Taking Woodstock

For all the talk that the fifties and sixties were ‘simpler times’, I can show you Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Suez Crisis, the Space Race, McCarthyism, Stonewall. But The Woodstock Festival, which crash-landed in a dairy field in New York State in the late 60’s, was to all intents and purposes, a giant pop-culture counterpoint to all that angst, a peaceful, joyous, somewhat psychedelic “coming out” of a million and a half people.

I was too young to know anything about Woodstock at the time, and having been raised in its aftermath as a preppy drone, I’d always assumed it was full of slap-able barefoot hippies going all hey-shoo-wow on us. I never thought for a moment that it might be something with which I would identify irrevocably – an anti-establishment explosion delivered without violence or polemic. That’s the true surprise of Ang Lee’s snapshot-of-the-times, Taking Woodstock, a quirky, thoughtful, intimate look at how the festival came about, and its impact on some of the people who were there.

I didn’t absolutely love the film (amongst other things, the soundtrack, of all things, is maddeningly understated) but I did love the idea of the film, and I relished the positive thoughts and the feelings it engendered about celebrating humanity and diversity and common goodness. Sadly, I’m probably the kind of guy that still wouldn’t have gone to Woodstock first time round, but at least there’s the consolation that I would have regretted that decision…..

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Michael Clayton

I’ve been meaning to write about Michael Clayton for a while, but I kind of lost track of it in the melee of all my travels this year (I’m in Tbilisi, Georgia as I write this.) But it is worth writing about, and having just seen the trailer again, it reminded me of what a solid film it is.

Michael Clayton is classy: slow-ish, noir-ish, thriller-ish. A movie about a slimy fixer (he calls himself the janitor) for a slimy law firm that’s embroiled in a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit on behalf of one of those monster agri-businesses. It seems their health products are about as efficacious as strichnine and people are starting to die. While working towards settlement (ie. buying off witnesses and complaintants) the firm’s star litigator suffers an epic meltdown, and Michael’s sent to pick up the pieces. Quite an inappropriate time then, for him to decide to develop a conscience and a visceral dislike for what he’s become….

George Clooney as Michael is fantastic as usual – the man is simply the modern movie icon – but it was Tilda Swintona Lady Macbeth in pumps and discreet pearls –  who won the Oscar. Some of the stuff she does to camera (to the mirror actually) is just painful. Never trust a redhead.

On the locations side of things, a lot of the country stuff shot in upstate New York. If you’ve ever doubted the impact a director can have on the choice of filming locations (and thus the relative impotence of the film commission in the face of this phenomenon) then check out this article from the Times Herald Record. Blooming Grove, Stewart “International” Airport in New Windsor, Moodna Viaduct in Salisbury Mills; all of these locations are within seven miles of where the director grew up.

“And that’s why the Hudson Valley came down with George Clooney fever last winter. Because Tony Gilroy had an impulse to come home….”