The terrific, entertaining, lovingly detailed, and a bit disappointingly underwritten movie Taking Woodstock owes a great deal to the monumental concert movie Woodstock , 3 Days of Peace & Music.
It makes similar use of split screens to show us two, three, even four or five different goings-on at once as if the events are too many for one movie to hold. It resurrects characters like the portable toilet maintenance man who memorably wished his wayward son in Vietnam was home, enjoying the music and rolling around in the mud with his brother.
It recreates all except the concert itself. No Janis Joplin. No sad images of Jimi Hendrix playing the "Star Spangled Banner" for a few stragglers. Just a few distant chords of Country Joe and the Fish: “Whoopee! We're all gonna die.” Oh, and one memorable scene with our hero Elliot (TV’s Demetri Martin) watching the distantly lit stage pulsate through the hills during his first acid trip.
And yet, it is the specter of Gimme Shelter, the dark cousin of Woodstock that haunts everything.
That documentary opens with a scene of ultimate hubris. To get the perfect shot for an album cover, the Rolling Stones have closed down a freeway as Mick Jagger casually prances about until the shot feels just right. Later, attorney Melvin Belli devilishly holds court in his plush office brushing aside protestations of a planned free concert in San Francisco as if swatting away so many gnats and flies.
In Taking Woodstock, limos filled with “suits” carrying briefcases roll into Elliot’s farm community and start estimating how many bulldozers will be needed to turn farmland into a concert venue. And when the townsfolk protest, hippie capitalist Michael Lang (played to perfection by Jonathan Groff) is unperturbed. He simply has his girlfriend produce his “expert lawyers” – a paper sack filled with cash.