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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Taking Woodstock

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Mamie Gummer, Jonathan Groff and Demetri Martin star in a scene from the movie "Taking Woodstock."
“Taking Woodstock" (Focus) is a fact-based slice of psychedelic history that sees Elliot Teichberg (comedian Demetri Martin), the young manager of a failing motel in New York's Catskills, inadvertently becoming a crucial player in the staging of the iconic 1969 music festival.
 
Though it traces its protagonist's growth toward a healthier relationship with his immigrant parents—ferociously pessimistic mother Sonia (Imelda Staunton) and downtrodden father Jake (Henry Goodman)—director Ang Lee's gently rambling comedy portrays Elliot's public avowal of his homosexuality as another positive step toward emotional maturity.
 
As adapted from Elliot Tiber's 2007 memoir, Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert and a Life (Tiber's name at birth was Teichberg), James Schamus' script opens with Elliot forsaking his life as a New York City decorator to return upstate where Sonia and Jake are on the verge of losing their fleabag hostelry, the El Monaco, to foreclosure.
 
Learning that Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff), the moving spirit behind the planned rock concert, has had his permit pulled by a neighboring town, Elliot—who heads the Chamber of Commerce of tiny Bethel, N.Y., where the El Monaco is located—offers the impresario the necessary permission to hold his event there.
 
He also introduces Michael to local dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), whose land proves an ideal site for the extravaganza.
 
Hippie culture is embodied by the Earthlight players, tenants of a barn on the Teichbergs' land, who repeatedly indulge an avant-garde fondness for disrobing in public, and by an unnamed couple (Paul Dano and Kelli Garner) Elliot encounters once the festival gets under way who invite him into their VW van to drop acid and canoodle, though how far the latter activity goes is left uncertain.
 
Ex-Marine and current transvestite Vilma (Liev Schreiber)—who volunteers to provide security after the Mob tries to sell the Teichbergs' protection—is another "free spirit" quite at home with the apparent paradoxes in his resume. Partly under Vilma's inspiration, Elliot flirts with, publicly kisses and later wakes up in bed beside a construction worker who has caught his fancy.
 
The film contains a benign view of homosexual acts, group sex and transvestism, nonsexual full frontal nudity, drug use, a half-dozen uses of profanity, and frequent rough and some crude language. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is O—morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted; under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
 
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Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


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Dominic of Silos: It’s not the founder of the Dominicans we honor today, but there’s a poignant story that connects both Dominics. 
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