“I miss the spirit of can do innocence,” offered Ang Lee today, reflecting on some of the motivations for his new film, “Taking Woodstock,” playing in competition here in Cannes. “I am not saying I am a hippie wannabe, but I do enjoy that period of time.”
Lee’s 1997 feature “The Ice Storm,” which also played in competition in Cannes, captured the “hangover” of the ’60s, as the filmmaker called it today, while in his new film Lee digs into the event that is, as he added, the culmination of “a glorified image of the last piece of the ’60s that we have in our mind.”
Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” is, as one journalist noted today, “a small movie around the edges of a big event.” Based on the novel of the same name, the film follows the true life story of Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin), the man who set into motion the events that led to the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969. Martin plays a quiet and obedient son of a hard-nosed mother and resigning father who run an Upstate New York motel in a down-and-out town. The town of White Lake is transformed almost overnight from a sleepy hamlet of elderly townies into “the center of the universe” of the counter-culture movement. While a smattering of critics were negative about the film, including the the critic for indieWIRE, other festival goers, including iW’s managing editor enjoyed the film. While the film may rely on some cultural cliches, at the end of the day the film had the audience laughing – and we think in a good way.
Continuing on with the comparison of “Taking Woodstock” and Lee’s first round with telling a story from the era, James Schamus, the film’s writer (and Focus Features CEO) quipped, “‘The Ice Storm’ was centered around a technical film problem. That is, how to film the least comfortable, worst sex scene in the history of cinema. Then going back to 1969 where apparently everything was kind of sex, there was a real sensuality of life – without the aftertaste,” Schamus added.
For Lee and Schamus, their new film is a deliberate palete-cleanser after years of dramatic, often tragic stories. “I was yearning to do a comedy-slash-drama without cynicism,” Lee explained, “After 13 years, I feel that I earned that right.”
The Taiwanese director, who has spent more than thirty years in the States, moving there in the mid-’70s to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and then NYU, is impossible to pigeon-hole. His work ranges from stories with gay-themes and storylines, like “The Wedding Banquet” and “Brokeback Mountatin,” to detailed period dramas in “Lust, Caution” and “Sense and Sensibility,” and even a Hollywood endeavor with “Hulk.”
“I hate to be characterized,” Lee reitated, simply, “I want to be seen as me, as is, as complicated or just as simple as who I am.”