29 August 2009 | Michael Fargo
A loving and lovely tribute to a brief moment in time
Perhaps more than most films, you'll either get this or you won't. Ang Lee seems to have conjured up the past with an accuracy that most filmmakers would spoil with reverence. Through a series of vignettes and very small references to Wadleigh's 1970 documentary, "Woodstock," a legendary moment in culture gets celebrated with a sweetness that was part of the era that quickly evaporated.
I was reminded of the film "Dirty Dancing" not just in the setting but in the tone. Ang Lee keeps the humor from becoming too broad in depiction of the locals whose lives were about to up-ended in a way that no one anticipated but few would not welcome. The actors in particular find a common level to play with that draws the audience into the excitement. We know what will happen, but as the momentum builds to the actual event the audience is swept away just as the characters in the film are.
The key character, a very unimposing Demetri Martin, never falters in this coming-of-age story that mirrors the culture changes swirling around him. He gives a very strong performance and is virtually never off the screen.
I had read that the "main event" isn't recreated, and that's partially true. However, we "see" what most of the actual participants of the event saw of the performances on a stage set up in a cow field. It's a stunning moment in the film and as magical as the experience must have been. I was roughly the same age as the character, struggling with the changes of adolescence at a moment in time when there really weren't road-maps for the future. While I was far away from the East Coast, this event reached me in many of the same ways as the characters in the film. I suppose for most people my age that was also true.
While I flinched a few times when a "plot" would intrude into this whole dazzling work, it served the purpose for the power and point of the final moments: Standing in the muddy aftermath the hope of what was going to happen next was palpable for a whole generation, but the next event, Altamont with the Rolling Stones, ended it all with crushing horror. Yet, the optimism is still alive, I think. Equality for many racial and sexual minorities were fulfilled
or are being so fulfilled at this time
and one of the more ironic points of the film was actually scored during the trailers that preceded the feature: the previews for Michael Moore's "Capitalism" and that subject is what really ended the counterculture.
But for Ang Lee he gives the 40th Anniversary of the Woodstock festival an original and unsentimental celebration. (And if hippies annoy you, this isn't the film you need to see.)