Friday, 3 December 2010

Taking Woodstock

One of the events of my lifetime was the Woodstock hippy music festival. I was greatly affected by the original film of the event because it reminded of the life I had rejected but which I wanted and needed. The music remains memorable and introduced me to the work of Ritchie Havens acquiring a long play record of his set also seeing him live at Newcastle Sage two years ago. I was therefore delighted to learn that a film called Taking Woodstock had been made. However I decided not to experience in theatre when learning that the music was background. I recently saw the film on Sky and have read about the book on which the film is based.

The book is the story of Eliot Techberg, shortened to Tiber in American fashion, commencing with his double life as a homosexual individual living in Greenwich Village working as a designer and decorator in a department store having graduated in fine arts and spending his weekends at his boarding house home in Bethel which his parents expanded into a motel by his bossy Jewish mother and laid back father. Among the celebrities he said he met as a young man were Marlon Brando, Rock Hudson, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. He describes the life he was subjected to until the riots which centred on the Stonewell Bar in which gay men and women openly opposed their persecution by the police in 1969. The riots were said to have a liberating effect for Eliot who was leading the life of a straight individual when helping his parents who were struggling to keep up with the mortgage payments on their business enterprise. As someone with an education and drive he became President of the local chamber of commerce and became friendly with a major farmer in the area Max Yasgur who directly marketed products including a chocolate milk. Elliot also allowed a hippy theatre company to live and use the barn on the family property and also established a cinema showing “underground” films.

For several years he had held a small music festival at the site at which local bands played, being a position to issue himself a music and arts festival licence.

Learning that the proposed Woodstock Festival had been stopped because the local community had refused to issue a licence on learning the size and nature of the planned event contacted the organiser and offered his home. The Woodstock team visited the site by helicopter and were not impressed but what was available. It was then that Eliot decided to introduce the team to Yasgur who immediately agreed to the site and Eliot’s family motel became the Festival HQ and Eliot the exclusive ticket agent.

Understandably not all local residents were sympathetic to the proposed invasion of your people and took direct action to stop the event. Criminals attempted to force him to pay protection money which he admits he paid in part and used he help of a transvestites to fend off physical assaults at one point. After the Festival which Eliot admits he only attended once he claimed to have become a set designer for the film studios. The motel became an Italian restaurant and was later demolished.

Following publication claims made in the book were contested by Festival organisers and the Yasgur family who say that the organisers were introduced to the farm owner where the festival was staged by a land agent and that the farmer had no prior contact with Eliot.

The film with the same name concentrates on Eliot’s involvement with the Festival and follows closely the events in of the book, except that there is no reference to his early life outside the family home, to paying the criminals any money or to his subsequent life.

The film also concentrates on the relationship between Eliot and his mother whom is portrayed as a cranky woman, hostile to her guests and never recovered from her own childhood and experiences as a Russian refugee. At the conclusion of the film after her parents have unknowingly got high on hash brownies his mother unintentionally reveals she has been secretly saving all the profits amounting to $97000 dollars although the property has been nearly reclaimed by the bank because of failure to keep up with mortgage payments. The film ends with Woodstock organiser announcing his next project is a free concert in San Francisco with the Rolling Stones

Although the film is Directed and Produced by Ang Lee and attempts to communicate something of the flavour of those participating it fails to add to our knowledge or interest in the Woodstock event, or provides an emotionally attractive side story. This is because I did not find any of the participants interesting or engaging. It was a disappointment reinforcing my decision not to pay good money at the theatre.

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