Page 22 THE VILLADOM TIMES II, III & IV • September 9, 2009 Film explores genesis of ‘60s cultural milestone by Dennis Seuling This year, as the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock festival arrived, the airwaves and newspapers were filled with retrospectives, analyses, reflections, and commentaries about how those three days in Bethel, New York in 1969 would have ramifications and meaning beyond the fields of a local dairy farm. Not much was mentioned about how the idea was realized despite tremendous local opposition. That story is told in Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock.” The central character in this film is Elliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin), an interior designer who has put his career on hold to return home to upstate New York where his parents are struggling to make ends meet with a failing motel. In an attempt to boost business, Elliot has held a number of outdoor music festivals, attracting mostly sparse audiences of friends and neighbors. When he learns that two neighboring towns have already refused permission for a rock concert, Elliot, in his capacity as head of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce, offers the promoters a permit. This might bring some badly needed business to his parents’ motel. It also changes his life and his sleepy community. Landing by helicopter in the motel’s parking lot, promoter Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) emerges, looking more like a typical ‘60s hippie than a moneyed businessman. His associates soon arrive in limos to check out the permit and look at the property, which they determine is too small and swampy for a concert they hope will attract 10,000 people. So they strike a deal with dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy) to use his fields as the staging area. The movie keeps its focus on Elliot as he sees local business boom when promoters, construction crews, and early concert-goers descend on the tiny town. Phone lines are installed, threats are made by regional crime factions who attempt to extort “security assurance” money from the promoters, and the free spirits Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) and Elliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin) discuss plans for a rock concert in ‘Taking Woodstock.’ Calling All Crafters! Come be a part of the of the Love Generation blend with the more conservative locals. Influenced by the youthful exuberance of the visitors to become his own person, Elliot gets in touch with his own needs rather than those of his parents (Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman). Martin manages to hold the screen more from an honest portrayal of a nice guy than with the flash and excitement of the show biz surrounding him. When local inspectors issue a ream of violations before the concert, Elliot frets that all is lost. By contrast, Lang, who never appears to be miffed by setbacks, simply takes the violations and says the lawyers will see to them. The contrast between the two men’s personalities is striking. Groff, who scored big on Broadway in “Spring Awakening” and in the Central Park Delacorte Theatre production of “Hair,” has a face made for movies. Here, with curly hair, jeans, and a vest covering his bare chest, Groff’s Lang defies the customary image of entrepreneur. Though his major scenes are at the beginning and end of the film, he is a strong screen presence as his Lang maintains calm in situations that would inspire panic in others. Stanton turns in a feisty performance as Elliot’s penny-pinching mother, who charges $1 for fresh towels, reuses bed sheets if they aren’t badly soiled, and runs her motel more like a prison warden than a hospitable innkeeper. This Russian-born woman’s history has made her believe the Poor House is just around the corner and she lives her life accordingly: miserly, tense, fearful of outsiders, and intolerant of new ideas. When the Woodstock crew brings renewed business to the motel and allows her and her husband to pay off the mortgage, she relaxes somewhat and begins to see that the strangely dressed young people are not so bad after all. Watching her performance in “Taking Woodstock,” it’s amazing that Staunton is the actress from “Vera Drake” (2004). Lee never gets close to the stage, though the viewer hears the music throughout. Seeing the rock artists is not necessary. The superb Michael Wadleigh documentary covered that. “Taking Woodstock” is a ticket to the drama and free spirit surrounding the concert. Many scenes reflect the documented history of the event, including the downpour, the point when electric shocks made it too dangerous for anyone to perform, and crowds that virtually closed the New York State Thruway. One scene, in which a motorcycle cop offers Elliot a ride to Yasgur’s land so he can see some of the concert, is masterfully staged. The motorcycle slowly maneuvers through throngs of people and cars. Far from roiling with road rage, the kids are in party mode. Makeshift stands have sprung up with folks selling watermelon slices and lemonade, music streams from car radios, and the smell of pot pervades the atmosphere. Even the cop, who thought he would be cracking hippies’ skulls, has come under the spell of the peace-and-love weekend, a daisy ornamenting his helmet. Since any movie about Woodstock has to include nudity and drug use, “Taking Woodstock” is rated R. It’s tricky to maintain a personal story when it is centered in a massive, world-famous event, but Lee accomplishes this beautifully. What emerges from the movie is that the concert might never have taken place if not for an anonymous man who made a phone call and had the power to issue a permit. 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