Taking Woodstock


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 lie unfulfilled. 

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 our existence.

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 (1080p).

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.



  • * Yellow asterisk: funny (maybe).

  • * White asterisk: expanded format.

  • * Blue asterisk: not mine.

  • No asterisk: it probably sucks.


Catch the deluxe version of Other Crap in real time, with all the bells and whistles, here.








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I don't know if Diane Kruger has a face beautiful enough to launch a thousand ships, but she's certainly pretty enough for a couple of boats, at least. Taken as a faithful telling of Homer's The Iliad, or even of actual history, 2004's Troy may come up a little short, but as an ass-kicking action adventure epic filled with fantastic fight scenes and some nice nudity, it's dead-on. Even though the unrated Director's Cut is three hours and sixteen minutes long, it never gets boring, and after a brief set-up at the beginning, it never slows down.

You already know the story. During a trip to Sparta in 1250 B.C., Paris, son of the king of Troy, takes a fancy to the Spartan Queen, Helen (Diane Kruger). After many lustful nights together, she goes with him when he returns home, much to the chagrin of King Menelaus of Sparta. He vows to bring her back so he can kill her himself.

With the help of Menelaus' brother Agamemnom, who rules most of Greece, a thousand ships are launched to destroy Troy and reclaim Helen. To be sure of success, they enlist Achilles, their fiercest warrior. Game on, but Troy is a walled city, so it won't be easy. And it wasn't.

Brad Pitt would not have been my choice to play Achilles, although he wasn't terrible in the part, but all in all, I really enjoyed this action-filled adventure epic. The pluses far outweighed the minuses. The caps are from the unrated Blu-ray Director's Cut.

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