August 28, 2009

Should I go see the new Ang Lee movie... something "Woodstock"?

Now, that seems to answer the question. I was just reading about it, talking about it, and when I stop to write about it, I realize I don't know the title anymore. It slipped right out of my head.

I look back to that LA Times review that got me started writing this post and sent me over to YouTube to find "Jokes With Guitar":
The soft center of the film and its unlikely protagonist is Elliot, a 34-year-old New York City interior designer still wearing polyester and polos played by Demetri Martin, probably best known for his very funny observational stand-up (check out "Jokes With Guitar" on YouTube.
So, come on, walk beside me, down to YouTube — set your soul free, life is for learning, etc. etc.:

To put a fine point on it, Elliot's a classic '60s head case and theoretically a perfect prism through which to view the Woodstock phenomenon. That the character is based on Elliot Tiber and his book, "Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life," who more by chance than initiative snagged the festival at the last minute after nearby Wallkill, N.Y., turned the concert promoters down, gives the film an organic feel.
Oh, it's "Taking Woodstock." "Taking"? Why "taking"? Is that "taking" in the sense of military or sexual conquest or is this "taking," meaning ingestion, like taking LSD, and Elliot takes the drug we call "Woodstock" and gets we-are-stardust-we-are-golden high. Well, Ang Lee carried over the title Tiber put on his book.

I'm not going to reject the movie because I don't like the title. My point is simply that I couldn't remember the title, and if I can't remember the title, then I think my soul — which, I'll have you know, is already set free — resists seeing this recreation of Woodstock.

Since I could watch the great documentary "Woodstock" and see film of the actual people and bands of Woodstock, do I really want to endure the spectacle of young actors of today pretending to be those people? Possible answers to that question:

1. Yes, it would be interesting if only to look for the slippage between the actual event and how it is now imagined, by people who always knew Woodstock as a myth from the past.

2. Yes, because most of the story is Elliot's personal adventure, and it merges with the big historical event in ways that are specific to his story and, of course, not depicted in the documentary footage.

3. No, because I cringe even at the thought of today's actor kids pretending to be enthralled by what it was annoying enough to see the kids tormented by the awful things that happened in 1969 going all mushy about.

4. No, because the movie isn't getting that good of reviews, I've been avoiding Ang Lee movies since "The Ice Storm" in 1997 (which was also about a young man trying to find himself), and I still haven't seen "Inglourious Basterds."

Should I see "Taking Woodstock"?
Yes, for reason #1.
Yes, for reason #2.
No, for reason #3.
No, for reason #4. free polls


Joan said...

I believe the title is a play on the phrase "taking stock," as in "assessing". So the movie is about making sense of or figuring out Woodstock.

Thanks for the link to the stand-up. That guy is funny.

DADvocate said...

In the early 70s I worked at a summer camp with a guy who claimed to have been at Woodstock. I have no reason to him. As far as the music went, it sounded great. Othewise, not so hot.

If I want to relive my past, I'll watch American Graffiti, The Big Chill or Platoon. (I wasn't in Vietnam but had several friends who were and some died.)

NKVD said...

See it if you care to. I was at the original, don't need to pretend or get nostalgic. It was what it was, and that is 40 years in the past, thank goodness.

WV - unpotab - worse than the brown acid.

Saul said...

I was an extra in the movie Hair (simply because they had a free concert on the mall to get people to be in the movie). It was lame in 1977 to see pretend retro-hippies, and it is even lamer in 2009. Not that you would want to recreate the Hippie movement, but even if you did, it is impossible to accurately recreate that event. Any attempts thus far have failed miserably. See the real film.

Marcia said...

Joan has the main point about the title.

Also, for the last several years, the default formula for movie titles seems to be:
progressive form ("ing") of verb + proper name.

Saving Private Ryan
Saving Silverman
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Kissing Jessica Stein
Being John Malkovich
Being Julia
Leaving Las Vegas
Taking Chance
Raising Helen

So, Taking Woodstock is another example of Hollywood pretending to be clever while really just sticking to a lazy formula.

Bissage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bissage said...

My life’s ambition is to make a movie based on the days when I worked in a grocery store. I’ll call it “Stocking Shelves.” Thanks, Marcia!

howzerdo said...

The only reason I'd see the film is because it was filmed not far from where I live. But based on the reviews, that still only makes it worthy of netflix.

Jason (the commenter) said...

I won't see it because the trailer shows straight-laced people accidentally eating pot-brownies; and if they included that tired gag I don't even want to think about what else will be in the movie.

EDH said...

Didn't the expression "going to see" a movie essentially replace the older expression "taking in" a movie?

As far back as I can remember, I was always thrown whenever I heard that "taking in a movie" expression used, usually in a black and white movie or TV program from "before my time."

One modern example I'll use for reference, a lyric perhaps chosen for its classic imagery, Warren Zevon's Excitable Boy:

He took in the four a.m. show at the Clark
Excitable boy, they all said
And he bit the usherette's leg in the dark
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he's just an excitable boy

Anyway, I think the change in language reflects how movies became packaged more as a social outing after the advent of TV. In the older days, perhaps movie viewing was more personal. People went to the movies, even on their own, just to see what was new in the world. More the way we watch TV today.

