|Utah State University Student Newspapers
|In Copyright (InC)
|Utah State University, Logan, Utah
|Digitized by J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah
|Utah State University Student Newspapers
Friday, Aug. 28, 2009 SpecialFeatures Page 17 The mixed blessing of ‘Woodstock’ HOLLYWOOD -- There are roughly half a million valid Woodstock stories, personal ones of lives transformed by the three days of peace, love, drugs, music and mud experienced by the masses who made their way to Max Betsy Sharkey Yasgur’s Catskills LATimes dairy farm for the legendary festival in the summer of ‘69. Director Ang Lee has chosen just Grade Bone for “Taking “Taking Woodstock” Woods tock ,” a meticulously rendered and achingly authentic portrait of a time and a place that is, by turns, sweeping and intimate, poignant and painful, funny and flat, emotional and emotionless. It’s a frustrating complication of a movie with a sprawling story and grand ambitions -- and some truly grand acting -- that stumbles almost as often as it soars. Bummer. The soft center of the film and its unlikely protagonist is Elliot, a 34-year-old interior designer still wearing polyester and polos played by Demetri Martin, probably best known for his very funny observational stand-up comedy. Elliot has issues. He has a lanky, coltish discomfort with his body, and not just because he’s gay and can’t yet embrace it. He feels duty bound to help his parents, Russian Jews forever damaged by their weeping wound of World War II memories. At the same time he’s desperate to break away. He would experiment with drugs, but they frighten him. Ditto life, love, the world as we know it. He has no real sense of who he is and even less of who he wants to be. 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,” gives the film an organic feel. Elliot’s off-center tale would seem a perfect fit for Lee, a master at the small story writ large most tellingly in “Brokeback Mountain,” which won him his second Oscar in 2006. What Lee and screenwriter James Schamus have given us is the “Accidental Tourist” version of events, the legend seen from just down the road. But Lee can’t quite commit to the distance and there are too many side trips that distract him making for a meandering narrative that would probably go down better with a few brownies. The story starts early that summer. Elliot’s Reel Reviews come home to help his parents hang on to their floundering Catskills motel, the El Monaco. His dreams are big ones -- a freshly painted sign promises a convention center and spa -- but the El Monaco’s financial straits dwarf them. Then luck and fate deal him a fantastic hand, and within days the legions it will take to mount the festival descend on the motel like locusts with bags of cash in brown paper bags under their wings. As a purple haze of hope and dope swirl around, a very fine cast of characters begins to emerge. Imelda Staunton as Elliot’s mother rules the fringe world of the El Monaco. Staunton is a miracle of rage and deprivation in a sweat-stained sleeveless cotton dress, her face a twist of tension and mistrust. If not for the bone-weary wisdom of Henry Goodman’s Jake, a gentle saint of a husband, her tirades would be unbearable. As it is, this nearly broken couple is a wonder to watch. Liev Schreiber sashays in as Vilma, a muscled ex-Marine in heels and a clingy dress, packing all kinds of heat. By now, the motel has become a cash cow with a rapidly expanding clientele, and Vilma is soon serving as security and sage for the family, gathering them up in his beefy embrace. As festival promoter Michael Lang, a business savvy hippie with a white boy afro and a Zen view of life, is an excellent Jonathan Groff, in his first film by way of Broadway. Emile Hirsch is Billy, the requisite whacked-out Vietnam vet who is never quite sure whether he’s back in the jungle or just the dense undergrowth of upstate New York. There is a cast of thousands, but these are the movie’s critical players -- both individually and collectively so strong that, like the El Monaco’s financial problems, they overwhelm Elliot; and try as he might, they overwhelm Martin too, though much of the fault lies with the filmmaker. Lee has been seduced by the ‘60s, and he’s unwilling to part with any of it. So one minute Elliot is working on the motel’s code violations, the next he’s dealing with the theatrical troupe spending the summer in the barn working on being esoteric and getting naked, the next dealing with disgruntled town folk, the next joining the crowds walking toward the festival, the next riding with a motorcycle cop who’s embraced these hippies, the next stepping into a VW van for the requisite psychedelic experience, the next in bed with the well-cut carpenter, the next in another skirmish with his mom. It’s a lot for a weekend. GRADE B-minus. So, something on your mind? You can always write a letter to the editor. Time to shine. Go to www.aggietownsquare.com for a submission box. WELCOME BACK! • • • • • Sports Specials Ice Cold Tap Beer Wine by the glass or bottle Pastas and Italian Salads Homemade Italian Sandwiches 37th Annual “Let’s Get Acquainted Week” August 24-September 13 Large Pizza with 2 Toppings Watch for Gia’s reopening in October! $9.99 Limit 3 per order. Valid until 9/13/2009 FREE Delivery 7 Days a Week - 752-9384 119 S. Main (Below Gia’s) Daily 10-11 Friday & Saturday 10-12 Parking at Coldwell Banker, next door & in city parking lot across street Lee is feelin’ groovy with new movie BY RACHEL ABRAMOWITZ Los Angeles Times evocation of the sensible, repressed sister in “Sense and Sensibility” and Wei Tang’s spy heroine of “Lust, Caution,” who becomes HOLLYWOOD — Clearly, Woodstock was undone by sexual passion for the sadistic secret more than just a festival. For the more than police official she’s trying to help assassinate. 