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TAKING WOODSTOCK
INTERVIEW WITH ANG LEE

‘There is Woodstock inside everyone’s heart?’ Woodstock is a unique event embodying ‘American pride’. Ang Lee’s interpretation, ‘Taking Woodstock’, recreates the historic event at a moment in time.

Text: Joel Wong | Translation: dilettante | Photo: Wa

‘Taking Woodstock’ is comparatively light-hearted for Ang Lee’s standard. ‘Even comedies are no longer “light-hearted” nowadays! It is impossible to recreate Woodstock completely. The original story begins with a family drama, which I feel is an appropriate structure for the film. Without the burden of a gigantic ‘myth’, the whole tone is more objective and therefore I did not have to worry too much about the music. I wanted to re-stage what happened in ‘Taking Woodstock’ — having spoken with a few people who took part in Woodstock, I am very pleased to know that they thought the film resembles the time accurately.’

A — ANG LEE

Q: ‘Taking Woodstock’ is more light-hearted than your previous films. Is that a reflection on your personal and creative mentality right now?
A: My films were never light-hearted, even the comedies. The fact is that age plays a part and I want to change the atmosphere a little. Also because I went through a very tough production with ‘Lust, Caution’, it was ‘too much pressure too little security’. Sometimes things get heavy when one does not feel secure about oneself, of course one cannot be too laid back either. I do not perceive film-making as a job, therefore my work mentality remains the same despite of the nature of my current project. What I want to do is to investigate life, human nature and the world in general through making films.

Q: What do you mean by ‘not perceiving film-making as a job’?
A: I never work for vanity or money. I feel a certain degree of responsibility towards the people I work with, as well as the audience who has been supporting my work. They trust and protect me as well as my work. When I filmed ‘Taking Woodstock’, I wanted to investigate what is ‘happiness’ — not from a cynical point of view. I wanted to create a more pleasant atmosphere this time.

Not to compromise on my standard, but at the same time not to stress my team out. I want to be firm, but fair.

Q: Woodstock is a legend in America, why do you take on this challenging subject?
A: Woodstock is mythical to many Americans — it is related to Hippies culture at the time. Hippies culture is very much about being laid back and anti-materialistic. The youth from the ‘baby boom generation’. Through human right, anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism campaigns, Hippies culture rebel against their parent’s generation. The hunger for culture grew tremendously, with music being the one of the most influential. Woodstock is mythical because it is a myth in its own right — a utopia, even. It is similar to Communist mentality in this sense.

Q: What do you mean by it being similar to Communism?
A: I did not mean ‘Communism’, but the ‘Communist’ mentality — that one would be considerate of each other, embrace and be in peace with each other. I was a teenager in 1969, so it all a bit of a blur. I feel that Woodstock is an idealized vision in some way, therefore I want to reflect on the Woodstock utopia in this film as opposed to focusing on the music. I want to investigate how it affected people’s mentality, culture and art at the time. I guess I am nostalgic of Woodstock — it is a unique, non-repeatable event in time.

Q: There seems to be lack of chemistry between the parents of main character Elliot.
A: I guess it is my personal observation, on my own parents. Sometimes I do not understand how we live together for such a long time, yet I still do not completely grasp the chemistry between them. To me, this is a myth bigger than Woodstock! I try to keep with the original story in terms of the relationship between Elliot and his parents. It is easy to relate to his fear and insecurity, deriving from his mother’s strict upbringing. ‘Love’ is something that often left unsaid, and should not be artificial. When Elliot asked his father how he could stand his mother for all the years, he only said three words — ‘I love her’. This could be a true answer, or an easy answer. In the end, Elliot’s father was the one who got affected by Woodstock, but not his mother…

Q: The male characters in the film seem to be rather seductive with the look in their eyes, as well as their body language. Is it intentional?
A: Gay is definitely a part in this, but I did not intend to portray the male characters in a seductive way. In a way Michael Lang is the most symbolic character, because he is always seducing everybody around him. He is the biggest ‘seducer’ in the film — a devil with an angelic face, groovy and cool in character. As one of the major personalities behind Woodstock, there is an obvious business side to Michael.

He is good at manipulating others, and the look in his eyes is part of it. The female characters in the film are comparatively less dominating in this film.

Additional Notes
Talking about audience interacting with the film, Ang Lee thinks ‘film-making has become really difficult now. Hollywood blockbusters are too predictable and corny, “genre of films” bring about the problem. Art house films, for example, are less “interactive” and therefore harder to maintain the audience’s interest. Many young people consider going on the internet and playing video games are more interactive, which is very different from how things were when I was young. Film was the most exciting thing and something a family can do to do together. In mainland China many choose to watch films on their computer, or do so because cinema tickets are too expensive. This makes a new habit for film watching — people are changing their perception on films, and it is no longer something to look up to. I believe films can still outdo themselves technically. However, the industry needs to rise above new changes and challenges. Filmmakers need to put extra effort in keeping themselves on their toes.’

《TAKING WOODSTOCK》
www.takingwoodstockthemovie.com

AGNÈS B. SPORT B. TAKING WOODSTOCK PHOTO EXHIBITION
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