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March 16, 2010

Review: Taking Woodstock

Director Ang Lee, who brought us 2005's "Brokeback Mountain," nominated for eight Oscars and winner of three (including Best Director), crafts this behind-the-scenes story of the largest music festival in history. Adapted from the book by Elliot Tiber, "Taking Woodstock" follows Tiber himself, the son of motel owners in the New York state farmlands, who helped find a home for Woodstock in the summer of 1969.

Elliot Tiber, portrayed by comedian Demetri Martin, was looking for ways to keep his parents motel afloat for yet another summer season when he read about Woodstock ventures and their inability to secure a location with enough space for the event with tickets already sold and the date quickly approaching. Elliot, a painter as well as a homosexual, was ready to join the hippie ways of the 1960s, but couldn't let go of his immigrant parents failing business and their strong need for his support. When the opportunity arose to help them out and save this monumental concert at the same time, he got in touch with the right people and used his power of President of the town's Chamber of Commerce and the permit already approved for his family's annual summer music festival (usually much smaller in size) to find Woodstock a location. Although, even with a huge field provided by local dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), an unimaginable amount of work and trouble went into the execution of the great festival.

Demetri Martin, who has done little film acting in the past, surprises in his first leading role as the often conflicted and confused Elliott Tiber who sometimes looks lost in the middle of everything swirling around him in the wake of Woodstock. Quirky supporting roles include Eugene Levy (who's work in the American Pie films have earned him his own spot in our generation), Paul Dano ("Little Miss Sunshine," "There Will Be Blood"), Emile Hirsch ("Into the Wild," "Milk") and Liev Shreiber ("Defiance," "X-Men Origins: Wolverine") as a cross-dressing security force.

Ang Lee used no archive footage of the actual Woodstock festival, but rather found tens of thousands of extras to film the audience scenes. You never see any performers of the festival, which goes along with the story, and all the focus is on the months leading up to Woodstock, including the locals' reactions, national coverage and how the impossible was made possible. The film, which feels a bit lengthy, is slightly less comedic than it claims to be, depending on your sense of humor, but there's a certain level of interest raised on a subject I'm sure few from any generation have questioned. It may be something our parents appreciate, since it all occurred during their time, but with themes surrounding the character of Elliott Tiber that I think twenty-something viewers can identify with.

"Perspective shuts out the universe, it keeps the love out."

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