Michael Lang, the man most closely associated with the staging of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969, is giving Ang Lee’s new movie about the famous festival, Taking Woodstock, his stamp of approval. “It’s fun and it really is a nice sort of trip back into that time and space and Ang really gets that feeling across,” Lang said Saturday prior to an advance screening of the film in Woodstock, New York, which is about 90 minutes from Bethel, where the festival was held.
But Lang reiterated that the story, which is based on a memoir written by Elliot Tiber, who along with his parents ran a motel in Bethel during the festival, should not be viewed as an authentic documentation of Woodstock. “It’s Elliot’s story,” Lang said, “and it’s not exactly accurate.” After the Saturday screening, Lang, Lee and James Schamus (who wrote the screenplay) sat down for a question-and-answer session during which Lee revealed he put his extras through a two-day “hippie camp.” He said he worked at “drilling them into hippies, or period youth,” and provided the actors with a “hippie handbook” and made sure they were well versed in the period lingo.
Lang lauded the cast for accurately portraying those people he worked with to stage Woodstock (he consulted on the film to help nail down some had-to-be-there details). And he had high praise for actor Jonathan Groff, who portrayed Lang onscreen. Schamus, who worked with Lee on The Ice Storm and Brokeback Mountain, called Groff, “the love child of Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise” and declared Woodstock “the most important cultural event of the last 1,500 years.”
Lang said he was nervous the first time he saw Taking Woodstock and Schamus said Lang’s opinion of the movie was very important. “There was always that nervousness, about whether he was going to like the movie or not,” Schamus said. “It’s a comedy,” Lee added during the question-and-answer session. “It’s something about innocence — a longing for something.”
And Schamus was obviously thrilled to be in Lang’s presence. “It’s amazing to be here with him,” Schamus said of Lang. “I just had to get that out.”