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Monday, October 15, 2007

All you need is love - Across the Universe triumphs

on fifth watch

Across the Universe is Julie Taymor's vibrant and vividly psychedelic travelogue through the '60s American anti-war movement. Unreserved recomeendation for Across The Universe. In what should be the last take on the Beatles in such a manner, Taymor - responsible for the hit musical The Lion King along with Anthony Hopkins' Titus and Salma Hayek's Frida - presents her bold and colourful musical Across the Universe. It could have been sacrilegious to use Beatles lyrics as narrative, but Beatles fans should breathe easily.

Across the Universe is wonderfully nostalgic, leaving a wistfulness for the music, but it is breathes life back into the '60s as seen and experienced by the people of the time. Across the Universe is well-researched and relives '60s era America and watermark moments of the era, dwelling on how Vietnam affected a generation as seen through two youths Jude and Lucy who hail from opposite sides of the ocean and come together.

Setting a youthful and vivacous cast including the stellar Evan Rachel Wood, the lynchpin for the movie as Lucy in her privileged life in private school at Brookline in Massachusetts, and the charmer Jim Sturgess as the "limey" Jude working the shipyards of Liverpool to support himself and his single mom, Across the Universe is an exuberant and vibrant exploration of the United States in the "gory glory days" in the last years of 1960s. The songs are sung by the actors live as often as possible, but the delivered performances and interpretations that can be seen and heard are entirely novel. There is a division between red and blue period with more leaning towards the blue 1967-70 era with a brief smattering of a surprising choice of early Beatles songs. And the list of songs in the film is not a parade of #1 hits by any means.

The tale of Jude and Lucy starts off on the other side of the ocean in Liverpool as Jude sings a solo version of
Is there anybody going to listen to my story
All about the girl who came to stay?
She's the kind of girl you want so much
It makes you sorry
Still you don't regret a single day

which then jumps to Lucy and her girlfriends on a prom night dancefloor at her high school Brookline - Lucy launches into a remarkable "it feels so right" Hold Me Tight - a song of joyous innocence and bliss where the imagery jumps back and forth between the ballroom floor and the packed interior where Jude is with his girlfriend at the Cavern Club with a leather jacketed Beatles band on stage.

The handsome Jude in Liverpool sets out for America to find his father who abandoned his mother after a relationship during the second world war, leaving his girlfriend and mother behind. At Princeton, Jude bumps into Max, a student more dedicated to diversions and fun than books, and Jude finds out his real father instead of being the "next Einstein" actually works as a maintenance person. Jude stays with his father in the basement and become close friends with Max, indulging in a bit of "i get by with a little help from my friends" and partaking in night golf on the roof. Max takes Jude home for Thanksgiving weekend, a tradition not known in England, along the way they pick up Lucy from high school and Jude meets Lucy for the first time. Jude witnesses firsthand at the dinner table the source of familial fighting between Max and his relatives, Max himself, and the proverbial what are you going to do with the rest of your life? whereupon Max announces he is dropping out of school. But on that night, all go out for a spot of fun and bowling during a rousing high-energy I Just Met A Girl routine with Jude singing, and all the others bowling and sliding down the slippery bowling lanes.

Max and Jude set out for New York City that night leaving academia and parents behind.

The irony of nothing's going to change my world is reinforced by the shattering of Lucy's life as her boyfriend Dick is killed heroically in action. Lucy sets out for New York City to stay with her brother for the summer instead of going to Europe with her parents and there she gives Max, no longer a student, the dreaded draft notice. Across the Universe explores the world of Lucy and Jude in New York City, as she becomes increasingly political - joining the anti-war movement Students for Democratic Revolution, while Jude turns his artistic bent to designs for Rat magazine, drawing cartoons and posters, and then a logo for Strawberry Studios.

The anger and violence of the ever increasing radical anti-war movement is the background to Across The Universe - the madness of the war is seen through the eyes of Max while in America there is chaos, the calling out of the National Guard at the race riots in Detroit set to a haunting black choral version of Let It Be where Jojo's brother, a young boy is shot to death, and the references to the Weathermen ...

Max, Lucy and Jude become part of the Village nightlife, their landlord is the sexy Sadie who has a burgeoning career as a club singer - and into town comes JoJo - a Hendrix-style singer and guitarist who prowls the streets of pimps and ladies of the night on his first time in town while Joe Cocker delivers the earthy growls of Come Together. Sly Beatles references abound, for instance, the outsider Dayton Wildcasts high school cheerleader Prudence comes through Sadie's bathroom window one rainy night. The bohemian village holds the Psychedelicatessen which was actually part of Julie Taymor's world and the What, Huh? club where Sadie sings at night. Jojo auditions for her band and becomes the guitarist of Sadie and the Poh Boys.

A protest march down Fifth Avenue brings back the days of the Bread and Puppet theatre and the loud chants.

They are all introduced to the counterculture by Sadie's manager at publisher Luna Park's hosted party for Doctor Robert and his book, the lizardking Bono singing I Am The Walrus and the young kids drink the pink lemonade - and set out Flying on a psychedelic magical mystery tour and wake up to find themselves wondering where they are 3000 miles later to find themsleves somehow at the home of a Doctor Geary and his League of Spiritual Development. Max, Jude and Lucy part ways from the bus as it heads back to California. Then they hear the music in the distance and come face to face with Eddie Izzard as Mr Kite and in turn find Prudence again.

Because which follows is another psychedelic experience taking place underwater as the bodies of Lucy and Max intertwine, and other cast members floast about, the whole of which merges into the experience of Max in the war.

A rift comes between Lucy as she becomes more involved and radicalized with many late nights and Max becomes jealous of Paco, the leader of the Students for Democratic Reform. Unable to cope with Max's disdain for Paco and after a angry tirade of Revolution at the SDR offices, boy loses girl and Lucy packs up and leaves Max. As Sadie's career climbs to the top with a dynamite Janet Joplin style Oh Darlingperformance at the Fillmore East, her own personal life hits the skids when JoJo walks out on her to go solo. Max later returns from the war a shell of what he once was.

The star-crossed story of Lucy and Max is seemingly doomed after Jude trying to rescue Lucy from armed arrest at the Columbia protest is taken to jail as well. While Jude's natural father after a call from Lucy tries to unsuccesffully keep Jude in the country, Jude is deported. Jude finds himself back in the shipyards of Liverpool, while Lucy stays committed with the SDR. She discovers one night the militant nature of the friends as Weathermen style. "I thought the other side were the ones who dropped bombs."

Liverpool newspaper headlines blare the news of the explosion in a apartment building and Jude instantly thinks of Lucy. He returns to New York and again meets up with Max.

The had to be finale of the movie conjures the last nostalgic memory of the Beatles together on that rooftop but Across the Universe demands it and pulls it off with joyous triumph for that last Max and Lucy moment - because as you know All You Need Is Love.

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