Taking Woodstock

Taking Woodstock



The late 1960s has a very positive reputation in some circles. Even many people who weren’t there look back fondly to the era.

I don’t see it that way at all. Compared to today, the late 1960s were a dark time – and not just for barbers and razorblade salesmen. Poor young men were sent to a far-flung jungle to fight an unproductive war, while kids who were rich enough to avoid the draft publicly complained about it.

Race relations in America were far worse than today based on the bitter riots that engulfed our nation’s cities every summer.

The popular music of the era was so boring that a whole new style of rhythm-less hippie dancing had to be invented to accompany it. Thank goodness T. Rex, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, and the New York Dolls came along to bring excitement, style, and artfulness back to rock and roll.

But even I must admit that the late 60s must have been about more than bad times and bad music. The spirit of the era resonated with so many people. Even young Taiwanese filmmakers apparently. Director Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” is a cinematic love letter to the 60s.

Comedian Demetri Martin stars as Elliot Teichberg, the owner of a struggling motel in upstate New York.

When the town of Woodstock decided to cancel the permit for a big concert, Elliot had the brilliant idea of calling the promoters and inviting them to have the show in his nearby town of Bethel. Because Elliot happened to be the president of the town’s Chamber of Commerce, he was able to pull it off.

Elliot’s plan turned out to be a rousing success.

The film, however, is a failure because it has no point or purpose other than to generally observe that Woodstock was great, the people who organized Woodstock were great, and the old fogies who were opposed to Woodstock were bigoted jerks. That is not enough of a message to justify this slow-moving two hour movie.

“Taking Woodstock” is like a Jimmy Hendrix guitar solo: there is clearly talent involved, but ultimately it is boring, meaningless, and pretentious.

The climax of the film is the scene where Elliot stumbles upon a generous young couple in a VW van and takes acid with them. The trip is supposed to be an emotional awakening for our uptight hero. It inspires him to leave home and live a freer life.

Now, I’m not exactly from the Nancy Reagan school of drug-prevention, but I certainly think that Ang Lee’s message is ridiculous and a little irresponsible. The fact that the hippie counter-culture collapsed so promptly after the 60s ended is evidence of the fact that its anti-establishment philosophy of extreme liberation and hallucinogen use was a failed experiment in excess.

I suppose I am not really qualified to judge the 1960s considering I didn’t live through them. But I did sit through all of “Taking Woodstock,” I’m afraid, and it was a bad trip, man.