Based on the memoirs of Elliot Tiber, Taking Woodstock stars Demetri Martin as Elliot, who inadvertently played a role in making 1969's Woodstock Music and Arts Festival into the famed happening it was.

Working as an interior designer in Greenwich Village, Elliot feels empowered by the gay rights movement. But he is also still staked to the family business - a dumpy Catskills motel called the El Monaco that is being run into the ground by his overbearing parents, Jake and Sonia Teichberg (Henry Goodman and Imelda Staunton). In the summer of 1969, Elliot has to move back upstate to the El Monaco in order to help save the motel from being taken over by the bank. Upon hearing that a planned music and arts festival has lost its permit from the neighbouring town of Wallkill, NY, Elliot calls producer Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) at Woodstock Ventures to offer his family's motel to the promoters and generate some much-needed business. Elliot also introduces Lang to his neighbour Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), who operates a 600-acre dairy farm down the road. Soon the Woodstock staff is moving into the El Monaco - and half a million people are on their way to Yasgur's farm for "3 days of Peace & Music in White Lake."

With a little help from his friends, Elliot finds himself swept up in a generation-defining experience that would change his life - and popular culture - forever.


The festival to which half a million people flocked 40 years ago this summer promised "3 Days of Peace & Music." Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock offers two hours of humour and emotion.

Nailing his first feature film role, Demetri Martin is charmingly convincing as Elliot Tiber (born Teichberg), on whose 2007 memoir the script is based. The son of Jewish parents who made the long trek from the Old Country to escape persecution, Elliot has been working as an interior decorator in Manhattan but returns to Bethel, New York to help his folks run the ramshackle motel they bought in 1955 and have no apparent aptitude for maintaining.

During a bank meeting to discuss the imminent foreclosure of their property, Elliot's irascible mother Sonia (Imelda Staunton) makes the logistically unlikely claim that "I walked here from Minsk in Russia," concluding that the bank is anti-Semitic.

During a sparsely attended meeting of the town's Chamber of Commerce – a public body headed by Elliot – one participant suggests that given the local cattle population, they might increase tourist traffic by staging a Pamplona-style running of the bulls. Another citizen pipes up to say that the sight of Orthodox Jews running through the streets with large horned animals in hot pursuit might be entertaining. (Paging Borat!)

Elliot pays $1 for a permit to put on a music festival on local lawn as he has done during previous summers. His idea of a music festival is playing selected records outdoors. But he aspires to booking a group of musicians to perform live. Never in the proverbial million years could he imagine the scale of the concert that would evolve instead. Before it happened, it was as incredible as the idea of people from planet Earth visiting the moon.

This is a movie that demonstrates the historical importance of newspapers in human affairs. Forgive me for making this point on a web site, but newspapers – those exquisitely inexpensive analogue objects you hold in your hands – often give movie characters information vital to the plot. In this case, Elliott reads that citizens in nearby Wallkill have denied organisers a permit to stage a proposed concert in their jurisdiction.

In proud possession of HIS permit to stage a musical event, Elliott contacts preternaturally mellow hippie entrepreneur Michael Lang (Jonathan Grood) of Woodstock Ventures and the rest is history. Funny, offbeat history.

In the opening scenes a customer with a British accent declares the premises run by the elder Teichbergs unfit for human habitation and demands a refund of his $8 ($1 extra for towels).

But, proving the dictum that the three most important things in real estate valuation are location, location and location, the hopelessly run down motel becomes the temporarily valuable epicentre of what the world now knows as Woodstock, eventually staged on the property of dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy) in nearby White Lake, NY.

British actress Staunton chews the rustic scenery with aplomb as a particular subset of textbook Jewish mother who can find the potential tragedy in any situation. Fellow Brit Henry Goodman is very good as her long-suffering spouse Jake.

As comforting as Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz, Liev Schreiber positively glows as cross-dressing ex-Marine Vilma, who treks from Greenwich Village to upstate New York to provide security – as it turns out, in more ways than one.

Elliot is gay (the real Elliot Tiber was an active participant in the Stonewall riots of June 1969 that are a watershed in the history of gay rights), but hasn't found a way to break the news to his parents. But the snowball effect of Woodstock has a salutary and freeing influence on Max and his parents.

While Lee's Brokeback Mountain had a larger effect on the culture and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ushered in a flying leap in acceptance of subtitles among mainstream U.S. filmgoers, his screen adaptation of The Ice Storm, remains his masterpiece to date. The phenomenally deft sense of observation he brought to the well-off American suburbs of the early 1970s is exercised here in re-visiting the transformative behaviour of the 1960s.

Man landed on the moon shortly before the Woodstock festival made headlines and history. There were daily body counts from Vietnam on the nightly news. And there was a body count on native soil when the Manson Family murders took place just a week before Woodstock. It was a time of contrasts, upheaval and hope. And the soundtrack still sounds mighty fine today.

The closing credits inform us that the production took specific initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint. While unquestionably laudable, I can't help wondering how long it will be before such assertions seem as nostalgically quaint as tie-dye T-shirts and the belief that the march of money-grubbing war-mongering capitalism could be overcome by sufficient exposure to hallucinogens or meditation.

Here's hoping the soundtrack to the coming confrontation with the effects of climate change truly rocks.