Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Taking Woodstock

Every once in awhile, I indulge myself. I am a movie lover of sorts. Most of all, I love the whole movie going experience, the popcorn, the ice-cold soda and shutting out the world for a few hours in the semi-privacy of the dark theatre. I arrive a bit early to review the posters for upcoming events and to size up the crowd. You can tell much about a film by checking out who is attending. If there are teenage boys in line, I steer clear.

I also like to take a visual survey of the audience as we sit in the theatre waiting for the movie pre-views. Among the small crowd filing into the theatre for the Sunday showing of Taking Woodstock, an Ang Lee film, were several gray long haired couples, sixties throw-back types. You know what I’m talking about. They still wear sandals and T-shirts. They don’t dye or cut their hair, don’t wear make-up and they definitely do not “work for the man.” I was sure of that. Some of them may even have been to Woodstock. They were just that cool.

I was too young for Woodstock myself. As a ten year old hippie in training in 1969, I was groovy with my Peter Max posters and peace signs. It was fun to be a kid in the 60’s even if it was a bit confusing with all of the craziness going on.
Taking Woodstock is an entertaining step back in time to the 60’s era. The movie is a fact based fictional account of the events that led up to this historical event. Just recently the 40th anniversary of the great happening was celebrated. At the time, nothing had ever been seen like it and nothing has been seen like it since. This may not be a bad thing.

The movie focuses on the Tiber family who owned the motel El Monaco, located nearby the Yasgur farm, the ultimate location of Woodstock. The Tibers are first and second generation immigrants, pinching every penny to make ends meet and stay ahead of foreclosure. Young Elliot Tiber has left behind his life in the city to return home and help his parents stay afloat. Mom and Dad Tiber are somewhat cartoonish in character. But no one trusted anyone over thirty in those days, right?

Elliot steps in when the Woodstock promoters are turned away from other locations due to their inability to obtain a music festival permit. Elliot had an existing permit, an easy thing to accomplish as he was head of the local Chamber of Commerce and City Council. He then teamed up with Max Yasgur, a neighboring dairy farmer, to provide the location. As they initiated negotiations with Michael Lang, the concerts promoter, they estimated that there would be a few thousand attendees. They had no idea what they were in for!

Moviegoers are entertained with a behind the scenes peak at the turmoil that follows as thousands of concertgoers descend on the area, much to the chagrin of the locals. The hair, the clothes, the bare feet, the dialogue peppered with “beautiful” and “far out”, are all there. Once the concertgoers make it to their destination, problems ensue. There were not enough food, water or bathroom facilities to match the demand. Add to the mix a lot of mud and it is hard to believe that they all stayed, but stay they did and what they saw will never be matched.

The main focus of the film is the people, not the performers. Hints of Country Joe and the Fish, Janis Joplin and Crosby, Stills and Nash are heard in the background but there is little in the film about the musicians. This film is about the people behind the scenes and the concertgoers themselves. Footage of the concert is portrayed in split screen with many things going on at the same time. The viewer sees hints of popular culture as bra and draft card burnings by concertgoers are mixed in with ample tie dye and LSD. Oh yes, that was the 60’s!

A glimpse of the free food booths set up by the “Hog Farmers” and a ladies group that brought in thousands of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, as well as the first aid tents to deal with bad trips paint quite a poicture. We all remember scenes of the hippies bathing in the open waters and sliding in the mud. Whoa boy! Hold me back from that fun!

One of the standout characters in the film is the cross-dressing former marine, Vilma who the Tibers hire to assist them with security during the event. Vilma is the catalyst for change among the Tiber family members as young Elliot comes of age and comes out during the film. Add to the mix a group of wacko local theatre performers living in the garage, a delusional Vietnam veteran with a host of other great characters and you have the recipe for a funny and entertaining film.

The actual event was by all rights a disaster for the promoters who lost money as thousands descended on the scene without tickets due to a snafu in the publicity and lack of any way to keep them out. The mess that was left behind was much more than Mr. Yasgur and the local townspeople had ever bargained for! Even so there was something magical if not mythical about the event. One thing for sure, things have surely never been the same since the sixties.

To see the movie trailer click the link below.

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