Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Taking Woodstock": Unique Take On A Major Cultural Event

Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock" presents a departure from the host of documentaries commemorating the 4oth anniversary of the Woodstock Art and Music Fair of August 1969. The film is based on Elliot Tiber's memoir about the seedy Catskills hotel, El Monaco, that his Russian Jewish immigrants ran; Tiber held a permit for an outdoor music festival that was essential to allowing Woodstock to occur. Instead of playing up the music, however, "Taking Woodstock" concentrates on the effects of the event on the lives of its characters.

Elliot (Demetri Martin), a Greenwich Village interior designer, has returned to White Lake, NY, to plead his parents' case with a banker on securing one more loan to maintain the failing hotel. He is also the head of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce, and El Monaco is saved as it is transformed into the headquarters of Woodstock Ventures.

The characters offer a sampling of the cultural changes taking place: an ex-Marine in drag who serves as the hotel's head of security; Michael Lang, hippie entrepreneur of Woodstock Ventures; Billy, a high school friend and Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD; the Earthlight Players, a group of actors who live in the hotel's barn and have a predilection for prancing around naked at every performance, and Elliot's grim parents, who suddenly see things in a new light after ingesting brownies made with special ingredients.

It is Elliot, however, whose transformation, gently and gradually depicted, is the focus of the film. His experience at the festival, interaction with those staying at El Monaco and a revelation about the family finances contribute both to his coming out as a gay individual and to a new openness regarding his future life. It is this individual focus that gives "Taking Woodstock" a most original and enjoyable take on the much documented festival.

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