The Woodstock festival, like the era that spawned it, eventually became
something far greater than it seemed at the time. For a while after the event,
as Vietnam dragged on, Woodstock seemed to mark the divide between generations
of Americans. If a baby boomer spoke of the event with high regard in those
days, he could bond instantly with fellow members of his generation. Band of
Brothers. Woodstock was a noun, but it was an adjective as well. We were the
Woodstock Nation. If a boomer disparaged the event, he was a dumb-ass redneck
out of touch with the zeitgeist, or as we called it then, the "vibe." As more
time passed, and Vietnam became a fading memory, Woodstock ceased to be an
event altogether and became a symbol. The very word "Woodstock" summed up
everything about the ideals of my generation, and that word summoned up
bittersweet memories of our youthful aspirations, many of which lay and still
Sure, I know that a lot of that era was just hype which was used to sell
candles and Pepsi. And many people were just posturing then, posing as gentle
hippies to get high, to get laid, or to get rich. But underneath it all, if
one could have scratched off the crass veneer, one would have found a heart
beating true. Through a combination of anti-establishment politics, baby
boomer empowerment, and instant liberation from an era of repression, a
generation coalesced with a unique common identity. We were for sex, drugs,
rock 'n' roll ... and peace.
The "peace" factor is what made it unique, and the subsequent abolition of
the draft assured that no future generations could ever come together as we
had. The intellectual urban and suburban friends I made in college had
something in common with the working class guys and the farm boys I knew in my
elementary school. Every single one of them, or rather of "us," because there
was no "them" to speak of, was in danger of going to Vietnam, and therefore in
danger of returning shell-shocked, drug-addicted or physically impaired. Many
returned to hibernate in their parents' houses until they were ready to face
the world again. Some never could. And the parents of those guys were envied
by the moms and dads whose sons would never return to their bedrooms at all.
We were all in the same boat.
Without the draft, such disparate groups within a generation will probably
never come together again. With the self-interest component stripped away, the
children of liberals will be likely to oppose wars, and the children of
conservatives will most likely support America's leaders. Not so in our day.
We all pretty much just wanted to grow old and die of natural causes. That
meant we had to oppose the war. That special feeling of community, which we
would never experience again in our lifetimes after Mr Nixon first abolished
the draft, and later resigned in disgrace, was summed up by the Woodstock
Festival where all of us came together to share our music and other parts of
Everyone in my generation seems to have a Woodstock story. Mine is that I
was almost there. I was in college. Actually I was home in Rochester, New York
for the summer between junior and senior year. My friend and I wanted to go to
Woodstock, and actually started down in that general direction on Route 15,
which heads south out of Rochester until it weaves into Route 17, which leads
pretty much straight to the site of the festival. We soon heard on the radio
that the roads down there were backed up for miles. A bit later we heard that
a massive stretch of the NY Thruway was closed altogether. We decided the
whole scene would be a zoo, and we blew it off. We got off Route 15 at Bath
and headed to Keuka Lake, where we knew some people with a cottage. We stayed
there and mellowed out. We swam, boated, and drank away the weekend, thus
casting ourselves forever as outsiders and might-have-beens, and in the future
holding our manhoods cheap while others spoke who really were there, on our
generation's answer to Crispin's Day. That list of people with a "I was there
at Woodstock" story, by the way, seems to include every baby boomer but us.
The particular Woodstock story in this film has been spun by an insider,
Elliot Tiber, who
played a role in getting the festival to the Bethel area, and whose family's
motel became the control center of the festival's organizers.
There are those who say that Mr Tiber did not play quite so important a
role as he claimed in his 2007 memoir, but that doesn't affect your
appreciation of the film either way. Even if his self-portrait is
self-aggrandizing, it still serves as a fond remembrance of the time, an
insider's backstage look at how the festival got assembled in the first place,
and a bit of insight into how the locals viewed it in their sleepy dairy
farming community. Whether Tiber's account is accurate or not, Ang Lee chose
to believe it as the basis for this laid-back, personal film about the gentle
spirit of that time.
Did Ang Lee get it all right? Well, let me say this. If he occasionally
failed to see the way we were then, he did sum up what we wanted to be. Given
the iconic status of the subject matter, that was probably the right way to
go. And Ang Lee is a very talented man, so the film has a compelling
narrative, a lot of heart, and a great look. I'm thrilled that such a talented
filmmaker chose to tell this modest story. The two-hour film is probably a
hair too long because it does have two problems in its final half-hour. There
is a acid trip scene which goes on much too long, in the true filmmaking
tradition of the sixties, and there is also some trite "wrap it all up neatly"
dialogue in the finale, much of which would have been better left
unsaid. Apart from that fairly minor quibbling, I found it a much better film
than I had been led to believe by the tepid reviews (49% at RT) and
disappointing box office ($7.4 million).
Before watching this film, I had never regretted missing the festival in
that August of my 20th year, but now I kind of wish I had been there.
There is a monumental amount of nudity, male and female, front and rear,
upper and lower bodies. How could there not be in a film about Woodstock?
Unfortunately, it all comes from extras and bit players except for a brief
flash of butt from Kelli Garner and the penis of Emile Hirsch. I assume
Emile's tallywacker is not on your must-see list, so
here's Kelli for now
I'll have all of the extras and the whole caboodle for you tomorrow. Sorry
about the partial caboodle. I hope the Mayans can forgive me that faux pas.