I think there are parallels here. Althouse is asking her commenters whether she "should... go see" Taking Woodstock. Not asking for a review of whether it's a good movie or not, but asking her peers whether she should go see this movie.

All this about a movie about an event in history that helped redefine mass culture and public social interaction.

traditionalguy said...

Pass on this one, but by all means go see Julie and Julia.

Will Cate said...

Ann - while I'm very suspect of all cinematic interpretations of hippie lifestyle, I think I'd like to see it, based mainly on the review in the NY Times, which is a bit more kind:

And I agree w/ Joan - I think the title is a play-on-words.

jayne_cobb said...

I'd say no.

But that's mainly because I still haven't forgiven him for the Hulk.

bagoh20 said...

Read that Wikipedia link. Wow, what a year. I was really surprised that all those landmark events we associate with the sixties happened in that one year, often simultaneously.

I was a kid swimming at the Jersey shore while the world was going wild.

As a species we have really slowed down lately. We think of our current world as rapidly changing. This is a sleepy card game at the nursing home compared to 1969.

PatCA said...

When I saw the trailer, I cringed.

I can just see the story meeting: Hey, how about the Hippies bring some hash brownies into the local store and the rubes eat them and then dance all crazy and get it on!


Marcia said...

"My life’s ambition is to make a movie based on the days when I worked in a grocery store. I’ll call it “Stocking Shelves.” Thanks, Marcia!"

Good plan. But it will only work one of the lead characters is named Shelves.

It may be awkward and ham-handed, but that is not an obstacle.

The Crack Emcee said...

Jesus, Ann, must you? I love Elliot's work but Woodstock is a lie - a lie so big I now despise hearing "1968" or "1969" - so no way.

It's like demanding we worship a cadaver.

Michael Hasenstab said...

I want to see that movie because, for no other reason, Eugene Levy was cast as Max Yasgar.

John said...

You should avoid the movie Ann for the same reason I avoid documentaries and movies about the Iraq war; why would I want to see a movie about something I lived through?

I don't think you went to Woodstock, but you were a kid at the time and lived through the cultural moment the movie is about. It will not and can not as fiction acurately depict the times, so it will just annoy you. Even if it did accurately depict the time, it would make you sad to think of what is now a lost world to you. No thanks.

d-day said...

The review I read said that there was no actual footage or recreation or scenes of the concert itself. The most you hear is music from a faraway stage floating in from the background of the scene.

mccullough said...

You didn't see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the Hulk or Brokeback Mountain.

Ang Lee's films are pretty good.

shoutingthomas said...

I actually live in Woodstock. I was not at the festival.

Ang Lee will be here for the Woodstock Film Festival this weekend. The festival was an Obama for President rally last year. This year, I expect it to be a propaganda rally for the Obama administration.

The only Lee film I've ever seen was Brokeback Mountain, which was as bald a propaganda movie as I've ever seen. The thesis of the movie, for those of you who didn't get it, is that the problems of gay men are caused by the violence of hetero men.

This is an extremely odd notion. I've lived in San Francisco, New York City and Woodstock... thus, I've had a front row seat for the AIDS epidemic. Tens of thousands of gay men killed themselves as a result of their own sexual behavior. I often think that this myth of heteros terrorizing the gay community is a way to distract attention from this reality and displace the blame.

Brokeback was a well made propaganda movie. I don't have any desire to see any more of Lee's work. Nor will I attend the film festival, which is in reality that most treasured of Democratic Party propaganda events... the Diversity Seminar.

BJM said...

Nope, been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Actually Monterey Pop was more influential in the SF Bay Area.

By the summer of '69 the Summer of Love had dissipated into an over-hyped commercial bazaar and incoherent drug scene; the Altamont finished the meme.

In '71 Graham closed the Fillmore and Intel began the next cultural meme which has a nice symmetry to it.

Joe said...

Ang Lee's The Hulk was good? What drugs were you on? That movie sucked.

From everything I've read and watched (and even remembering the news reports on TV) Woodstock is one of those things that everyone remembers fondly but which totally sucked at the time.

Big Mike said...

Professor, how would you come to have memories of Woodstock? I calculate that you were something like a sophomore or junior in high school.

Jason (the commenter) said...

How about instead of Woodstock, the Althouses take in Halloween 2?

Ann Althouse said...

The Crack Emcee said..."Jesus, Ann, must you? I love Elliot's work but Woodstock is a lie - a lie so big I now despise hearing "1968" or "1969" - so no way."

What did I say? I agree that Woodstock is a lie. Check out the first segment of the Bloggingheads I did with Bob Wright a couple weeks ago.

Ann Althouse said...

@Big Mike Woodstock was the summer before I went to college. Some of my friends went, and I didn't go because I couldn't afford to pay $17 for a ticket (and not imagining that it would in the end be possible to waltz in for free).

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