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Across The Universe


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#21 Ron Reed

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 11:55 AM

QUOTE(Peter T Chattaway @ Sep 11 2007, 02:13 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Karina @ SpoutBlog:
...I'm assuming there's still an audience somewhere in the universe that's wiling to slurp revisionist American nostalgia as fast as our studio-backed auteurs can export it. ...

I'm not interested in the opinion of anyone who can't spell "willing."

Just kidding.

Though, of course, I'm little interested in the nay-sayers. I would love the film to have had way more edge and darkness - think TITUS. And Peter's right, lots of the music connections are exceedingly "on the nose." And there's not much in the tour of Late Sixties Big Events that's new (but then again, how could there be? The period has been so micro-examined and mythologized.). Still...

I had a blast at this movie! And will be going again as soon as it opens. This from a guy who's as middle-aged male and as die-hard a Beatles fan as you'll find.

There are lots of faults, and if you care to pick them, the movie is dismissable, falling far short of the uncompromising TITUS and falling a little less short of FRIDA. But I was onside from the first frame, and really wasn't interested in dwelling on the things that could diminish that. There are terrific dance sequences - the first one takes its movement vocabulary from football, it's a blast! The singing, with very few exceptions, is very good - I though so, and Carolyn Arends (a studio perfectionist about such things) confirmed that with pretty much her first comment on the film. I thought the performances were strong, though Evan Rachel was a tad wooden at times - wonderfully cast, though. The story (or the performers) worked to hard to make a few underdeveloped plot points play, but like I said... So what? It was a blast.

As for your qualm, Peter, that some of the songs didn't move the story forward, I must say that's only one of the things that songs do in conventional musicals. Lots of songs move plot forward, but lots of songs are occasions for the character simply to live in the experience of a particular moment in the unfolding story. Every musical has an "I want" song (or three), where the forward momentum completely stops while the character sings about what Stanislavsky called their "super-objective": "All I want is a room somewhere..." etc etc. Another truism (besides the "move the plot forward" one) is that when the emotion is too big for words, you take it into a song. Now, as a word guy, I've never bought that for a minute: Shakespeare didn't need Lear to break into song, the emotion was never too big for his words. But still, that's a principle in musical theatre: the action often stops dead for a love song, or a rumination on the state of things, or the big show-stopper, or... This musical is no exception.

Actually, I think that critics who deride the corniness of some of the musical theatre stuff here aren't catching the fact that Taymor's tongue is affectionately in her cheek. There's an aesthetic frisson between the cliches and the filmmaker's regard of those cliches. Part of Taymor's genius is to take the material and commit to it completely, transcend its weaknesses by glorying in them: "Titus Andronicus" is a hugely problematic script, with gaping holes in its credibility, and of course boggling excesses: Taymor never apologized for those things, played them full out, made them work. So the high school musical cliches of the early part of the film are being ironized as they are being celebrated. Critics who condescends are assuming Taymor is unaware of the corn: the joke is on them. (I'm reminded of Todd Haynes' strategy in FAR FROM HEAVEN: the dialogue is laughable, but 100% intentionally so. It's the tension between that artifice and the serious underlying intent that is the genius of that extraordinary film.)

Taymor could have given us a tougher film, and when I let myself, I wish she had. But mostly I don't let myself: no point diminishing a really fantastic experience by obsessing on how much fantasticker it could have been.


Ron

PS I'm not interested in the opinion of anyone who uses the word "fantasticker."

#22 Ron Reed

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 12:13 PM

QUOTE(Peter T Chattaway @ Sep 10 2007, 05:26 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
And 'Strawberry Fields Forever' sets up a very interesting contrast between the lyrics and the visuals: while the singer says "Nothing is real", we see footage of the death and destruction in Vietnam... Where was I? Oh, right, 'Strawberry Fields Forever'. What makes that sequence even MORE interesting is that it is preceded by a person installing a TV set and saying that television will "bring the war into people's living rooms". But the visuals that accompany the song suggest the opposite -- that the war stayed on the screen, and the people who watched it were safe from the bullets and whatnot, and thus the people who watched the war on TV were still protected from "reality" on some level and allowed to go on thinking that "nothing is real". Or do the visuals affirm what the person says, about television making an impact? Such is the wonderful ambivalence of visual art.

