Monday, August 31, 2009

Cranky at the Movies

Last night I saw TAKING WOODSTOCK, about the machinations behind putting on the famous 1968 music festival. I'd been looking forward to this because the trailer looked like such fun, because I was not at Woodstock, and because despite that oversight I so vividly remember my '60's youth. However, I was disappointed. (BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD)

It's not a terrible movie. I wasn't bored, but I left feeling unsettled because the movie never decides what its attitude is toward its subject matter. Two examples: First, the main plot features the struggle of Elliot, adult offspring of the immigrant owners of a seedy motel located down the road from the Yasgur farm and threatened with foreclosure, to be a good son. He works in NYC and gives the majority of his earnings to his parents. He spends his vacations keeping the motel in some semblance of repair. He hides the fact that he's gay. Woodstock supposedly frees him from these stifling restrictions, and he pays off the mortgage on the motel. THEN he discovers that his mother has hoarded cash all these years and has $94,000 in her closet. All his self-sacrifices were unnecessary. He confronts his parents with this. His mother, a grasping and unpleasant character, just says, "It's mine!" His father just says, "I love her." After that's that. The family resumes on the same sentimental basis as before, and the moment of searing familial truth reverts to funny fluff.

Second: At the end of the movie, the organizer Michael Lang exults to Elliot that Woodstock has been "three days of peace and music," and goes on exulting about the next festival he's already organizing: the Stones at Altamont. Michael and Elliot don't know what will happen at that festival, but we do. Are we supposed to think that this final comment of the screenplay (a power position in any work of fiction) shows that "peace and music" are not the good things Michael has just stated they are? Or what? The ending doesn't fit with the fluff that went before, and it jars.

Other things jarred, too. This would be a better movie if director Ang Lee -- usually sure-footed -- had decided what kind of comment he wanted to make about Woodstock, or freedom, or money. Instead he settled for a lot of nostalgic visuals of tie-dye and acid trips. Too bad.


bluesman miike Lindner said...

I believe it was '69, Nancy. But I maybe took too much of the brown acid to remember rightly. Just being mellow...

I wasn't at Woodstock, but did go to to Watkins Glen in 1973. What a fiasco! Imagine Central Park packed to the gills with hedonists who despised their civilization. (And those were the semi-articulate ones.) And then there was the rain. Then the ruthless sun. Then some more rain. Did I mention the heat?

If a kind couple hadn't shared their tent with Randye and me Saturday night, we surely would have perished from exposure. (Her father said to me, before Randye and I got on the bus, "Michael...take care of her. Right?" "You have my word, Mr. Epstein.")

Going to a festival like that was like being in jail. Everyone should do it once. But not twice.

The music? Hmmm...I =think= The Band, the Dead, and the Allman Brothers played...

Tim of Angle said...

Life would be much simpler did the actual Woodstock more closely resemble the Woodstock of modern myth.

Think Hurricane Katrina with mostly young white people.

Any movie made about Woodstock will inevitably be either boring or a fantasy.