Taking Woodstock


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Woodstock festival, like the era that spawned it, eventually became something far more significant 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, as they always have, and the children of conservatives will most likely support America's leaders, as they usually do. 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. We would never again experience that special feeling of community after the two bugbears of our existence, the draft and Mr. Nixon, were removed. When those enemies had been vanquished, we lost the feeling of community which 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, now seems to include every baby boomer but me. 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 farming community. Whether Tiber's account is accurate or not, Ang Lee chose to use it as the basis for this laid-back, personal film about the gentle spirit of that time.

Did Ang Lee get it all right? Maybe not. I'm convinced that he got the trees in focus, but he may have missed the forest. After all, Woodstock was in many ways the death of "the movement" as grassroots populism and its rebirth as a Pepsi commercial, and the film doesn't address that at all, preferring to let Woodstock retain all of its conventional and revered cultural status. But let me say this. If the film occasionally failed to see the way we were, it did sum up what we wanted to be. Given the iconic status of the subject matter and the tone of the specific source material, that was probably them most reasonable 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 and disappointing box office.

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.

DVD Blu-Ray


3 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
2.5 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
48 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
55 Metacritic.com (of 100)









6.9 IMDB summary (of 10)
B Yahoo Movies











Box Office Mojo. A complete failure. Directed by a master, budgeted at $30 million, with an opening on 1400 screens, it stalled out at $7 million. It opened in a very weak 9th place.










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.







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Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


It's not a "serious" film with big ideas, but is a much more entertaining film than its reviews would lead one to believe.