By Nicole Sperling
Updated August 24, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT
Ken Regan

Starring: Demetri Martin, Imelda Staunton, Liev Schreiber, Emile Hirsch
Directed by: Ang Lee
Release date: August 14

Woodstock has haunted Ang Lee for over a decade, since the Taiwanese director first examined changing sexual mores in his ’70s-set drama The Ice Storm. ”Woodstock was America’s last moment of innocence,” Lee says. ”Three months later, things turned ugly, and it would never be the same again.” In 2007 Lee happened to meet Elliot Tiber, the accidental hero (and host) of the iconic festival, backstage at a TV talk show. Tiber was promoting his emotional memoir, Taking Woodstock. ”He gave me a one-minute pitch and the book. Usually I just throw them away around the corner,” Lee says with a laugh. But after Lust, Caution, his bleak NC-17-rated Chinese spy thriller, he says, ”I was desperate to do a comedy.”

In adapting Tiber’s book for film, Lee and writer-producer James Schamus downplayed Tiber’s homosexual awakening during the planning of the festival — deliberately. ”If Brokeback Mountain was about the tragedy of gay lives in an oppressive society, and Milk was about the triumph of coming out, Woodstock simply asks: What’s the hang-up? Join the party,” says Schamus. That decision was a relief for Comedy Central star Demetri Martin, who had prepped for his audition by reading Tiber’s sexually graphic book. ”There’s all this S&M stuff, and I’m like, ‘Okay, this is way out of my range,”’ recalls Martin. ”I’m a stand-up guy. I do one-liners.” Still, he definitely faced some acting challenges. ”I cry on camera,” Martin says. ”I have a love scene. I kiss a guy.” The fledgling actor also had to hold his own against pros like Staunton, Schreiber, and Hirsch. ”He became a pretty good actor,” says Lee, with what we take to be his typical understatement. ”It doesn’t look like he’s acting.”