Film Society to show ‘Taking Woodstock’

Jonathan Groff (left) and Demetri Martin (right) star in Academy Award-winning director Ang LeeÕs Taking Woodstock, a Focus Features release. Photo Credit: Ken Regan

NEW ULM — Take a trip back to 1969 and learn about the people who made the generation-defining Woodstock Festival possible.

The New Ulm Film Society will screen the 2009 comedy-drama “Taking Woodstock,” at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 11.

“Taking Woodstock” is the final film in the Film Society’s coming of age film series. The film is based on the book by Elliot Tiber and tells the story of his background involvement in the Woodstock concert of 1969.

In 1969, Tiber (played by Demetri Martin) is an aspiring interior designer, whose parents run a rundown motel. The hotel might need to close. Tiber decides to hold a music festival in his community to raise money and easily gets a permit. At the same time, the organizers of the Woodstock Festival are seeking a new venue and Tiber offers his permit and parents’ motel as accommodation. The rest is music history.

“Taking Woodstock” is not a documentary about the festival. In fact, little of the musical performances are seen. The music is heard in the background, while the focus is on Tiber, his family, and friends as they deal with this huge musical event that has taken over their home.

The drama of putting on the Woodstock Festival is the main story, but it also serves as a metaphor for growing up. The 1960s and Woodstock generation are often compared to the generation when America grew up and rebelled against the old generation.

“Taking Woodstock” follows the traditional coming-of-age formula by setting the story in the past, but subverts the genre because Tiber is not a child anymore. He is a full grown adult with real responsibilities. Tiber was able to get a permit for the festival easily because he was the President of his hometown’s chamber of commerce.

The film starts with Tiber as the devoted son who delays his dreams to help his parents, but by the end of the film, he needs to move on with his own life.

He is also struggling to hide his homosexuality from his family. The Woodstock concert brings these issues to a head. The extra revenue from the festival should allow his parents to hire a replacement for him. In addition, the festival brings a group of eclectic people supporting peace and love. One of the people brought to the festival is a cross-dressing veteran named Vilma, played by Liev Schreiber. Tiber’s parents seem to accept Vilma, but will they accept Tiber, and will they let him leave home?

“Taking Woodstock” was directed by Oscar-winning director Ang Lee and featured several comedic actors including Demitri Martin, Liev Schreiber, Eugene Levy, Jeffry Dean Morgan, and Paul Dano.

Despite its strong direction and acting, the film was considered a financial bomb on release. Critical reaction was mixed, but the film did receive a positive review from film critic Roger Ebert.

Ebert compares the “Taking Woodstock” to the 1970 documentary “Woodstock.” He praised the former for not being a historical pastiche, but rather “a comedy with sweet interludes and others that are cheerfully over the top.” Ebert felt “Taking Woodstock” succeeded because it was not a film about remembering the past, but a film about creating something fresh.

“Taking Woodstock” is the last film in New Ulm Film Society’s coming of age series, but it is also connected to CASTLE Lifelong Learning programming. Other Woodstock related events will be hosted by CASTLE this month. “The History of Woodstock,” with Lowell Liedman will be presented 1:30 p.m. June 20 at the Community Center and the State Street Theater will present “The 50th Anniversary of Woodstock Tribute Show,” 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 28.