Based on a Truly Gay Story 

Forty years ago this summer, two momentous events happened just 100 miles apart, but they might as well have been on different planets. Now the Brokeback Mountain filmmakers have adapted Elliot Tiber’s memoir, Taking Woodstock, and imbued Woodstock with the spirit of Stonewall in a controversial new film -- and it’s a comedy. 

BY David Colman

August 05 2009 12:00 AM ET

In 1969 a
pamphlet called the “Gay Scene Guide” bluntly
warned visitors of a potential hazard of looking for
love in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
“Do not confuse the ‘hippy set’ with
the ‘gay set,’ ” it warned.
“There are many hippies in this area, who while they
may dress in a ‘gay’ fashion, are
actually quite opposed to any gay advances.”

That spring
Elliot Tiber needed no such warning. Though the
then–34-year-old decorator was a Greenwich Village
habitué, he had almost no interaction with or
interest in hippies -- their values, their clothes,
their music. The only fragment of culture shared by the two
factions was, he recalls, “maybe a Janis Joplin song
on a jukebox in a gay bar.”

Then summer
rolled around. Its first real weekend began innocently
enough with drinks at the Stonewall Inn, his favorite
Christopher Street bar, he says. But when the police
showed up for a routine raid, Tiber says, he and the
other patrons started to rebel, sparking a riot that brought
hundreds of young gay men into Sheridan Square, throwing
bottles and overturning police cars. The night changed
his life forever.

By contrast, the
other happening that summer that Tiber also helped bring
to life -- the three-day congregation of hippiedom known as
Woodstock -- seemed to change the world before it even
began. The panicked weeks and mounting insanity
leading up to the concert, during which Tiber --
through a series of stranger-than-fiction circumstances --
came to the festival’s rescue by offering a
last-minute venue and permit, were the subject of his
charming if scattered 2007 memoir, Taking Woodstock.
Now, with a script by Focus Features CEO James
Schamus, the tale has been adapted into an intriguing
new film of the same name directed by Ang Lee. Cutting out
Stonewall and Tiber’s gay city life but
reframing the hippie free-love credo to include gays,
the film melds the spirit of the two disparate events into
one moving tale. Starring breakout comic actor and
writer Demetri Martin as Tiber, the film opens August
28.

The film
completes a kind of gay trilogy for Lee and Schamus, both of
whom, incidentally, are happily married to women. Lee
directed The Wedding Banquet and Brokeback
Mountain
; Schamus’s Focus Features produced
Brokeback and Milk. But it wasn’t the
memoir’s gay main character that first drew Lee
to the project, it was Tiber himself, whom Lee first
encountered on an early-morning news show.

Tags: film

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