets the wheels in motion for Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) and associates to have the concert in his Catskills hamlet.

Beyond ElliotNs marginally interesting homo conflict—heNs given a push to come out by Liev SchreiberNs ridiculous drag queen, Vilma, who shows up to provide security—Taking Woodstock does nothing more than recycle the same late-N60s tropes seen countless times since the Carter administration. The rages and flashbacks of Emile HirschNs fried Vietnam vet are typical of the usual PTSD overacting. The Earthlight Players, a performance troupe who live in the barn next to El Monaco (“Some are Vassar graduates,” Elliot explains), are as dumb a depiction of avant-garde thespians as something that Jesse Helms might have concocted. On his way to the concert, uptight Elliot takes acid and sees the truth; back at the motel, perpetually miserable Jake and Sonia unknowingly scarf down pot brownies and frolic in the rain; father and son form a deep post-high bond the next day. Eat, drink, man, woman. Making his way through the political booths at Woodstock, Elliot sees women burning their bras at the United Feminist Front bootH N Mdash;a practice debunked years ago, thus making it all the more irresistible to Schamus and Lee, apparently.

Near the filmNs end, thereNs an allusion to Altamont, the free Rolling Stones concert in December 1969 that would become the anti-Woodstock, but no mention of an even bloodier event that had occurred just the week before 500,000 kids gathered to hear Richie Havens: the Tate-LaBianca murders. Taking Woodstock is a film for those who like childrenNs stories about tumultuous times—everyone else can pick up Joan DidionNs The White Album.

Taking Woodstock was directed by Ang Lee; written by James Schamus, based on the book by Elliot Tiber (with Tom Monte); and stars Demetri Martin, Jonathan Groff, Henry Goodman and Imelda Staunton. Rated R. At select theaters.

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