Taking Woodstock

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 9, 2015

Upstate New York is very beautiful. There’s a good sense of how places like this can be both idyllic/Edenic, and brackish backwaters. The film is a triumph, in quantity and quality, for designers and art directors of all stripes. Gene Levy is a very handsome Jewish man. He can’t quite seem to help adding a bit of SCTV/Bobby Bittman to these proceedings. Imelda Staunton’s character is powerful, as is her interpretation thereof.  No ethnic cuddling here, but rather a fierce, unapologetic unattractiveness, which eventually achieves its own dignity. Liev Schreiber’s unapologetic transvestite registers in a couple of ways. His character is a pretty standard ploy (American Beauty, Home for the Holidays, etc.), the Upright Deviant who makes all of the Straights look queer. However, he is less schematic than many upright cinematic deviants, so that the ploy is actually productive. The acid sequence is kind of artful.

There’s some good. But Taking Woodstock also raises up my moral hackles. There’s a bit of erstwhile complexity, but in the end this is just more dumbly uncritical mythologizing of an event that doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny. Yes Michael Lang’s smugness comes to us across decades, but as much as the film worships him, and makes him a symbol of Aquarian transcendence, he’s finally a Hollow Man, or Chance the Gardener. And as for the event itself! The predominantly sloppy music can be forgiven, what with the circumstances that prevailed. But “No More Rain!” as any kind of theology, or real response to Repressive State Apparatuses?  Nonsense then, nonsense now.

Get out the documentary, and go to the Port-o-san chapter. That great man, cleaning out those toilets! A son here, and one in Vietnam. A puzzlement, even, surely a tragedy, or a couple of them even. In the face of all that, he’ll just try to make things a little more pleasant for everybody. Such as the smart-bottomed young bonehead who shows up immediately after, with that supercilious pipe and attitude. Complicated times! Or, not really …