Monday, April 19, 2010

Issues With Issues

Last night Tyler and I watched the film Taking Woodstock, a story about a young man, Elliot, who, while helping to run his parent's dilapidated motel, inadvertently brings the massive concert to his small town. An awesome one-line pitch if you ask me, a story with inherent conflict that can bring this emotionally-charged moment to life.

You're immediately brought in to the irony of the situation: an immigrant Jewish family in the Catskills thrown together with the hippie love of an entire nation's youth. There's the story of how this situation came to be (how the concert ended up in this strange place) woven together with Elliot's struggle. Here he is bringing an entire movement of freedom to his home town, but he can't even free himself from the burden of his overbearing parents who are afraid to let him move on and live his life.

Overall, I love the idea for this film and I enjoyed sitting through it, but I found that the story had a lot of mis-steps and was not executed well at all. What I outlined above is, in my opinion, the heart of the story. But here are some other plots that crept up along the way:

The token Vietnam Vet struggling with his return home from the war.
A transvestite security guard who forms a bond with Elliot's father.
A town that is not only intolerant of the hippie love, but also of Jews.
The greed and thievery that stemmed from bringing this concert to town.
Oh and did I mention that Elliot is ALSO struggling to come out of the closet to his parents?

I know that the film is capturing a very controversial period of history, charged with conflict and emotion, but how is a good story supposed to take every issue and give it the attention it deserves? If it concentrated on one issue, would it have been more successful? Or would people have thought it inauthentic because it didn't accurately depict the times?

Is it necessary to bring in a transvestite for a few minutes to offer 'depth' to the story? Is it necessary for the Vietnam vet to have a 5 minute monologue about losing his virginity to show a loss of innocence? Is it necessary to show intolerance by graffiti-ing the Jewish house on the 'block'? Is it necessary to throw in a gay love affair to say: 'don't forget, people struggled with this too'!

Here's what I think. I think bringing the hippie culture to a small, narrow minded town is enough. That's huge! That says everything. To me, it represents everything that concert was about.

I think that throwing in every controversial event you can think of doesn't up the tension in a story. In fact, I would argue that it trivializes it. It says: "Pay attention to this. This, my friends, is an important issue." Instead of telling you what happened, it says:"These are the kinds of things that happened."

I no like that.

So, what do you think? Have you ever read or wrote a story that took on too many issues? Do you take on a lot of issues when you write or one big issue that may encompass a lot of little ones? Do you want to slap some sense in to me and tell me you can't actually write a story about Woodstock and not bring up all of these issues? Inquiring minds want to know if you have any issues with issues...


  1. Yeah and could they maybe have taken out the five minute drug-induced haze sequence in order to better address some of these issues?

  2. I KNOW, right? I'd also like to know why the only result of that drug-induced sequence was him returning home being hungry and eating pancakes. Argh, this movie had so many problems! Still, I like Mike Young riding around on a horse...

  3. O.K., I was just about to do that to a new book. Actually, I'd already done it, putting in a whole lot of issues in chapter one, so this is a timely reminder.

    Smart movie review, too. Well done.

  4. Thanks Lori! I want to read your book of issues! :-)