24 March 2008

Ask a Policman on the Street

# 4--Across the Universe
ir. Julie Taymor, 2007

(I'm counting this one towards my 100 music documentaries. Deal with it.)

When I first saw the previews for Across the Universe
all-those-many-months ago, I had an initial knee-jerk reaction to the ultra sentimentality that the preview conveyed--why can't people just leave The Beatles the fuck alone? Mind you, this was some months prior to the release of the Cirque du Soleil inspired album Love to which I had the same reaction. However, Across the Universe looked rife with silliness: Bono with a stupid mustache singing “I Am the Walrus” into a moving camera; Evan Rachel Wood looking blasé while singing “Blackbird;” some unknown shaggy Brit sitting by the ocean singing the first lines of “Girl.” I brightened slightly seeing Taymor’s name attached to the project (Frida was phenomenal and Titus may be one of my favorite films of the past decade).

Fast forward to Sunday night, watching Across the Universe in the living room and thinking the same thing as before—why can’t people just leave The Beatles the fuck alone?

Believe me; I struggled to sit through the entire movie. I nearly gave up at the scene in the veteran’s hospital with the dancing priest while “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” played. Not to mention the Vietnam scenes which were just laughable. For the viewer, somehow there was supposed to be a forced connection between the main protagonist (aptly named Jude) and the brother of his love (her name is Lucy, his Max) as he marches through Vietnamese mud fields while strawberries drop all around him and Jude has an artistic breakthrough involving the same fruit. (For bonus points, guess what song this scene is set to? Hint: It’s “Strawberry Fields Forever.”)

Just so, the previous example is exactly how heavy-handed the film is. It’s a wonder it didn’t fold inward under its own pretentiousness. There’s no room for subtlety here; just ridiculous amounts of Beatles’ references and a hackneyed plot: boy loves girl, girl loves boy, girl and boy torn apart by anti-war protests until they both realize…come on, guess…all you need is love. The plot could not be more flimsy. Additionally, one gets the sense that the plot was only secondary to the music. In fact, it’s almost as if someone listened to a bunch of Beatles songs and devised a plot from them by mixing their order. How uninspired; the antithesis of everything the Beatles were and are.

Only when the film is at its most excruciating does it frontload the Beatle-isms. When a lesbian named Prudence locks herself in the bathroom (incidentally that’s the window she came in through, Max notes) the cast (lead by Sadie) sings “Dear Prudence” to cheer her up. Fuck me. Seriously? Then during the big breakup scene where Jude and Lucy are torn apart by Lucy’s radical ideals of anti-war and hippie freedom, Jude angrily sings “Revolution” at her acting out the lines as he goes—when he sings the Chairman Mao line, guess whose picture he points to? Just guess.

I could go on, but I can’t go on. It’s so bad it made me roll me eyes during the film and now as I write this. The best part, oddly enough, was Bono in his cowboy hat and strange drawl and Eddie Izzard as the Dr. Geary in an intentionally fucked-up rendition of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” We don’t need Taymor’s movie to remind or instruct us that The Beatles provided a universal soundtrack to more than one generation. We know that by the way the music seeps into our ears and permeates our brains, as parents pass it down to children and so forth.

It would be one thing if Across the Universe was only intended to be homage to John, Paul, George, and Ringo, but it’s not. It’s meant to be a definitive piece of film that somehow sums up our collective love for The Beatles and their influence of the history or our lives. And, as a piece such as that, it fails to sum up anything other than ridiculousness at how sometimes we are willing to exploit The Beatles for our own indulgence.

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