“Taking Woodstock,” directed by Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain”), opens Friday, Aug. 28 — just after the 40th anniversary of the famous musical festival.
It’s based on a memoir of the same name by Elliot Tiber, 64. In early 1969, Tiber was a closeted gay, Jewish interior designer. His impoverished parents owned a broken-down motel about 100 miles from New York City, near the heart of the Borscht Belt. Tiber thought an arts festival on the motel property would make money, so he got a municipal permit to hold one.
The movie and memoir make Tiber Woodstock’s indispensable man. They depict Tiber convincing his “friend,” Jewish dairy farmer Max Yasgur, to rent his farm for the festival when it became clear the motel property was too small.
However, Artie Kornfeld, a principal Woodstock organizer, told me that he found out about Yasgur’s farm from his own sources. Max Yasgur’s son, Sam, told me that his mother, Miriam, still sharp at 89, says that Max never knew Tiber.
Still, the movie may work as a fun, semi-fantasy romp. The strong cast includes Demetri Martin (Elliot Tiber), English actor Henry Goodman (Tiber’s father), Liev Schreiber (as Vilma, a transvestite) and Eugene Levy (Max Yasgur).
I recently caught up with Jorma Kaukonen and Barry Melton, who played Woodstock (both are sons of Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers). Jorma, the former lead guitarist for the Bay Area–based Jefferson Airplane, runs a music camp-concert site on the grounds of his home in Southern Ohio. He and his wife, a Jew-by-choice, often attend Jewish services. Jorma told me that Woodstock was not his first Borscht Belt gig — the Airplane played Grossinger’s Hotel in the Catskills in 1968.
Melton, who was “the Fish” of Country Joe and the Fish, became an attorney in 1977 and now lives in Davis. Melton, who has never stopped performing, is now retiring as head of the Yolo County public defender’s office. Melton told me that he feels he has maintained his ideals — the Woodstock spirit, as it were — as a musician and as a lawyer.
Also opening Friday, Aug. 28 is “Spread.” It stars Ashton Kutcher as Nikki, a sexy drifter who accepts the generosity of rich women. After attorney Samantha (Anne Heche) invites Nikki to stay in her fabulous home, Nikki meets Heather, a gorgeous waitress who gets the idea that Nikki is rich. What Nikki doesn’t know is that Heather makes a nice “side income” from being “nice” to rich men.
Playing Heather is Russian-born Margarita Levieva, 29. When she was 11, she moved to Brooklyn with her mother and twin brother. In New York, Levieva continued the serious gymnastics training she had started in Russia, becoming one of the top teen rhythmic gymnasts in greater New York.
Levieva went on to graduate from New York University with an economics degree and got into acting after college. Earlier this year, she had a big supporting role in the indie hit “Adventureland” as the sexy, gum-smacking Tilt-a-Whirl operator — and “Spread” may be her career breakthrough role.
His son, the rabbi
Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” co-stars Austrian actor Christoph Waltz as the evil Nazi officer Hans Landa, a “Jew hunter.” In an interview last week with the Forward newspaper, Tarantino let drop the bombshell that Waltz’s son is a rabbi in Israel.
The interviewer didn’t follow up and ask if Waltz himself is Jewish. My guess, based on available biography, is that Waltz isn’t Jewish. However, I suspect that Waltz’s ex-wife and the mother of his children are Jewish. She is an American from New York.