New Film Goes Backstage at Woodstock

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Courtesy of Focus Features
Courtesy of Focus Features

It turns out Demetri Martin is responsible for Woodstock. Well actually his character Elliot Teichberg in the film “Taking Woodstock,” is to blame.  The thorough story directed by Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Lust,” “Caution”) traces the incarnation of the legendary music and peace festival, in which a young Jewish man living and working at his parents’ motel in upstate New York transformed his neighbors’ cow farm into the destination for hippies, drugs, and history’s most celebrated musicians.

The Who, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane – man, that was a good line up. But Ang Lee’s film was less about the music and more about the politics and planning that went behind Woodstock. “Woodstock means so much more than a stage,” Lee said in an interview. Not one musical performance is seen in the film, and screenplay writer James Schamus joked, “It saved us a lot of money not recreating the concert…but also it’s the reality of Woodstock.”

The film captured the true essence of Woodstock which was more about the peripheral experience. The film emphasizes the social context of Woodstock, highlighting the idea that the concert just acted as a meeting spot for like minded individuals. The music took a backseat to the sex, drugs and community. Many people ventured to Woodstock for the music but never even made it to the stage where artists looked tiny surrounded by an enormous sea of people.  Due to its “authentic” Woodstock portrayal the film’s soundtrack was a letdown and considerably quiet. When the sound wasn’t quiet it was amped up with Danny Elfman. I’d much rather listen to Jefferson Airplane.  In one scene you can hear the faint whisperings of Janis Joplin in the background as Martin quarrels with his parents.  How someone can be busy arguing with his parents while Janis Joplin is performing a mere mile away is beyond me!

What the film lacked in music was made up for in its superb casting. The lineup of actors in this film is as epic as the musical lineup of Woodstock. For Demetri Martin’s first venture into film he did a beautiful job. He convincingly played his role as a young Jewish local responsible for bringing Woodstock to his town (And he’s not even Jewish!) I asked Martin, who lives a pretty pure lifestyle, if it was an acting stretch in the scene where he takes a hit of acid. “Every day was an acting stretch for me,” Martin said, “I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing.”

Martin may be coy of his talents, but his role, as with the roles of the rest of the cast, is to be applauded.  Alongside Martin was Emile Hirsch as the post-traumatic stressed out Vietnam vet who rediscovers his youth in a muddy mountain, Imelda Staunton as the eccentric Jewish mama Sonia Teichberg, and Paul Dano in the small but memorable role as the VW guy who gives Martin acid.

It’s typically music that makes the movie (Forrest Gump would be nothing without its soundtrack) and while the soundtrack for “Taking Woodstock” was severely lacking, the historical accuracy and depth of the film made for an informative and genuine Woodstock experience.

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