Definitely the tension there between "real" war and the way television made the war "real" for people sitting in their living rooms. The tension that most fascinated me in that section, though, was between the two responses to war and other such traumas: the activist, and the artist. It might appear that the activist is actually responding to the war, while the artist is detached, uncaring, uninvolved. But I think that sequence shows how deeply an artist might be being affected by the war, only that it's going on sub-rationally, inchoate responses that eventually break out in artistic expression that's not literal but is in fact deeply felt. I found that one of the truest and most potent moments in the film. Julie Taymor (and her writers?) gets that.

QUOTE
which leads us to wonder (not for the first time, in this film) if the Beatles were more disengaged in the politics of their time than we might have thought they were. ("Nothing's going to change my world", from 'Across the Universe', and "It's gonna be alright", from 'Revolution', also come across as oddly sanguine responses to the political turmoil we see in this film. And then, of course, there is 'Let It Be', which plays over images of inner-city riots and two different funerals.)

In fact, the Beatles were much criticized by the politically active for a lack of engagement with the politics of their time - apart from a certain pro-drug militancy/advocacy, which was probably exaggerated in any case. (Not their usage, only their intention to be political about it.) That tension between engagement and "transcendence" ("tuning in" vs "tuning out") is inherent in the turmoil of the late Sixties. Frankly, I see it as an era when adolescents (and adolescence) held sway, with the culture irrationally focused on the coming-of-age of a whole lot of kids who didn't want to leave childhood behind, but who thought themselves more wise than adults. But that's a whole other conversation. Point being, as went the era, so went the Beatles: as Lennon became truly interested in political things, he was leaving Beatleness behind - and John certainly had deep ambivalence about all this, not sure if he wanted them to count him in or count him out. The other late-era trajectory for the Fabs (besides drugs and a dollop of politics) was in the direction of eastern mysticism: don't engage in the agonies of the world, transcend them. (Interesting, though, that George's more other-worldly path led to a compassion that led to taking action that may have had far more concrete effect on real political tragedy than John's erratic expressions, in the "Concert For Bangladesh.")

But yes, you've put your finger on an element of the film that puts its finger on an ambivalence that ran through not only the Fabs but through the entire era.

Gotta go.

R

#23 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 12:17 PM

Ron wrote:
: This from a guy who's as middle-aged male and as die-hard a Beatles fan as you'll find.

Heh. 'Dyou know that the Associated Press review begins "You'd have to be a nostalgic boomer, a hopeless romantic or Paul McCartney to fall completely in love with 'Across the Universe' and all its indulgences and idiosyncrasies"? I thought of you when I read that. (Yes, it's true, folks: Ron is Paul. And the walrus. Goo-goo-ka-choo.)

: There are terrific dance sequences - the first one takes its movement vocabulary from football, it's a blast!

"Movement vocabulary" -- I'll have to remember that one!

: As for your qualm, Peter, that some of the songs didn't move the story forward, I must say that's only one of the things that songs do in conventional musicals. Lots of songs move plot forward, but lots of songs are occasions for the character simply to live in the experience of a particular moment in the unfolding story.

True, to a point. Though the effect is undermined here by the facts that [a] these songs were not written for the drama at all, and so there is still some disconnect, and [b] we all know these songs far, far too well, which means [b.a] we may know, and be distracted by thoughts of, the TRUE stories that underlie these songs, and [b.b] at the very least, we know the LYRICS, and we find ourselves waiting for the movie to get to the end of the song before it can resume (unless the visuals do something really bold and arresting to hold our interest, which they sometimes do, but sometimes don't).

One point I forgot to mention in my post above, but which I mentioned to you after the movie, is that I was really struck by the way 'A Day in the Life' was turned into a pure instrumental (that's the song with the lyrics "I read the news today, oh boy," and the instrumental plays over a scene where someone has seen or read some very bad news). I could have used more of that -- putting the songs in the SUBTEXT, rather than the TEXT -- partly because it would not have felt so much like the movie was contriving to find a way to match each lyric to some sort of action onscreen. (I am also reminded of Mychael Danna's score for The Nativity Story, which uses themes from Christmas carols to very good effect; when people discuss the impending arrival of Roman tax collectors, we hear a few notes from 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel', and we are reminded -- if we think about it -- that the unspoken lyrics to that song refer to a "captive Israel" that is in need of "ransoming".)

