Taking Woodstock – A film
A backdoor approach to revisit the landmark musical weekend through the antics and efforts of some of the people who made it happen. The picture serves up intermittent pleasures but is too raggedy and laid-back for its own good, its images evaporating nearly as soon as they hit the screen.
The pic has a formless, unstructured feel, as its attention jumps from incident to incident in almost random fashion. Some distantly heard music serves notice that Woodstock itself has begun, but the stage is only ever glimpsed from atop a faraway hill. The musical performances are clearly not the subject of the film, but there’s no denying that their absence makes “Taking Woodstock” feel oddly incomplete; the table is set, but the meal never gets served.
Instead, Lee delivers a couple of setpieces intended to convey the magnitude and essence of the moment. The first involves a long ride by Elliot on a police motorcycle that slowly proceeds through a mass of vehicles and humanity on the road leading to the concert site; it’s a lovely, visually overflowing scene, marked by an almost eerie sense of calm and peacefulness, and one that would have been welcome at considerably greater length. The other is a climactic acid trip taken by Elliot in the company of two comically mellow hippies (Paul Dano, Kelli Garner) that allows Elliot to view the landscape of 500,000 people below him as undulating waves of humanity.
Inclined more to personal than societal politics, the film keeps the parade of history in the background (the moon landing, Vietnam and Middle East tensions are glimpsed on television). Other than the oddly extended attention devoted to the harsh irascibility of Elliot’s unbendingly greedy mother, pic is pleasant enough on a moment-to-moment basis, but the separate sketches never coalesce into anything like a full group portrait.
Convincingly scruffy thesps look like the cast of the “Hair” revival multiplied by hundreds, and the period re-creation is credible, both in fashions and speech, with a couple of exceptions in the latter case.
— Rolling Stone Magazine