Taking Woodstock Ang Lee

Taking Woodstock Ang Lee
Wildcard director Ang Lee's latest spin of the genre wheel lands him behind the lens for this intimate comedy, set within the massive cultural event of the original Woodstock concert. Scripted by James Schamus, from Elliot Tiber's memoirs, Taking Woodstock focuses on a small slice of how the legendary concert was set in motion and how the snowballing event affected the citizens of the small town of Bethel, NY. Demetri Martin is surprisingly effective in his first lead role as Elliot. Working the wide-eyed innocence angle in a growing ocean of weird allows the situations to create the humour. None of the characters mug for laughs and any absurd antics employed are part of the history, like the Earthlight Players, the often-nude experimental theatre group renting Elliot's family barn. Clips of them in all their ridiculous, beautiful, free-loving glory are but a few memorable segments of the Woodstock documentary recreated by Lee's crew in wonderfully authentic detail. It would have been easy to hammer home image after iconic image from the documentary, but ever tasteful, Lee references scenes from slightly altered perspectives, often in segue, montage or as background action to the somewhat meandering story. When the specific use of split-screen at the right moments can be as much a loving joke as any piece of dialogue or performance, it becomes more apparent what Ang Lee is tackling with comedic filmmaking. An artist of Lee's calibre isn't content to simply unwind from his typically heavy dramatic fare with a traditional comedy. He explores the employment of comedy in the service his favourite subject: the journey of self-discovery. A terrific cast of supporting players pepper the experience with distinctive charm. Liev Schreiber playing it strait as a security guard in drag is delightfully enigmatic. Emile Hirsch as a freaked-out vet and Eugene Levy as a shrewd Max Yasgur are plenty of fun, while Paul Dano's acid-slinging appearance becomes one of the most beautifully realized drug-trip sequences ever filmed. Taking Woodstock is an odd hybrid of Ang Lee's awe-inspiring poetic sensibilities and a low-key, though subtly tumultuous, take on an epic event. While it'll paint a smile a mile wide on the faces of those enamoured with Woodstock's history, it's less likely to engage viewers lacking a personal emotional attachment to the events. A couple of deleted scenes, a decent production documentary and commentary from Lee and Schamus comprise the scant special features. (Alliance)