Cannes 2009 Review: Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock
by Alex Billington
May 15, 2009
I'm not a child of the 60's, and I wasn't around when Woodstock took place in 1969, so I have a lot to learn and a lot to appreciate regarding the three-day long concert. That said, Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock is less about the concert itself, and more about Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin), a White Plains, New York local who could be held responsible for helping pull off such a successful event. Ang Lee's take on this story isn't all rock 'n roll, it's a lot more subtle, but it's still an intriguing story and I still enjoyed watching it play out. It's a much more muted look at the concert that changed the world than any studio would've probably liked.
What I enjoyed about Taking Woodstock is that it was a studied look at one individual, and how he affected Woodstock and, more importantly, how Woodstock affected him. He wasn't a hippie, he wasn't even into the music, but he was the one who brought them to White Plains, and brought that community together. Whereas a studio film about Woodstock might've featured montages of concert footage, blaring rock 'n roll every few minutes, and more hippie shenanigans than you could throw beads at, Ang Lee takes this story and makes it interesting, with a bit of finesse and great performances, especially from Demetri Martin.
As much as I enjoyed most of the first half of the film, things started to unravel as it continued into the start of the concert. I didn't mind that there weren't any real good looks at any concert performances, but why throw in random scenes of drug usage that lead Elliot neither further or any closer to his ultimate goal at the end? Maybe it was just Ang Lee feeling the need to include an obligatory acid trip scene (given that this is Woodstock), or maybe it was just what actually happened to the real life Elliot Tiber (this is based on his book). Either way, Taking Woodstock sadly ended not with bang, as it should have, but with a whimper.
Cannes Rating: 7.5 out of 10