At any rate, I SERIOUSLY would like to know how this film plays to someone who is completely unfamiliar with the Beatles' repertoire, and thus has no idea what to expect when each song starts up. But do such people exist?

: Another truism (besides the "move the plot forward" one) is that when the emotion is too big for words, you take it into a song.

Yes, and when it gets too big for the song, you take it into a dance -- the old Rodgers-Hammerstein thing, I think. (Working on a dim recollection of Mark Steyn's remarkably thorough history of Broadway musicals, here.)

Oh, one other point I don't think I mentioned in my above post: I can understand why the studio wanted to cut the film down, and if I were going to trim anything, it would be the subplot involving the Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin clones. We already have a boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, etc. story in the main plot; I don't see that anything is gained by duplicating that narrative arc in a subplot. I can appreciate that the filmmakers wanted to shoehorn "relevant" '60s issues into the story that would not have come up naturally in the main plot, but you know what journalists say about dumping your notebook into your story... And much as I hate to say it (because 'Dear Prudence' is one of my favorite Beatles songs and the film does very well with it), the lesbian subplot could easily be cut from the film without anybody noticing; unless I'm forgetting something, it doesn't really go anywhere, but just sort of vanishes from the movie after a certain point.

#24 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 12:22 PM

: That tension between engagement and "transcendence" ("tuning in" vs "tuning out") is inherent in the turmoil of the late Sixties.

Yeah, I've sat in on discussions among Christian activists over whether Thomas Merton and the like were doing the right thing by "retreating" into monasticism instead of, y'know, getting out there and vandalizing military airplanes or something.

: (Interesting, though, that George's more other-worldly path led to a compassion that led to taking action that may have had far more concrete effect on real political tragedy than John's erratic expressions, in the "Concert For Bangladesh.")

Definitely interesting!

#25 Ron Reed

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 12:52 PM

QUOTE(Peter T Chattaway @ Sep 12 2007, 10:17 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Ron wrote:
: This from a guy who's as middle-aged male and as die-hard a Beatles fan as you'll find.

Heh. 'Dyou know that the Associated Press review begins "You'd have to be a nostalgic boomer, a hopeless romantic or Paul McCartney to fall completely in love with 'Across the Universe' and all its indulgences and idiosyncrasies"?

I think he's about right, actually. And the fact is, I (for one) haven't fallen completely in love with the film. We had a swell first date, we plan to keep seeing each other, but it's more of a summer romance thing really. This is a movie you have a crush on, not a movie you're going to settle down and marry.

Fact is, boomer that i undoubtedly am, I'm well past the period of acute nostalgia for my childhood and adolescence which swept over me for several years around the time when I became a dad. You can psychologize that however you like - certainly I have. But while I'm still interested in the occasional book or movie that goes there, the feeling of nostalgia almost never kicks in anymore. And I don't miss it. Been there twice, done that.

And I'm too old to really groove on a love story the way I did in younger years. Couldn't help thinking my daughters will be far more emotionally invested in the ACROSS THE UNIVERSE love story than I was: I bought it, I enjoyed it, but it doesn't hook up with my own yearnings the same way it once would have.

Frankly, the greatest appeal for me in this movie is simply to delight in its inventiveness. Dig those groovy colours, man!

QUOTE
: There are terrific dance sequences - the first one takes its movement vocabulary from football, it's a blast!

"Movement vocabulary" -- I'll have to remember that one!

That MFA has to do me some good!

QUOTE
And much as I hate to say it (because 'Dear Prudence' is one of my favorite Beatles songs and the film does very well with it), the lesbian subplot could easily be cut from the film without anybody noticing; unless I'm forgetting something, it doesn't really go anywhere, but just sort of vanishes from the movie after a certain point.

I agree that it's underdeveloped beyond a certain point. But it is touched on a few times in the latter half of the film, rather than being let drop completely.

I wish we had followed through more with Max in the latter half of the film. I understand why the focus stays on Jude and Lucy, but I really enjoyed Joe Anderson's performance as the charismatic wastrel. (Just like I would love to have followed the spindly gang leader in THIS IS ENGLAND: I don't fault the film for moving him to the sidelines, but man I found him intriguing.)

