By the time they got to Woodstock

Posted
Sunday, August 10
NEW LEBANON, N.Y.

If you focus the lens in for a tighter view, you can see the signs. Rows of 1960s hippie clothes hang on racks inside an office building along Route 20.

Just down the pavement, dozens of 40-year-old Chryslers, Plymouths and Volkswagens — lots of Volkswagens — wait in a field behind Chuck's Automotive.

Construction crews revamp the Valley Rest Motel, a dingy, dying $59-a-night roadside stop.

Just one week out from the start of filming, work is under way on Oscar Award-winning director Ang Lee's newest movie "Taking Woodstock."

The bulk of the film will be shot at 14 locations across Columbia County. New Lebanon, a rural town of 2,400 known for its Shakers, dirt track season and mineral springs, is the epicenter of the production efforts.

Talk in these parts is building.

"People are ecstatic," said Kevin Fuerst, 48, the town historian. "There's definitely a buzz."

Lee, the mind behind "Brokeback Mountain," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," and "Sense and Sensibility," was in town Wednesday scouting the locations, including the Valley Rest.

The movie is based on the book of the same name written by Elliot Tiber, a man who helped his aging parents operate a small motel in the Catskills and was influential in bringing Woodstock to Bethel, N.Y.

"The movie is about the preamble to Woodstock, and that's why I'm interested in the preamble to this movie," Fuerst said. "There's a lot going on around here ... a lot of logistics that are being considered."

For several weeks, construction crews have been working at the motel on Route 20, which the production crew is renting from a local businessman. They reconstructed a barn and built several new cabins on site. The old sign has been torn down, and "El Monaco Motel" is now painted in white letting on the roof. A 1950 blue Chevy pick-up sits out front.

Closer to town, Chuck Geraldi has been renting space at his auto shop for the crew to store period-era cars, like an orange Volkswagen Bug and a white 1960s police car.

"It's been interesting watching them," Geraldi said.

Outside of town, the production crew is renting space inside an old office building along Route 20. In the foyer, a "Brokeback" poster hangs on the wall, just down from a few black-and-white photos from the Woodstock event.

In a back room, a pink dress with white flowers clings tightly to a mannequin. Behind it, thousands of hippie outfits are lined up in rows.

Kay McMahon, president of the Lebanon Valley Business Association, said the movie has already boosted the local economy. Crews have been buying coffee and meals from area businesses and renting equipment from local stores.

"It's been great for businesses, and long-term, it will be fun to say that a movie was filmed in New Lebanon," McMahon said. "People are very excited."

McMahon said the movie team has been very cooperative with business and the town, a sentiment that town Supervisor Margaret Robertson seconded.

Route 20 will be closed intermittently during parts of September and October for filming. A public forum on the film will take place this Tuesday at the fire house in town to address any concerns citizens have.

Filming is set to begin on Aug. 17 and is expected to run 48 days. Some of the other sites include Cherry Plain State Park, a library in New Lebanon, and stops in Stephentown, Hillsdale and Millerton.

According to Variety's Web site, "Taking Woodstock" is being produced by Focus Features and will star Emile Hirsch ("Into the Wild"), Imelda Staunton ("Harry Potter"), Eugene Levy ("American Pie"), Dan Fogler ("The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"), Jeffrey Dean Morgan ("Grey's Anatomy") and comedian Dimitri Martin.

The crew held tryouts in New York and Vermont in June and July for the thousands of extras that co-producer Michael Hausman said will be needed to play festivalgoers, townspeople and police officers.

James Schamus, Lee's writer on the film, lives in Columbia County and recommended that it be shot in the area because its landscape mirrors Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, where close to 500,000 descended on the small town in August 1969 to hear bands like the Grateful Dead, The Who and Jimi Hendrix.

Fuerst said the minds behind the film chose well, as much of the small, rural towns in the county look similarly close to what they did in the 1960s and 70s.


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