Taking Woodstock

Ang Lee's deceptively subversive look at the great festival of '69

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  • Uncut film mreview: Taking Woodstock
  • Directed by: Ang Lee
  • Starring: Demitri Martin, Emile Hirsch


Though it takes the form of a light, bittersweet comedy, Ang Lee‘s latest dissection of the American dream is one of his most complex and even most deceptively subversive films. Set during the summer of 1969, when Max Yasgur‘s 600-acre farm played host to 450,000 hippies and some of the era’s greatest rock bands, Taking Woodstock deftly sidesteps the problems of recreating such a massive event by not really trying.

Instead, although CGI captures some of the size and scale, Lee shows the experience from the outskirts, and in lieu of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and The Who, we see Woodstock as most attendees saw it: down among the mud and chaos, where the rock ‘n’ roll was just a distant thud.

Its leading man is a surprise too; inspired by real-life entrepreneur Elliot Teichberg, Elliot Tiber (Martin) is a lanky, fey closet gay who invites the circus into his hometown of Bethel, New York, not realising the impact it will have on his life. With the rest of the revellers, Tiber is soon swept up in an orgy of music and love. But as Lee points out in the film’s closing moments, such a high was not to last – and his film stands as an elegy for the electric moment that came and went.


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