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Review: 'Taking Woodstock'

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As played by Demetri Martin, not a very galvanizing actor, Elliot is both the center of the action and a witness to the maelstrom. His personal odyssey during the "3 Days of Peace & Music," as the festival was billed, is intended to symbolize a generational passage. Living as a semicloseted homosexual, the strait-laced Elliot locates a companionable vibe in Woodstock. He liberates himself, along with 500,000 other shaggy attendees. Although Lee reveals little of the festivities and concerts, except from faraway, he provides a marvelous extended sequence in which Elliot, hitching a ride on a policeman's motorcycle, is ushered into the scene. The hippie (or would-be) hippie procession is like a fantasia. In only a few minutes we are treated to an inexhaustible gallery of painted faces and fads.

This is perhaps the most authentic scene in a movie that otherwise, despite its careful, almost fetishistic attention to the look and feel of the experience, seems counterfeit. It's inevitable that the hippie movement now seems as fixed in time as the Paleozoic Era, but Lee encourages his actors to behave as if they were in a roadshow production of "Hair." In the case of Imelda Staunton, who plays Elliot's horribly overbearing Russian-Jewish immigrant mother, she's such a stock caricature that the bottom drops out of the movie every time she waddles into view, and, as Elliot's father, Henry Goodman is only slightly less stock.

The film comes across as rather dim-witted because Lee's take on Woodstock is almost entirely self-contained and un-ironic. (An exception: One of Woodstock's producers, played by Jonathan Groff, alludes to an upcoming bliss-out at Altamont featuring the Rolling Stones.) I'm not arguing that Lee should have front-loaded his film with posthippie hindsight. But it's one thing to present Woodstock as if nothing came after it, quite another to dramatize it as simply, well, "3 Days of Peace & Music."

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