On looking back on 2009, one of the most telling signposts was the 40th anniversary of Woodstock Music and Arts Festival. The film ”Taking Woodstock” appeared to be filled with inaccuracies, stereotypes and false archetypes which folded back onto each other, threatening to collapse with what little integrity there was to the documentary evidence the film purported to show. Essentially, formula, craft and the path of least resistance won out over the more noble elements of film making.”However, what could have been a joyous, life-affirming piece plods through two hours and one minute of too-quiet dialogue, comic moments that never quite garner real laughter, dramatic beats that feel sadly lightweight, and very little music.” None of the broader, fibrous, and more implicating issues were touched upon:
There is for one, an impossibility of dropping out. The counter culture, whatever its historical precedents, whatever the worthiness of its aims, did discover that from technocracy there was no escape. That there was profound dissatisfaction with the bureaucratic mechanism of an advanced industrial society, is beyond question. The rub was ”becoming” in this context; of being born to the world and discovering oneself. And of making existential choices that determine the direction our life takes. Not much has changed. The issue of ”being” torn between embodied essence rather than the abstraction of a world based on equations.
The Woodstock cult itself, was not an isolated band of juvenile misfits. If they were a lunatic fringe, they were the fringe of a largely invisible movement a hundred times the size of their very own visible cult. The beards, and outlandish clothes died, but the movement, the ”Woodstock Nation” did not leave civilization unchanged because it was both such a widespread rejection and affirmation of the values by which their parents had lived.
In view of the rejection, some found it odd that the counter-culture found so much sympathy in the straight, middle class grown up world. But the hippies, were, for the most part, the children of the middle class, and the truth was that they were not so much in revolt as they thought they were. They at least learned a lesson from their parents; namely, that the pursuit of a life of material comfort and social conformity leaves grown men and women with a vague but persistent feeling of uneasiness. Having sensed their parents’ tacit rejection of a life that seemed somehow hollow, the hippies rejected it openly; sometimes zestfully, sometimes violently, sometimes with delightful results, sometimes with tragic results. It cannot be far wrong to assert that the youth of the Woodstock generation, of the middle class, sought a life style that their parents wish they had sought while they still had time. They were in a sense fulfilling their parent’ wishes and when established, adult society reacted to them, they reacted to an image of themselves.
Behind the hippie communes, behind the escape from reality provided by drugs, behind the concerns for the environment and the movement to get back to nature, could be discerned a distaste for the oppressiveness of a society that imprisons so many people in offices,records their doings in data banks and social security archives, and expects them to go from cradle to grave with the virtues of punctuality and sobriety and application. The ”power structure” denounced by radicals is not just a political system. It is felt by them to be a way of life that weighs on upon everyone. Much like the financial meltdown of 2008, the issues relating to youth culture dissatisfaction have been patched and swept under a rug; not effectively dealt with in a meaningful way.
Human history has been dominated, it appears, by the desire for an ordered society, often to the detriment of those very individuals who chose a strong leader or a party of order, only to find they had created a system of lawful illegality, an order of criminal anarchy. Historical precedents for the counter-culture movement of the 1960′s are not easy to find. There were monks and hermits, wh at the beginning of the fourth century went into the deserts of Roman Egypt to fast and pray. They were certainly motivated by religious feelings, but also by a desire to escape from a society in which the hand of landlords and a tax collecting bureaucracy had become unbearably burdensome. The ascetics, led by Saint Anthony, formed the communes of their day, though their visions and ecstasies were attained without hallucinogenic drugs or free love.
It is probably less easy to live the life of a hermit today than it was in fourth century Egypt. Civilization is intimidating. There is no refuge from SIN, registrations, permits, academic qualificat
, bank records and other elements of the bureaucratic apparatus.There is an evident impossibility to dropping out. As the counter culture intellectuals realized, who will produce for them the transportation, stereo equipment, electric guitars etc. that formed an essential part of youth culture, if not the corporations against which much rebelion was directed?
The spectacle of commnunes devoted to simple living and the cult of nature, but surrounded by piles of tin cans, bore melancholy witness to this paradox. The youth culture was against pollution, but it was the internal combustion engine that gave them the freedom from their families that was essential to their existence. There was no absolute escape, nor was it certain that those refugees from the existing power structure really desired one. Comforts are addictive.
Books at the time such as Theodore Roszak’s ”Counter Culture” and Charles Reich’s, ”Consciousness III” were theoretical attempts to delineate the basis for a utopian society, a ”city of God” alongside a secular industrial state, but it wasn’t applied to a representative section of society and was based on the shaky impermanence of the young readers the book reached. Advanced industrialsociety is very pervasive.Revolt does not seem likely or useful. In sum, a consuming society is also a passive society.
Also, the contemporary power structure of today or the 1960′s looks positively benign when compared to old fashioned tyrannies like the Roman Empire or modern day China for that matter. Unfortunately, technology and instant communication appear to be forcing upon each of us an increased social responsibility. That such responsibility can seem crushing is undoubted. This seems to be a condition of life today, not far removed from Woodstock. The followers of Saint Anthony, after all, eventually emerged from their deserts to change and humanize society. Or, perhaps we will bear witness to the completion of Saint Augustine’s massive construction of a counter society.
The Film ”Taking Woodstock” , by Ang Lee is not acceptable on many levels. Known for portrayal of emotional repression and social suppression, Lee, awkwardly tries to make the gayness of the central character a primary theme and the scenario is littered with redundant cliches. Seeing Michael Lang on a white horse, like Napoleon Bonaparte, there was an expectation he would descend to the Hudson, and sign a peace treaty with the Tsar on a raft in the middle of the river. The absence of co-organizer Artie Kornfeld is also reprehensible.
”Ang Lee’s facile Taking Woodstock proves that the decade is still prone to the laziest, wide-eyed oversimplifications…in fact, little music from the concert itself is heard. On display instead are inane, occasionally borderline offensive portrayals of Jews, performance artists, trannies,Vietnam vets, squares, and freaks.
Beyond Elliot’s marginally interesting homo conflict—he’s given a push to come out by Liev Shrieber’s ridiculous drag queen, Vilma, who shows up to provide security—Taking Woodstock does nothing more than recycle the same late-’60s tropes seen countless times since the Carter administration. The rages and flashbacks of Emile Hirsch’s fried Vietnam vet are the usual PTSD overacting. The Earthlight Players, a performance troupe that lives in the barn next to El Monaco (“Some are Vassar graduates,” Elliot explains), are as dumb a depiction of avant-garde thespians as something that Jesse Helms might have concocted. On his way to the concert, uptight Elliot takes acid and sees the truth; back at the motel, perpetually miserable Jake and Sonia unknowingly scarf down pot brownies and frolic in the rain; father and son form a deep post-high bond the next day. Eat, drink, man, woman. Making his way through the political booths at Woodstock, Elliot sees women burning their bras at the United Feminist Front booth—a practice debunked years ago, thus making it all the more irresistible to Schamus and Lee, apparently.” ( Melissa Anderson, The Village Voice )