Ang Lee takes Woodstock to heart
NEW YORK CITY—Ang Lee may be the most diverse filmmaker of this generation of directors. The Taiwanese-born Lee has a filmography that includes a traditional period piece ( Sense and Sensibility), a big studio action film (Hulk), a Western (Brokeback Mountain), a martial arts movie (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and an urban drama (The Ice Storm). In a New York City hotel room, Lee confesses that he has never been particularly enthused by comedy, but he says that changed somewhat during a U.S. tour to promote his 2007 film Lust, Caution.
Watch the trailer for Taking Woodstock.
“I was in San Francisco at a television station, sitting with a writer named Elliot Tiber who was on after me. He gave me a two-minute pitch for a book called Taking Woodstock, and he had little anecdotes about the  concert. When he was talking, I thought about The Ice Storm [which is set in 1973] and how it was a hangover from Woodstock. I had told [long-time collaborator and Focus Features CEO] James Schamus that I had wanted to do a comedy because Lust, Caution was the sixth tragedy I had done in a row. I brought Elliot’s book to James and he wanted to do it.”
Taking Woodstock—which opens next Friday (August 28) in Vancouver—tells Tiber’s (Demetri Martin) story about how he brought the concert organizers together with Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), a dairy farmer whose pastures served as a temporary home to 500,000 people. Lee says he felt the smaller story of how Tiber coped with being gay in the ’60s, along with his relationship with his parents and the townspeople, would balance the much larger story of the iconic concert.
“The audience is more interested in Woodstock than in a small drama about a Jewish family, but I had to do both because the image of Woodstock is so big. And the chemistry changed in his family through his finding freedom and comfort in his life. So it seemed like a good example of what happened to the whole society.”
Anyone who’s thinking of seeing the movie for the music should probably rent the documentary called Woodstock. There’s some music in the background in Lee’s film, but most of the movie takes place at Tiber’s family’s hotel, three miles away from the Yasgur farm. Lee says the film’s approach to attending Woodstock isn’t that much different from the experience of many of the concertgoers.
“A quarter of the people who were there did not see the stage or hear the music very well. When I first talked to Elliot, he explained to me that the term ”˜taking Woodstock’ meant taking it to heart. That is the essence of the film to me. It is like making a movie about religion. You don’t want to personalize it too much because that belittles it. Most of the musicians who performed said their music sucked. But I think this film is about the goers, not the singers. That was very important to me and also for James, because it was a lot cheaper to do it that way.”