Ang Lee talks 'Taking Woodstock'
Ang Lee is one of the world’s most successful and diverse filmmakers. Following the seriousness of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and ‘Lust, Caution’, Lee, 55, has brightened up with ‘Taking Woodstock’, a comic tale of the men behind history’s greatest music festival
‘Woodstock is just fascinating. It’s a legend, a myth, an abstract utopia. But Elliot Tiber’s book offered a window, a slice of life to give you a real taste of Woodstock. And I’d been making some heavy-duty movies. I wanted happiness, innocence… It felt right.’
Are you a positive person?
‘Life doesn’t make sense. We create stories so it makes sense, but life is always a mixed bag. I think I’m a happy person. It’s just when I study the world I can’t help but see this misery, awkwardness, conflict and death.’
Was the set of ‘Taking Woodstock’ all peace and love?
‘You make a movie about Woodstock, you need the Woodstock spirit in your crew. I was like an angel on the set. I made an effort to smile, to show appreciation. Which I didn’t do before, not because I’m a Scrooge-like person, but because there was a lot of responsibility so I had to stay serious. Shooting time is precious, many people are making such a lot of effort, and if I joke around and miss something I won’t forgive myself. As a result I think people thought they could never please me. But this was a very happy set.’
How did you feel about directing so many naked people?
‘The biggest problem was that the girls had to be cast two months ahead of time to… well, to grow their hair back, to fit the period. And we had a switch of schedules, so some of them had to be photographed only from the waist up. It was continuity hell!’
Have you dabbled in psychedelics?
‘I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t. But I was very intrigued by how I was going to show the Woodstock stage for the first time. Michael Landy (one of the festival organisers) described that stage as the centre of the universe, but how do you show that? It had to be somehow abstract. People have said it’s the best acid trip they’ve seen on screen.’
Did you worry that this period in time has been exhaustively documented?
‘It’s more like mockery. I’ve hardly seen a movie about that era, apart from documentaries, that didn’t make a joke out of it. But there were a lot of good things going on, planting good seeds for what we are today. Woodstock was three days of peace, love and music. They did hold it together. There was no violence. You have to give them credit: I think there was some precious idealism in there worth capturing.’
Why make a Woodstock movie with no musical acts?
‘It’s realistic. For most people, Woodstock wasn’t about the music, it was about the experience. People who have seen the documentary have this false impression that it was all about Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. But how many people could actually see the stage? Just the documentary makers! To me, it was about something larger, the idea of Woodstock. The utopia. Also, it was cheaper!’
Do you think your outsider’s position has helped you become one of cinema’s most acute observers of American history?
‘It’s important for the world that outsiders make movies about American subjects. To make a movie without narcissism, to get the facts straight. And I feel very insecure about the idea of contemporary stories. I’m not a hip person. I’m not smart enough to know what’s going on.’
Read our review of 'Taking Woodstock'.
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