welcome to Mirrora monthly movie column in which I rewatch and then rewatch a movie I’ve already seen under the new (and improved?) critical lens of 2022. I’m so glad you’re here.
The release of the Beatles 1 album in 2000 ushered in Beatlemania 2.0, or 3.0, or maybe 5.5 – it’s hard to keep up. Not that they’ve ever been out of tune, but you don’t necessarily think a band that’s only been around for 10 years and ceased to exist decades ago would serve as inspiration for a Broadway musical (Lennon2005) then a Cirque du Soleil show (To like2006, and its accompanying album).
And because not everyone could make it to Broadway or Vegas – and because teens have money, too – Julie Taymor, the woman who brought The Lion King to the stage, crafted from a 60s psychedelic love story that would unfold the sounds of the Fab Four on film. It was supposed to be released in 2006 but finally hit theaters in 2007 (Taymor and the studio clashed over the final cut, a theme that would be revisited in his next adventure, but more on that in a second). All the artistic girls in my liberal bubble (San Francisco) loved it. I do not have. And seeing him again for the first time since he was in the movies, I was so relieved to realize that when I was younger, I was neither a stuck-up slut going against the grain for fun, nor an uncultivated pig. unable to appreciate a little experimentation. across the universe boring! It’s so dull! I almost turned it off, but I didn’t because I’m really committed to this little column!
The story is a cliché parade: Jude is a poor British artist in search of love and community; Lucy is an innocent suburban high school girl whose first love is killed in ‘Nam. The moment we meet them, we immediately expect them to sing “Hey Jude” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” but we don’t get the former until the penultimate scene of the movie, and that last one is literally dropped over the credits. The script sets up this super obvious benchmark for virtually no gain.
The songs are not reinterpreted as one would have hoped. In fact, they are not even interpreted. They are given literally literal choreography.
But the bitterness does not stop there. Prudence’s friends sing “Dear Prudence” to her; Jim Sturgess tweets “Strawberry Fields Forever” looking at an original piece of art he made with a bunch of strawberries. The songs are not reinterpreted as one would have hoped. In fact, they are not even interpreted. They are given literally literal choreography. “I’m getting high with a little help from my friends,” the Princeton boys sing as they mime getting high. “I want to hold your hand” becomes the mournful, plaintive longing of a closeted lesbian cheerleader.
And it would all be fine, perhaps, if the movie stayed true to the love story. The Beatles wrote a lot of love songs, after all. But once Jude and Lucy fall for each other, the story brings bigger themes, kicks and screams, into the mix. War! Demonstration! Civil rights! An unnamed young black boy sings “Let It Be” while Detroit burns, then we watch a man get shot by a cop, then we cut to the boy’s funeral, then we’re in New York with the hip cats and the , oh no , yeah, they brought a poster of Uncle Sam to life to sing “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” because, you know, the famous catchphrase?
This is the level of nuance we are dealing with here. Any song that Taymor can’t find a 1:1 plot match for, it pledges an in-universe performance (“Why don’t we do it on the road”), or gives a drugged character or mentally wrong so the lyrics don’t have to have an obvious meaning (“Come Together”, anything from sergeant. Pepper). The POC characters are particularly underwritten, and you get the sense that they’d rather not be drawn into this – pardon my language – white nonsense. Like when Bono shows up and gets an entire performance and arc, but they have Salma Hayek (Salma! Hayek!) writhing in a slutty nurse costume like a veteran heroine hallucination. Drugs = weird lenses and funky color filters, hardly a visual innovation. Famous Cafe Wha?, a Greenwich Village hotspot that at this point is something of a tourist trap for baby boomers, is being renamed Cafe Huh? That’s an excellent question.
Even the most anti-war activist will admit that entering the military is a complicated experience, but Taymor boils that down to a scene in which recruits (in their underwear) carry a giant Lady Liberty through the jungle while singing “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” – and did I mention that neither costume has a speck of dirt on it? I understand that she leaves for a Red Mill! thing here, but it was a campy story staged with a lot of humor. This is an extremely serious and slightly pretentious account of a very important historical chapter in the music of the greatest band of all time. With lines like “Music is the only thing that makes more sense, man. Play it loud enough, keep the demons at bay,” the bag was very goofy.
Any song that Taymor doesn’t find a 1:1 plot match for, it pledges an in-universe performance or gives a drugged or mentally ill character so the lyrics don’t have to have a obvious meaning.
What Taymor excels at is showmanship, and some numbers are truly magnificent. Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood, who plays Lucy, have great voices and decent chemistry. Divorced from the yawn-inducing plot, I’d buy this as a series of music videos, trippy enough to be fun but clear enough that you don’t have to be stoned to like them, although I’m sure that would help. The dance actually works for the screen, which is a very difficult trick to pull off. Visually, at times, the film is magnificent. You can see why she and Bono thought it might be fun to team up to bring Spidey to Broadway. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Taymor clashed with the producers of turn off the darkness. But at least this debacle was original!
Paul McCartney apparently liked across the universe, and I hate to disagree with Macca on his own art. But for my time and money, any Beatles fan better watch the Indian scene in walk hard. Florida