Sunday, October 14, 2007

Across the Universe

I love the Beatles, but it took me awhile to accept that fact. Like Elvis, or Sinatra, the Beatles always seemed more an institution than anything else. By now, you HAVE to like the Beatles, everyone agrees. But over the course of my early twenties, as I slowly let go of all that 'too cool for school' hipster bullshit that every young man in his late teens goes through, I began to see just how seriously awesome the Beatles were. Hell, how awesome the Beatles ARE. It was a combination of two songs, Help and Eleanor Rigby. Those two proved the Rosetta stone to my apprecation of one of the best bands in the history of ever. Eleanor Rigby is just too sad to ignore, and that bass line in Help satisfies me in an odd way. (and yes, in the end, I came around to an appreciation of Elvis and Sinatra as well, although to a much lighter degree)

So as a Beatles fan, last night I went to see Across the Universe, a musical where the entire cast sings a long list of Beatles songs throughout the film. The movie was directed by Julie Taymor, a director I have a pretty good amount of faith in despite having only seen one of her previous films, Titus. Her other film, Frida, is one of those movies I never seem to find myself in a position to watch. The trailer for Across the Universe led me to expect a pretty generic love story set against the backdrop of New York in the turbulent Vietnam era. However, the visually stunning Titus, along with her visually stunning version of the Lion King for Broadway(which I haven't seen, but have seen pictures of) left me pretty confident that Across the Universe would feature awesome music set to stunning visuals. And guess what? I was completely, 100 percent correct. Across the Universe was more or less exactly what I was expecting. So why am I so let down?

It turns out the parts of this movie I loved and the parts I disliked were exactly the opposite of what I expected. I expected I would enjoy the trippy visuals, and be bored by the cliche love story, when in the end I disliked most of the surreal moments and enjoyed the parts that just let the music tell the story. Some of the musical moments are sublime, like the mournful takes on Let It Be and I Want To Hold Your Hand, or the freewheeling With A Little Help From My Friends and I Saw A Face. But then others drag the movie to a halt with their garishly over the top costumes, lighting and visual effects, like the Bono sung I Am The Walrus or Eddie Izzard's rendition of Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite. Normally I like Eddie Izzard, and that song is one of my favorites(in that almost all songs by the Beatles are one of my favorites), and even though I'd heard bad things about his scene, I had convinced myself that these were from reviewers just not cool enough to get it. But no, his scene is absolutely wretched, and obnoxiously bad. In comparison Bono is only slightly goofy, with his Timothy Leary by way of Robin Williams drug guru.

Still, some of the movie suffers from obviousness. Take the scene where Prudence(every named character is taken from a Beatles song), lovelorn and broken hearted, locks herself in a closet, so the characters serenade her with 'Dear Prudence, won't you come out and play.' It makes me wish they had found a way to include Maxwell's Silver Hammer. And yes, a lot of the symbolism is pretty on-the-nose, as in 'She's So Heavy' being sung by soldiers carrying the statue of liberty on their backs across Vietnam. But when this musical lets loose, it's absolute joy. At varying times I was looking at the audience around me to see if anyone else had a great big grin on their face, or shrinking into my seat and forcing back a single, solitary(and very manly) tear.

I'm not saying all of Julie Taymor's visual tricks were bad, but many of them seemed poorly thought out. And when this musical gets going, it soars. My disappointment may not be there on a second viewing, but as for now it's dropped this rating down from 'I Loved It!' to 'I Liked It.'


Eva said...

I haven't seen this one, but I can definitely recommend Frida - it was a powerful movie to watch, especially considering it's based on her real life story.

Have you checked out the Beatles LOVE site?

Abby said...

I didn't know Julie Taymor directed "Titus." I've long been intrigued by that movie, and now will have to check it out.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks Bono looked like Robin Williams. Also, did you happen to catch James Urbaniak from "Henry Fool" and "Fay Grim"? He was in there, as Sadie's manager.

Thirdly (and finally, I swear!) "Dead in the Water" is already out on DVD. I should have said. They were selling DVDs in the lobby for, as the producer who introduced the movie put it, "$15, a $5 value."

miranda said...

hrmph, i liked it too. that bothers me seeing how beatles are my religion and i should've loved it.

miranda said...

it's "i've just seen a face" from the album 'help!'

The Working Dead said...

Miranda; I realized that AFTER I posted it, and fixed it in the versions I imported elsewhere, but neglected to do so in the source.