500,000 concertgoers who made the trip to that Even his famous martial arts extravaganza — dairy farm in upstate New York 40 years ago, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” — is named it was a three-day invocation that summoned after a Chinese proverb that refers to talented up music as a shackle-busting experience, or dangerous people hidden from view. an uncorking of generational With “Taking exuberance, aided by a massive Woodstock” Lee returns to amount of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ the light comedic vein of his roll. early Chinese movies like Director Ang Lee’s experience “Eat Drink Man Woman.” It with the event, however, was much is adapted from the real-life more subdued but transformative story of Elliot Tiber (played nonetheless. It came via an old by Demetri Martin in the black-and-white TV. He was a 14film), a then-closeted gay year-old middle schooler in Taiwan, young man who enticed the ANG LEE studying docilely and relentlessly promoters of Woodstock to for his high-school entrance exam. And set up their music festival at Max Yasgur’s dairy then he caught a brief glimpse of the muddy farm, and used his parents’ crumbling, aboutbacchanalia in New York. “It was an unsettling to-be-foreclosed Catskills resort next door as image,” he says. “Taiwan was in the middle their business headquarters and exclusive ticket of the Cold War, and America was its lone vendor. In other words, this isn’t a movie about protector against the engulfment of mainland Jimi, Janis and the Who rocking out, but one Chinese.” There was an American air base person’s experience of the Aquarian explosion. nearby, and Lee was used to seeing servicemen Lee first met Tiber in the green room of a on the street. He remembers feeling unsettled San Francisco TV station as he was traveling by the images, thinking: “If America is not the the country promoting his previous film, good guy and the policeman, what will become “Lust, Caution.” Tiber thrust his autobiography of us?” “Taking Woodstock” into Lee’s hands and And still that glimpse of Woodstock pitched himself and his book as a kind of was intoxicating. “Guys in big hair playing bookend to “The Ice Storm,” Lee’s film about guitars. Something really cool. . . . You just suburbanites wrestling with the hangover have to worship them,” says Lee, who is now of the 1960s. That piqued Lee’s interest a naturalized U.S. citizen. Still, the name of enough for him to show the book to Focus his new movie, “Taking Woodstock,” which Features Chairman James Schamus, his close opens in wide release on Friday, can’t even be collaborator who’s written almost all of his translated into his native Chinese. If and when films. “It seems like it’s random occurrence, it gets to China, it’s going to be called “The but that randomness happens all the time,” Lee Disturbance of Woodstock,” the 54-year-old says. “I chose to do it and I connect with the director explains, or perhaps “The Woodstock material. I think that’s fate.” Event.” “Taking Woodstock” also offered Lee a Lee seems truly amused at the idea of lovely respite after 13 years of making intense writhing, filthy, acid-tripping kids being dramas, in particular the grueling “Lust, reduced at least linguistically to a mere Caution,” a WWII story set during the Japanese “disturbance.” Dressed in khakis and a plaid occupation of China. Lee describes the making shirt, the filmmaker has just returned from a of that film as one of the most intense artistic relatively long walk down Sunset Boulevard experiences of his life. “I don’t know if my body, in uncomfortable hot weather, on the hunt for my nerves can take it anymore. And that movie a Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood of felt very personal, very scary to me,” he says, his hotel. His mien is that of a professor, and citing its attack on the patriarchal society that he repeatedly insists on referring to himself he had been raised to revere. as a “bashful” person, a “shy” person. Yet, Of course, the shy, dutiful Elliot — with a that reticence appears to be just his corporal certain amount of determination and chutzpah persona, not his artistic one. — managed to become an integral part in one In his films, he returns obsessively to of the seismic cultural events of the era. The characters, often introverted or somehow pull of the unknown, of psychic liberation, tugs hidden, grappling — or busting through — frequently on Lee’s characters, just as it does for societal dictates. They include Heath Ledger’s the director himself. laconic cowboy who faces homosexual desire Ask him how he picks his projects, and he in “Brokeback Mountain,” Emma Thompson’s says simply: curiosity. Come play Northern Utah’s Best-Kept Secret. 18 Championship Holes Driving Range Practice Putting & Chipping Greens G o l f C o u r s e 550 East 100 North Smithfield, Utah 435-563-6825 Fall USU Student Special: 9 Holes of Golf, Sunday-Friday $10, must show current USU ID.