R

#26 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 01:06 PM

Ron wrote:
: (Just like I would love to have followed the spindly gang leader in THIS IS ENGLAND: I don't fault the film for moving him to the sidelines, but man I found him intriguing.)

Oh yeah, I definitely agree. And speaking of nostalgia-while-becoming-a-parent -- now that I have two or three kids of my own, it is a little alarming to me to see the 1980s coming back in films like This Is England. But what I REALLY fear is the inevitable 1990s revival.

#27 Christian

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 01:07 PM

QUOTE(Peter T Chattaway @ Sep 12 2007, 02:06 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
now that I have two or three kids of my own.


Two or three?

#28 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 01:15 PM

Christian wrote:
: Two or three?

Bun's in the oven. Not yet fully baked. Timer set for January.

#29 Ron Reed

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 02:48 PM

QUOTE(Peter T Chattaway @ Sep 12 2007, 11:06 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
...what I REALLY fear is the inevitable 1990s revival.

I'm looking forward to the wave of nostalgia for the 2010s. Should hit when I'm about seventy.

#30 Plankton

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Posted 16 September 2007 - 07:53 PM

Bono sings "I Am the Walrus"(!)

#31 Darrel Manson

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 05:31 PM

What a disappointment!

Although I really liked the treatment for "Let It Be" and thought "I Am the Walrus" was well done, this film has little to recommend it. It never quite makes it to nostalgia. The visuals occasionally hint at being more than average. The plot is barely existent.

#32 Darrel Manson

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 06:13 PM

Just checked the ratings on IMDB. Women give it 9 (9.7 in my demo group), men give it a 6 (5.6 in my demo group)

#33 Joel C

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Posted 02 October 2007 - 11:34 PM

Thought I'd resurrect this post in anticipation of wide release on Friday.

Just saw this last Friday night. I actually really enjoyed it. I didn't think it was brilliant, but it was just charming enough as a result of nostalgic manipulation that I left the theater with a good feeling. It's kind of like Rent, except that Across the Universe is actually a well-made, interesting film. But that's kind of an unfair generalization because of course this movie is, above all else, about the Beatles' songs, reworked and tone-corrected to a fault like any modern pop musical should be.

QUOTE(Darrel Manson @ Sep 21 2007, 03:31 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Although I really liked the treatment for "Let It Be" and thought "I Am the Walrus" was well done, this film has little to recommend it.


Weirdly enough Darrel, although I agree with you about the fantastic and moving 'Let it Be' sequence, I kind of phased out with 'I Am The Walrus'. I kept on thinking, "oh yeah, that's Bono", and then it just felt like a U2 music video from the mid 90's, excepting that hideous mustache.

QUOTE(Ron @ Sep 12 2007, 10:52 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I think he's about right, actually. And the fact is, I (for one) haven't fallen completely in love with the film. We had a swell first date, we plan to keep seeing each other, but it's more of a summer romance thing really. This is a movie you have a crush on, not a movie you're going to settle down and marry.

laugh.gif

Exactly. I don't think it could be better put than that.

Edited by Joel C, 03 October 2007 - 12:04 AM.


#34 Darrel Manson

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Posted 03 October 2007 - 09:28 AM

QUOTE(Joel C @ Oct 2 2007, 09:34 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Weirdly enough Darrel, although I agree with you about the fantastic and moving 'Let it Be' sequence, I kind of phased out with 'I Am The Walrus'. I kept on thinking, "oh yeah, that's Bono", and then it just felt like a U2 music video from the mid 90's, excepting that hideous mustache.
Maybe it worked better for me because I thought, "Cool, Ken Kesey."


#35 Husker4theSpurs

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Posted 18 May 2008 - 04:46 PM

I was VERY surprised at how much I liked this movie. The treatments given to many of the songs were surprisingly great. I liked the take on "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" ... taking it in a sorrowful direction rather than pop happiness. Maybe it was b/c I wasn't expecting a whole lot, but overall I really thought this movie was very, very solid. Thought provoking without having to delve too deep. I do realize I'm in the minority though.

9/10