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Taking Woodstock

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Title: Taking Woodstock  
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Subject: Ang Lee, Woodstock, Skylar Astin, Louisa Krause, Liev Schreiber
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Taking Woodstock

Taking Woodstock
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ang Lee
Produced by Ang Lee
James Schamus
Written by James Schamus
Based on Taking Woodstock 
by 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
Edited by Tim Squyres
Distributed by Focus Features
Release dates
  • August 28, 2009 (2009-08-28)
Running time 121 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $30,000,000
Box office $9,930,139

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 Resort in White Lake, in the town of Bethel, New York. A hippie theater troupe, The Earthlight Players, rents the barn, but can hardly pay any rent. Due to financial trouble, the motel may have to be closed, but Elliot pleads with the local bank not to foreclose on the mortgage and Sonia delivers a tirade about her struggles as a Russian refugee. The family is given until the end of the summer to pay up.

Elliot plans to hold a small musical festival, and has, for $1, obtained a permit from the town's chamber of commerce (of which he is also the president). When he hears that the organizers of the Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff). A neighbor, 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.

Elliot and Yasgur encounter a little bit of expected opposition. The local diner refuses to serve Elliot anymore, inspectors target the motel (and only his) for building code violations, and some local boys paint a swastika and hate words on the hotel. However, resistance quickly dissolves in the tidal wave of peace and love (and commerce) brought to the area. The Tiber family works hard serving the massive influx of visitors and become wealthy in the process. A cross-dressing veteran, Vilma (Liev Schreiber), is hired as a security guard. Elliot also struggles with hiding his homosexuality from his family, when he connects romantically with one of the event organizers staying at the motel.

On the first day of the concert, Elliot, his father, and Vilma hear the music begin in the distance. Elliot's father, transformed and enlivened by all the new life in town, tells Elliot to go and see the concert. Elliot hitches a ride through the peaceful traffic jam on the back of a benevolent state trooper's motorcycle and arrives at the event. There, he meets a hippie couple (Paul Dano and Kelli Garner), who invite him to join them on an LSD trip in their VW Bus a short distance from the crowd. Elliot has trouble relaxing at first, but gradually melts into a psychedelic union with them. When they finally emerge after sundown, Elliot watches the vast crowd and brilliant lights of the distant concert ripple with harmonious hallucinatory visuals that swell into serene white light.

Elliot returns home from his liberating experience and has breakfast with his parents. He suggests to his mother that they now have enough money to replace him, but she cannot bear to let him have his freedom. Elliot storms out, facetiously suggesting his mom eat the hash brownies Vilma has just offered. After another beautiful day at the festival, during which his friend the Vietnam veteran, Billy (Emile Hirsch), appears to overcome his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Elliot returns home to find his parents laughing and cavorting hysterically, having eaten Vilma's hash brownies. The once-brittle family (particularly Sonia) are united in joy and delirious affection.

The next morning, however, Sonia inadvertently reveals that she has secretly saved $97,000 in cash in the floorboards of her closet. Elliot is upset that his mother hid this from him while he put his own savings into helping his parents.

After the final day of the concert, Elliot packs up his life and says farewell to his father, after his father encourages him to strike out on his own. As Elliot pays one last visit to the concert and looks out over the muddy desolation of the Yasgur farm, Lang rides up on horseback and they marvel at how despite the obstacles, the event was a success. Lang mentions his next big project: staging a truly free concert in San Francisco with the Rolling Stones – the infamous Altamont Free Concert.



Filming took place from August–October 2008 in New Lebanon, New York and East Chatham, New York, located in Columbia County, New York.

Factual accuracy

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


Release and reception

Critical reaction

The film maintains a 48% average on Rotten Tomatoes[6] and a 55% on Metacritic.[7]

Roger Ebert at the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "[...] 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."[8]

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.)[9]

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.[10]

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."[11]

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.[12]

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."[13]

Box office

Taking Woodstock grossed $3,457,760 during its opening weekend, opening at #9.[14] After five and a half weeks in theaters, on October 1, 2009, the film's total worldwide box office gross was $8,695,829.[15]

Awards and nominations

Taking Woodstock was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for "Outstanding Film – Wide Release" during the 21st GLAAD Media Awards.[16]

Home release

The DVD and Blu-ray were released on December 15, 2009.[17]

Special features include:

The Blu-ray features:

  • All the DVD features with:
    • Additional deleted scenes
    • Featurette: No Audience Required – The Earthlight Players

See also


  1. ^ Novikov, Eugene (April 23, 2008). "'"Ang Lee Signs On for 'Taking Woodstock. Retrieved July 29, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Taking Woodstock". Retrieved May 9, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Michael Fleming (August 5, 2008). Taking Woodstock' set to start"'". Variety. Retrieved September 1, 2008. 
  4. ^ Bleyer, Bill (August 8, 2009). "The road to Woodstock runs through Sunken Meadow State Park.". Newsday. Retrieved August 25, 2009. 
  5. ^ Bloom, Nate (August 27, 2009). "Revisiting Woodstock, Other flicks, His son, the rabbi". Retrieved August 27, 2009. 
  6. ^ "Taking Woodstock". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 29, 2011. 
  7. ^ "Taking Woodstock Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More at Metacritic". December 17, 2009. Retrieved July 29, 2011. 
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 26, 2009). "Taking Woodstock". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  9. ^ Phillips, Michael (August 24, 2009). Taking Woodstock' – 3 stars"'". Chicago Tribune. 
  10. ^ Holden, Stephen (August 26, 2009). "What I Saw at the Countercultural Revolution". The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2010. 
  11. ^ Lumenick, Lou (September 2, 2009). "Dump This 'Stock'!". New York Post. 
  12. ^ Melissa Anderson (August 25, 2009). "Taking Woodstock Recycles 60's Tropes – Page 1 – Movies – New York". Village Voice. Retrieved July 29, 2011. 
  13. ^ Stevens, Dana (August 27, 2009). "Ang Lee's slight and gentle-spirited Taking Woodstock. – By Dana Stevens – Slate Magazine". Retrieved July 29, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Weekly Box Office Aug 28 – Sep 3, 2009". Variety. Retrieved July 29, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Taking Woodstock (2009)". Box Office Mojo. October 1, 2009. Retrieved July 29, 2011. 
  16. ^ "21st Annual GLAAD Media Awards – English Language Nominees".  
  17. ^ "Taking Woodstock (US – DVD R1 | BD RA) in News > Releases at DVDActive". Retrieved July 29, 2011. 

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