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Taking Woodstock

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ang Lee
Produced by Ang Lee
James Schamus
Written by James Schamus
Elliot Tiber
Tom Monte
Starring Demetri Martin
Imelda Staunton
Henry Goodman
Liev Schreiber
Jonathan Groff
Eugene Levy
Emile Hirsch
Paul Dano
Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography Eric Gautier
Editing by Tim Squyres
Distributed by Focus Features
Universal Studios (DVD)
Release date(s) August 28, 2009
Running time 121 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $30,000,000
Gross revenue $9,928,236

Taking Woodstock is a 2009 American comedy-drama film about the Woodstock Festival of 1969, directed by Ang Lee. The screenplay by James Schamus is based on the memoir Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life by Elliot Tiber and Tom Monte.[1]

The film premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival,[2] and opened in New York and Los Angeles on August 26, 2009, before its wide theatrical release two days later.



Set in 1969, the film follows the true story of Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin), an aspiring Greenwich Village interior designer whose parents, Jake (Henry Goodman) and Sonia (Imelda Staunton), own the small dilapidated El Monaco Motel in White Lake, in the town of Bethel, New York. The hippie theater troupe The Earthlight Players rents the barn, but can hardly pay any rent. They sometimes run around naked outside, but are then chased back into the barn by Sonia. Due to supposed financial trouble, the motel may have to be closed, but Elliot assists in trying to avoid that.

Elliot plans to hold a small musical festival, and has, for $1, obtained a permit from the town of Bethel. When he hears that the organizers of the Woodstock Festival face opposition against the originally planned location, he offers his permit and the motel accommodations. Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy) provides his nearby farm land; first they agree on a fee of $5,000, but after realizing how many people will come Yasgur demands $75,000, which the organizers reluctantly accept. Elliot comes to agreement about the fee for the motel more smoothly. Initial objections by his mother quickly disappear when she sees the cash paid in advance. A transvestite veteran, Vilma (Liev Schreiber), is hired as security guard.

Elliot and Yasgur encounter a little bit of expected opposition. The local diner refuses to serve Elliot anymore, inspectors target the hotel (and only his) for building code violations, and some local boys paint a swastika and hate words on the hotel. However, these things are quickly squelched, and Yasgur doesn't care because he's gotten more politeness from everybody that came than he ever got from the locals who oppose it.

The Tiber family works hard and makes much money. Elliot and the viewer do not see the musical performances; on his way to them Elliot takes an LSD trip with a hippie couple (Paul Dano and Kelli Garner), in their VW Bus.

When back Elliot suggests to Sonia that they now have money to hire a worker, so that he can leave, but Sonia apparently prefers Elliot's free services. However, it turns out that Sonia secretly (without even her husband knowing) saved $97,000, so that even before the festival they were financially fine. Elliot hates it that his mother pretended financial trouble and requested him to help out.



Filming took place from August through October 2008 in New Lebanon, New York and East Chatham, New York, located in Columbia County, and New York City.[1][4][5]


Factual accuracy

Elliot Tiber is the author of the memoir on which the movie is based (Bologna, June 2009).

Michael Lang has disputed Tiber's account of the initial meeting with Max Yasgur, and said that he was introduced to Yasgur by a real estate salesman. Lang says that the salesman drove him, without Tiber, to Yasgur's farm. Sam Yasgur, son of Max, agrees with Lang's version, and says that his mother, who is still alive, says Max did not know Tiber. Artie Kornfeld, a Woodstock organizer, has said he found out about Yasgur’s farm from his own sources.[6][7]

Release and reception

Critical reaction

The film maintains a 49% average on Rotten Tomatoes[8] and a 55% on Metacritic.[9] It is the only Ang Lee film to ever receive a "rotten" rating.[10]

Roger Ebert at the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "But Lee and writer James Schamus aren’t making a historical pastiche. This is a comedy with some sweet interludes and others that are cheerfully over the top, such as a nude theatrical troupe living in Elliot’s barn, and Vilma, his volunteer head of motel security, a transvestite ex-Marine played by Liev Schreiber. How does Schreiber, looking just as he usually does except for a blond wig and a dress, play a transvestite? Completely straight. It works."[11]

Michael Phillips at the Chicago Tribune gave it 3 out 4 stars saying "Screenwriter James Schamus doesn’t do anything as stupid as shove Elliot back in the closet, but this is no “Brokeback Catskills Mountain.” It’s a mosaic—many characters, drifting in and out of focus—stitching the story of how the peace-and-music bash fell together as it bounced in the haphazard planning stages from its originally scheduled Wallkill, N.Y., location to a cow pasture in White Lake. (Eugene Levy, working hard to restrain his natural comic ebullience, plays the dairy farmer, Max Yasgur.)[12]

Stephen Holden at the New York Times wrote, "Taking Woodstock pointedly shies away from spectacle, the better to focus on how the lives of individuals caught up by history are transformed...the movie explicitly connects Woodstock to the gay-liberation movement and the Stonewall riots, which took place two months earlier that summer.[13]

Lou Lumeneck at the New York Post gave it 1.5 stars. "It turns the fabled music festival, a key cultural moment of the late 20th century, into an exceedingly lame, heavily clichéd, thumb-sucking bore. There are two main problems with "Taking Woodstock." One is the central nonperformance by the stand-up comedian Demetri Martin, who is pretty much an emotional black hole as Elliot...the movie doesn't make much of an issue of the character's gayness -- which is utterly untrue to the period, 1969, even in enlightened circles."[14]

Melissa Anderson in the Village Voice wrote, "Ang Lee’s facile Taking Woodstock proves that the decade is still prone to the laziest, wide-eyed oversimplifications...little music from the concert itself is heard. On display instead are inane, occasionally borderline offensive portrayals of Jews, performance artists, trannies, Vietnam vets, squares, and freaks.[15]

Slate wrote, "After the long middle section building up to the actual Woodstock, the movie's treatment of the event is maddeningly indirect. No one's asking for a song-by-song re-enactment of the concert, but Lee's refusal to focus even for a moment on the musical aspect of the festival starts to feel almost perverse, as if he's deliberately frustrating the audience's desire."[16]

Box office

Taking Woodstock grossed $3,457,760 during its opening weekend, opening at number 9.[17] After five and a half weeks in theaters, on October 1, 2009, the film's total worldwide box office gross was $8,695,829.[18]


Taking Woodstock was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for "Outstanding Film - Wide Release" during the 21st GLAAD Media Awards.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b Ang Lee Signs On for 'Taking Woodstock'
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Taking Woodstock". Retrieved 2009-05-09. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Michael Fleming (2008-08-05). "'Taking Woodstock' set to start". Variety. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
  4. ^,0,3397420.story
  5. ^
  6. ^ Bleyer, Bill (2009-08-08). "The road to Woodstock runs through Sunken Meadow State Park.". Newsday. Retrieved 2009-08-25. 
  7. ^ Bloom, Nate (2009-08-27). "Revisiting Woodstock, Other flicks, His son, the rabbi". Retrieved 2009-08-27. 
  8. ^
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  17. ^ Weekly Box Office Aug 28 - Sep 03, 2009
  18. ^
  19. ^ "21st Annual GLAAD Media Awards - English Language Nominees". Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. 2010. Retrieved February 21, 2010. 

External links


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