Friday, August 17 , 2018, 6:41 pm | Fair 74º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Taking Woodstock’

Woodstock became the iconic symbol of a generation, but this film only begins to explore its significance

2 Stars — Shallow

Woodstock, the infamous music festival that symbolized the youth culture of the 1960s, has taken on an iconic history of mythical proportions. Elliot Tiber’s autobiographical story Taking Woodstock gives us a partial glimpse into its evolution from just a concert to a statement about the life and times of the counterculture of 1969.

The movie is not about the music. None of the legendary artists, such as Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix, are present. The story is about the wacky impact that the festival had on the little community of White Lake, New York, and the serendipitous events that overtook Elliot (Demetri Martin), who had invited the Woodstock festival to the Catskills. His plan was to help revive the economy of the town as well as his parent’s failing motel.

There is nothing new to learn from this film about life in the 1960s. What you do witness is the overwhelming migration of more than 500,000 young people to the farming community in hopes of celebrating freedom from a culture they increasingly found repressive. The sad reality is that this attractive illusion never really led anyone to anything of lasting value.

The central character is Elliot , the son of Russian immigrants. His mother is a miserly complainer, and his father ignores anything that doesn’t provide for his own immediate needs. Elliot, like many of his generation, is left to assume that the ephemeral youth culture of which he is a part has the answers to life’s deepest questions. He has no discernible positive, healthy or spiritual influence from his family, friends or community. In this ungrounded world, anyone’s wisdom is as good as the next. It is up to you to figure it out.

Most of Taking Woodstock presents the 1960s hippie culture at its worst. Elliot wanders through a series of drug-infused, sexually ambiguous and environmentally filthy experiences that represent the opposite of the “new age” that was promised. Having lived through this period of history, these images expose the “hell” rather than the “heaven” that the invitation to Woodstock promised.

What attracts someone to attend an event that promises new life? How do you know whether what is promised is real or counterfeit? Part of the answer comes from watching the experiences of people whose lives have been transformed through unconditional love, grace and peace. Another part of the answer comes from watching people who have a healthy extended family that provides support when their own emotional, psychological and spiritual resources are low.

What 3,500 years of recorded history have taught us is that the two things that don’t work are to trust the general culture or to trust our own singular experiences to teach us about what is real in life. True impressions of love and peace are refined over time and through the experiences of generations of lives. Trusting in the current lyrics of a song or the words of a pop-cultural evangelist is like building your house on a sandy beach. Eventually, the foundations are going to wash away.

Taking Woodstock is a nostalgic look at a time in history that appeared to promise a better future. However, on this 40th anniversary of the event, the perspective now shows it to be a form of “fool’s gold” rather than the real thing.


» The ability of young people to identify what is wrong in the world is helpful. However, the solutions that often are suggested to fix the world lack wisdom. How do you think we can bring the idealism of youth and the wisdom of older adults together to help us truly fix what is broken?

» When young people are not given the guidance of a healthy family or a faith community, they are left on their own. What have you done in your own life to remedy this?

» What do you believe brought the young people to Woodstock?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit

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