Monday, June 21, 2010

Our recent past celebrated by the music of the Beatles, a trip down Penny Lane (Film - Across the Universe)


Although I was alive in the 1960s, I was a little too young to have seen the Beatles live. That didn't keep me from being an avid fan of their music, with it's sophisticated lyrics, irrepressible melodies, and variety of musical textures. The first "grown up" record I ever bought my sister was their Revolver. Enough reminiscing. The reason for this stroll down memory lane is director Julie Taymor's 2007 homage to the Beatles and the context in which they made their music - Across the Universe. This was an era of immense culture clashes between the old ways of thinking and new, repression and freedom, experimentation and tradition, cynicism and idealism. A time when unjaded political activism mattered deeply in this country - which makes it an era very unlike our own. Through it ran a current of music, visual art, theatre, and writing, which was expressive of the spirit out of which is was born. Some of these passionate experiments look or sound silly today, but not the music of the Beatles. Taymor and her team took about a dozen of their songs and stapled them loosely to an iconographic story of the times - a string of cliches really, if I'm honest - but that doesn't matter in the end because they provide a dramatic scaffolding upon which these songs are reborn with a striking freshness. This is due, in part, to the qualities she draws from her talented, youthful cast - Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther,and T. V. Carpio. The story is but an excuse for an exercise in nostalgia, but the vision could only be Taymor's. The recreations of a 1960s Greenwich Village apartment feels just right, and the larger-than-life-sized puppets, the painted bus, and loopy Cameos from Bono and Eddie Izzard made me feel like I had woken up in Yellow Submarine. The cast do some beautiful singing-acting - they do the songs superficial musical justice too - but it is the way the life of their character finds a natural expression in songs that is the striking and effective accomplishment of this film, particularly as these songs are so well known it is hard to separate them from their original performances. Despite the hackneyed book, it is a touching paean to a valuable part of our recent past, one out of which our own era was born, and an unrestrainable celebration of an impressive body of creative work by a few artists of that time whose impact resonates afresh in Across the Universe.

Hat tip: Sheila (thanks, friend)

4 comments:

Sheila O'Malley said...

Wonderful wonderful film. Loved every second of it. I loved the music, but more than that: I loved the SPIRIT behind the entire project. I really feel like Taymor and her cast kept their eye on the ball. What could have been a gimmicky film is not at all. I was surprised by how emotional it is. Beautiful complex stuff.

Ted said...

I'm so glad you recommended it to me. I was really touched by many moments of it too - such immediate and personal renderings of these well known songs. It really is a testament to what good stuff they wrote, given how they hold up in both a different era and with different performers.

Sam Sattler said...

I haven't seen the film, Ted, but I'll be looking for it now. I am one of the lucky ones who saw the Beatles live fairly early on in their careers as a band (early 1965 in Houston - had to sneak away from my little home town about 100 miles away because my parents would never have approved a road trip of that magnitude - from a town of 12000 souls to a city of a couple of million folks). I never got over it and still consider the Beatles one of my favorite all-time bands.

Ted said...

Wow, Sam - I'm really jealous! Must have been amazing.