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 04 2009 11:00 PM ET

LIEV SCHRIEBER IN TAKING WOODSTOCK X390 (KEN REGAN/FOCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM
  

“Americans
like heroes,” he says. “Americans like people
who take sides. That’s not so true for me. I
identify with these characters trying to keep an
absolute balance, who tolerate a lot to keep things safe and
all right. These characters cannot make decisions.
They’re unable to offend anyone. That’s
their charm and their weakness.”

The idea of the
music festival as a comedic and miraculous deus ex
machina appealed to Lee, who had first started seriously
researching Woodstock and the culture that sparked it
when he made his 1997 film The Ice Storm, which, set
among jaded liberals in a Connecticut suburb in 1973,
he came to think of as “kind of a hangover from
1969.”

But reading about
Tiber’s experience made him want to explore the
idealism that the event represented. In the summer of 1969,
Lee was 14 and living in the highly repressive culture
of Taiwan. He recalls kids with long hair being forced
off the street to have it shorn. In this world Lee was
only dimly aware of hippies and Woodstock, but he had his
own growing feelings of being trapped inside and outside of
tradition. These feelings only intensified when he
decided to be a filmmaker, which won him no approval
from his scholarly family. ”It was kind of a
disgrace,” he says. The unfairness and hypocrisy of
the system were what he took square aim at with his
early comedy The Wedding Banquet.

Now, having
re-created the festival (on a limited budget and with the
help of computer animation that turned 6,000 extras into
500,000), Lee says he still feels the infectious
hippie optimism, even more than before he started the
film. “They planted the seeds for many good things
and pointed out a lot of issues that we take more
seriously today,” he says. “The fact
that half a million people were there and there was no
violence is amazing. Something like that will probably
never happen again. The idea that the world can be
changed overnight, that’s the naive part. But
the heart and the intention that held it together was quite
incredible.”

Tags: film

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