Ang Lee Takes Woodstock
With the help of a bunch of Jews
Continuing the 40th-anniversary-of-Woodstock festivities, director Ang Lee has a new movie coming out, Taking Woodstock. It’s based on a memoir by Elliot Tiber, whose family owned an old-school Jewish bungalow colony in Bethel, New York, the Catskills town where the music festival took place. (No, Virginia, it wasn’t actually held in Woodstock.) In this telling, Tiber (played by Demetri Martin) was a closeted gay Manhattanite who returned home to help his parents with their failing motel; to drum up business, he arranged for a friend with a spare cow pasture to host a music festival that no neighboring towns wanted. Chaos, culture clash, and an iconic event of the 1960s ensued.
Lee told the Los Angeles Jewish Journal that the idea for the movie came about when he met an eagerly self-promotional Tiber at a talk show both were appearing on. Remembering the impact Woodstock made on him as a 14-year-old in repressive Taiwan, and eager to make a comedy after a string of depressing films (Brokeback Mountain; Lust, Caution), he took on the project. But did the director, known for his skill in capturing the feel of diverse times and places, find it a challenge to capture the feel of the waning Jewish world of the Catskills? Not really, he told the Journal, as everyone he works with, including writing partner James Schamus, is Jewish.
“I feel that Jewish people know Chinese people very well,” he said in the interview. “James, for example, understood me well even before I spoke fluent English; he would write my scripts as early as The Wedding Banquet, reading Chinese poetry, philosophy and literature as background, and then try to write the dialogue, and I would ask, ‘What is that?’ And out of frustration, he would give up and just write the characters like Jews, and I would say, ‘Oh, that’s very Chinese.’”
Ang Lee’s Catskills Culture Clash [Jewish Journal]