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The Auteurs Daily: Hippies and Yuppies

The Auteurs DailyTaking Woodstock

I'm guessing many who follow a site like this one spent their morning coffee time today reading about Ted Kennedy. You may even have clicked through the interactive timeline at the New York Times, from 1932 all the way to final (and, IMHO, excellent) 13-minute video. Along this 77-year sweep, movie moments might have come to mind. One certainly did to mine, or rather, a character, a perhaps unlikely portrait the devotion the Kennedys have inspired over the past half-century. Today's most recommended read is Jim Emerson's superb essay, "String of Pearl: The Lady of Altman's Nashville."

It'd be silly to try to forge some sort of think piece out of the following link roundup but, as it happens, two of the films being written about this week look back on all but radically opposed eras in recent American history.

"Aquarian Nostalgia™ is the most oppressively sanctimonious and dull stripe of reminiscing," writes Melissa Anderson in the Voice, and "Ang Lee's facile Taking Woodstock proves that the decade is still prone to the laziest, wide-eyed oversimplifications."

"The film actually shares much in common with Thomas Pynchon's latest novel, Inherent Vice," Ed Champion proposes: "an accessible mainstream story, streaks of subdued and audience-friendly eccentricity, a meticulous concern for landscape, and a celebration of misfit life just before its destruction by 'progress' (for Pynchon, it's the toxic qualities of the information age; for Lee and screenwriter James Schamus, it's the transformation of free love advocates into avaricious capitalists)."

"Hippies take mudbaths and skinny dips, do the limbo, fornicate in the bushes, sleep dozens to a room, protest comically niche causes, pass the dutchie and hug cops." The L's Mark Asch: "Lee restages the famously gridlocked roads leading into the festival as one big love-in; it's hard to feel too much ill will to someone who pans alongside an epic end-of-the-60s traffic jam and thinks, pace Godard, 'it's all too beautiful.'"

For IFC guest critic Mike D'Angelo, this is "Ang Lee's lamest movie ever"; "there are at least five better movies to be made, drawing on the same source material," suggests Scott Tobias at NPR; the New Yorker's Anthony Lane "can feel the film floundering as it seeks its proper focus"; for the Philadelphia Weekly's Matt Prigge, "the interesting parts of the movie are eclipsed by bullshit"; two out of five stars from Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York.

"Like Mr Lee's 1999 Civil War drama, Ride With the Devil, which was set on the war's western fringe, Taking Woodstock operates on the principle that contemplation of historic events from the margins can be more revealing than from the hot center," writes Stephen Holden in the NYT, where Karen Schoemer reports on how the town of New Lebanon was effected - positively, for the most part - by hosting the shoot.

Related linkage: Reviews from Cannes and an August 1 roundup on Lee (and Nick Ray).

The Last Days of Disco

Speaking of Ride With the Devil, Jonathan Turell, CEO of The Criterion Collection, has confirmed once again, in a talk with The Playlist, that it'll be among the titles coming out next year; Filmbo's underwhelmed by that slate, by the way, but most of us are looking forward to more than a few of those titles receiving the "Criterion treatment." This week, though, the Criterions on most minds are Jeanne Dielman and The Last Days of Disco. For years, we've been wondering whatever happened to Whit Stillman, and suddenly, he's everywhere filling in the gaps. He'll be presenting Last Days at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York tomorrow evening, he's on the radio with Leonard Lopate and giving interviews left and right: Hugh Merwin (Gothamist), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY) and Stephen Saito (IFC).

"If asked to make a movie about how the yuppie ascendancy of the early 80s helped squeeze the funkiness out of New York, most filmmakers would make the yuppies the bad guys," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Not so Whit Stillman." He "understands these people, and even forgives them."

"What Stillman crafted by smarmily turning back the clock is not only a pithily coruscating Bildungsroman for the new millennium but a useful handbook of the soured generational relations that develop when the next round of young professionals are none too eager to yank the torch from Mom and Dad just yet," writes Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant.

And again, Criterion's run an essay of its own at Current, this one by David Schickler: "[H]ow did Stillman pull off something as genuine and persuasively fresh as The Last Days of Disco, and why does it continue to sparkle, more than a decade after its making, with more glittering facets than a mirrored ball? Maybe the answer is Stillman's unironic affection for the period, for the music, and for his endlessly verbose characters, who live and dance through it."



Updates, 27/8: Josef Braun: "You could say Taking Woodstock is a little Brokeback and a little Ice Storm, but you wouldn't quite do justice to the film's own distinctions - or to the richer rewards of Brokeback Mountain or The Ice Storm, both of them movies with more focus, insight and emotional punch."

Sam Adams talks with Ang Lee for the AV Club.

Troy Patterson in Slate on Whit Stillman: "It's one of the highest compliments you can pay a filmmaker to say that the characters he laughs with and at would be among the keenest admirers of his sensibility."

Online listening tip. Aaron Aradillas talks with Stillman - and then, during the last 20 minutes, David Edelstein is on to set the record straight regarding his original review of The Last Days of Disco for Slate.


Steve Erickson talks with Ang Lee for Film & Video.

"[E]ven as a mind-clearing break from Lee's darker, more ambitious work, Taking Woodstock is an underachieving movie, so slight and gentle-spirited that it seems to be looking at the summer of 1969 through a scrim of rosy gauze," writes Slate's Dana Stevens.


More on Taking Woodstock: Sean Axmaker, Keith Phipps (AV Club) and Ryan Stewart (Slant).

For Dave McDougall, Disco "is a film about discovery and excitement and the passage of time. Like Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, The Last Days of Disco is also a portrait of a society on the verge of changing into something else. Like Wharton's novel, it's a lament for a disintegrating thing of beauty. Stillman's particular beautiful thing isn't youth or the city, but a world where, once you get past the door, everything is full of possibility and you get to dance while exploring it. Maybe those things are all the same."


Updates, 28/8: At SF360, Dennis Harvey looks back on "Lee and Schamus' very impressive, diverse screen resume." More on Taking Woodstock from Shawn Levy (Oregonian) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).



Updates, 29/8: The Guardian's Danny Leigh on Disco and on "Why class never goes out of fashion on film": "I can't watch Stillman's bright and dapper films without my brow furrowing over their scenes of boundless privilege without once suggesting there might be something just a little wrong with boundless privilege. Part of the cause of that is, I think, knowing that historically the upscale protagonists of The Last Days of Disco may well have cocked a snook at going to see the film themselves - cinema itself always having been the art form of the lower orders, and still even now sneered at in pockets of snobbery."

"It is a truism universally acknowledged, that Whit Stillman is the Jane Austen of indie film. But truisims only become truisms because they're at least partly true, and this one most certainly is." At Filmwell, Ron Reed revisits Metropolitan.

At the filmlinc blog, Nicholas Feitel records a brief conversation with Stillman.

"Taking Woodstock is enormous fun," finds Marcy Dermansky. Sam Adams talks with Schamus for the AV Club.

"Why Taking Woodstock, and why now?" asks Eric Hynes in Reverse Shot. "The possibility that team Lee-Schamus pursued the project because of this summer's 40th anniversary is almost too depressing to entertain (what, no anniversary love for the moon landing or the Miracle Mets?) And yet, considering the film doesn't strive or even acknowledge a need for greater relevancy, such listless opportunism seems all too plausible. Lee has also suggested that after several serious films it was time to make a comedy. That Taking Woodstock, with its fumbled timing, uneven tone, and old world stereotyping, is Lee's idea of a comedy is more depressing still."

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