We need to stop living in the past. People complain how the youth of today knows nothing of history, when in fact they know far too much. Everything they do, create and think is compared unfavorably to what came before. Maybe we could forget the influences of The Beatles, Alfred Hitchcock, and Jack Kerouac, wipe the slate, and start again. Like overbearing older siblings, the titans of the past set everything new in claustrophobic shadows. Will any band ever be as vital as The Beatles? You'd think not from the constant noise of nostalgia. (See this month's cover of Rolling Stone.)
It sounds fascistic - but perhaps we could put a ban on talking about culture prior to this millennium? Particularly that period that inspires such obsession - the '60s. We've all internalized, by osmosis, the major movements of the era. They've been cartooned over the years, the truths of the time reduced to cultural shorthand. Tie-dye t-shirts, LSD, camper vans, peace, sexual revolution - it all means both too much and nothing at all. It could be argued that the last 40 years have been shaped, politically and socially, by waves of '60s glorification and/or backlash, rather than by the decades' actual events.
And so, in Woodstock's 40th anniversary year, Ang Lee releases a movie about the music festival. In all fairness, it's a movie that goes out of its way to not be about the music festival, focusing instead on the personal struggles of the young man who accidentally initiated the event while coming to terms with his parents over the course of the summer. Unfortunately, this is less Ice Storm/Brokeback Mountain-era Ang Lee and more Ride With The Devil-era Lee, and so these struggles are as boring as Woodstock, and Woodstock is boring. Talking about and hearing about Woodstock is like when you used to spend an afternoon looking at your friend's vacation photos - before Facebook spared us the ordeal. No? Then test that theory by regaling your children's children, in 40 years' time, about the many happy hours you spent on Facebook. The very word 'Woodstock' nowadays only incites the nauseous fullness that comes after Christmas dinner.
Elliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin) is an artist living in New York City and sinking anything he earns into his parents' broken-down White Lake motel, apparently in self-flagellation for his parents' remoteness. As a business venture he offers the hotel site as host to a music festival that's been thrown out of the neighboring hamlet of Wallkill. At that point the organizers have sold 100,000 tickets but soon the hype surrounding the event forces them to break down the fences and make it free. Woodstock then moves to a local farmer's land, where 500,000 people appear. Elliot only enters the festival in the film's final half-hour, disappearing into a camper van to take LSD and see bright colors before returning home to seemingly sleep through the rest of the weekend. And that's about as anti-climactic as all the anti-climaxing gets...
It could be said that Woodstock's biggest legacy has been allowing modern-day festival organizers to provide minimal facilities in muddy fields to patrons who believe having access to two blocked toilets in two square miles adds atmosphere. There now, you see, this reviewer can't stop free-associating toilets. And anyone with current music festival experience is more likely to associate Taking Woodstock's thuddingly epic mud-sliding scene with hepatitis rather than freedom. It's a movie that tokes up midway, and then forgets to justify its existence.
Taking Woodstock ★✩✩✩✩
Directed by Ang Lee.
Written by James Schamus.
Starring: Demetri Martin, Imelda Stanton, Emile Hirsch, Henry Goodman,
Liev Schreiber - Rated R