'60s Flashback: Ang Lee Is "Taking Woodstock"
CANNES, France – Ang Lee views his 1970s drama "The Ice Storm" as a representation of the disillusionment of the '60s, the hangover of Woodstock.
Now director Lee has gone back in time a few years to capture the party that led to the hangover. "Taking Woodstock," Lee's Cannes Film Festival entry, presents a loving glimpse of the behind-the-scenes hijinks that resulted in the gloriously sloppy music fest.
Set in 1973, 1997's "The Ice Storm" was a portrait of suburban families unraveling amid adultery, casual drug use and the backdrop of the Watergate scandal. "Taking Woodstock" shows the summer-long buildup to the 1969 rock 'n' roll gathering that lured half a million free spirits to a rainy, muddy patch of farmland.
Woodstock "has a symbolic meaning to me. It's the innocence of a young generation departing from the old establishment and trying to find a more refreshing way, more fair way, to live with everybody else," Lee said Saturday before the Cannes premiere of "Taking Woodstock."
"It was dirty, filthy. It was actually a mess," said Lee, a best-director Academy Award winner for "Brokeback Mountain."
"But you have to give those kids, those half a million kids credit, that actually, they had three days of peace and music. Nothing violent happened. I think that's something. I don't know if we can pull that off today."
Based on the memoir by Elliot Tiber, "Taking Woodstock" is the story of a dutiful son (Demetri Martin) who views the upcoming rock festival as a means to save his parents' seedy Catskills motel from foreclosure. After Woodstock organizers lose their permit to stage the event in a nearby town, Elliot brokers a deal with the promoters to stage the event on the dairy farm of his neighbor Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy) in Bethel, N.Y.
"Taking Woodstock" also features Emile Hirsch, Liev Schreiber, Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman.
It's Lee's lightest film since the mid-1990s, when he made the romances "Sense and Sensibility," "Eat Drink Man Woman" and "The Wedding Banquet."
The project landed on Lee's desk by chance while he was promoting his last film, the dark World War II-era spy thriller "Lust, Caution." Tiber was the guest following Lee on a San Francisco TV talk show. The two talked a bit and Tiber gave Lee a copy of his book.
"I was yearning to do a comedy-slash-drama again without cynicism," Lee said. "It took me a long way to get there. I thought after 13 years, I sort of earned the right to do it, just be relaxed, be happy and at peace with myself and everybody else."
With a 1960s-soaked soundtrack featuring The Band, Canned Heat, Joan Baez, Richie Havens and Country Joe and the Fish, "Taking Woodstock" is awash in period detail, from Volkswagen Love Bugs to hippie hair and sideburns to a vintage Slinky toy commercial on TV.
Lee ran a hippie camp to teach the extras the right way to behave and carry themselves. The filmmakers said their hardest task was getting the extras to look like '60s youths.
Screenwriter James Schamus — who heads Focus Features, which is releasing "Taking Woodstock," and who won the 1997 screenplay prize at Cannes for "The Ice Storm" — said there's a different look to today's young people, with their passion for fitness and disdain for pubic hair.
Said Schamus: "When you think about it, a generation of people who weren't fat, who weren't staring at themselves in the mirror all the time, and not shaving everything off down there, it captures the difference of 40 years right there."
On the Net: http://www.festival-cannes.fr
By DAVID GERMAIN
AP Movie Writer
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
(Image courtesy of Getty)