Director Ang Lee, best known to the gay LGBT community for Brokeback Mountain, has taken on another gay-themed movie, this time adapted from an Elliot Tiber memoir, Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life. Tiber, played by Demetri Martin, whose own show, Important Things, is a big hit on Comedy Central, is a mild-mannered, semi-closeted gay interior decorator who has been living in 1969 Greenwich Village.
Elliot returns to the Catskills to help his parents, Jake (Henry Goodman) and Sonia (Imelda Staunton), Jews who immigrated from Russia, keep afloat their failing motel. As the head of Bethel’s Chamber of Commerce, Elliot offers the motel as a home base for the promoters of Woodstock Ventures after the company loses its permit for an arts festival in the nearby town of Wallkill.
Photo of the official Taking Woodstock poster, mimicking the artwork of the sixties
Tiber also smooths the way for Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), the dairy farm’s owner, and Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff), the festival’s prime mover, to make a deal.
Photo of the recently updated cover of the book Taking Woodstock: True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life upon which the movie is based
Here’s an excerpt from a The New York Times review: “In a relationship that is made much more emphatically in Mr. Tiber’s memoir, the movie explicitly connects Woodstock to the gay-liberation movement and the Stonewall riots, which took place two months earlier that summer. A friend of Elliot’s even brings to the motel a record by Judy Garland, who had died a few days before the Stonewall uprising; some have theorized that grief over her death was a precipitating factor in the riots."
Taking Woodstock photo of Kelli Garner, Demetri Martin, and Paul Dano on an acid trip
“During his LSD initiation by the hippie couple, Elliot is cuddled and caressed by both the girl and the boy. The trip sequence is one of the most benign to be shown in any movie peddling period psychedelia. Elliot also takes inspiration from Vilma (Liev Schreiber), a ferociously masculine, kindhearted, cross-dressing Marine who appears at the motel and provides its security.” Watch the "Security" video clip at the bottom of this post.
Photo of Taking Woodstock Actors Jonathan Groff as Michael Lang (the main Woodstock organizer), and Demetri Martin as Elliot Tiber. Check out the photo below to see them in real life.
The movie’s laugh-out-loud moment is when the Earthlight Players (who really existed), a visiting avant-garde theater troupe, stage an unrecognizable performance of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” as a nude “happening,” in which they confront the audience and denounce “indecent legions of decency, fascist pornographers and racist warmongers.”
Taking Woodstock Actors Demetri Martin and Jonathan Groff attend the premier after party at The Bowery Hotel on July 29, 2009 in NYC photo
The project landed on Oscar-winner Ang Lee's desk by chance while he was promoting his last film, the dark World War II-era spy thriller Lust, Caution. Tiber was the guest following Lee on a San Francisco TV talk show. The two spoke for awhile and Tiber gave Lee a copy of his book. "I was yearning to do a comedy-slash-drama again without cynicism," Lee said. "It took me a long way to get there. I thought after 13 years, I sort of earned the right to do it, just be relaxed, be happy and at peace with myself and everybody else."
Taking Woodstock photo of a shirtless Emile Hirsch as Billy
“Woodstock has a symbolic meaning to me, " Lee said before the Cannes premiere of Taking Woodstock. “It's the innocence of a young generation departing from the old establishment and trying to find a more refreshing way, more fair way, to live with everybody else, It was dirty, filthy. It was actually a mess. But you have to give those kids, those half a million kids credit, that actually, they had three days of peace and music. Nothing violent happened. I think that's something. I don't know if we can pull that off today."
Demetri Martin as Elliot Tiber, flanked by Henry Goodman and Imelda Staunton as his parents, in Taking Woodstock photo
With a 1960s-soaked soundtrack featuring The Band, Canned Heat, Joan Baez, Richie Havens and Country Joe and the Fish, Taking Woodstock is awash in period detail, from Volkswagen Love Bugs to hippie hair and sideburns to a vintage Slinky toy commercial on TV.
Taking Woodstock's Demetri Martin and Liev Schreiber as Elliot Tiber and Vilma photo. Check out the next picture if you don't recognize Liev.
As the official promotional material for Taking Woodstock says, “Elliot found himself in a generation-defining experience that would change his life—and popular culture—forever.” The film opens everywhere today. Go watch it! You’ll be glad you did!
Liev Schreiber photo as he appeared in his previous move, Wolverine. Quite the difference, huh?
Check out this official trailer video for Taking Woodstock: