Across the Universe (2007) possesses a loosely plotted story, structured around a selection of Beatles songs. The numbers are in the main sung by actors, who for the most part aprise themselves astoundingly well.
Right from the opening scene we suspect we're into something good, when the character of Jude (Jim Sturgess) sings "Girl" with enough of the original Beatles arrangement to be nostalgic, but sufficient personal interpretation to be nothing so banal as American Idol on Beatles Week doing their national karaoke finals.
In fact, a token non-actor "singer" performance from Bono ("Lucy in the Sky") is forgettable, but the actors for whom singing is presumedly not their primary schtick are mostly startlingly good, & only one or at most two numbers get butchered. On the other hand, most of the actors can't sing as well as the two real singers in the cast, Dana Fuchs & Joe Cocker.
Jude's a dock worker in Liverpool with an artist's disposition, soon heading for the States (after singing "All My Loving" to his girlfriend played by Lisa Hogg) to track down his American father (Robert Clohessy). In America he becomes pals with borderline delinquent & screw-up student Max (Joe Anderson) whose sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) Jude is destined to encounter most meaningfully, to hell with the girlfriend back home in Liverpool.
Lucy sings "Hold Me Tight" for her initial boyfriend Daniel (Spencer Liff); plus, sung ironically, "It Won't Be Long" celebrates their future reunion, though in fact he will be a casualty of the Viet Nam War. Jude's song after meeting Lucy is "I've Just Seen a Face." Later he'll sing "If I Fell" to her, as their romance kicks in.
The choreography by Daniel Ezralow is something special. It is frequently so naturalistic that one could almost believe there are places in the world where if you sing well enough, everyone on the street will go into dance routines with you. It is artiface with a conviction lacking in most musicals.
It is furthermore a period piece that follows its characters from the naivete early in the '60s to protests against the Viet Nam War to the psychedelic era. Since the Beatles were the soundtrack of a decade, it is the perfect music for the adventures that unfold
When Prudence (T. V. Carpio), an Asian girl with one of the best voices in the film, has her scene with "I Want to Hold Your Hand," she sings it in honor of the girl she has a crush on. We get rather too little of Prudence, an under-utilized character, & a bit too much of Jude & Lucy, whose romance is frankly a little banal.
Lovelorn by nature, Prudence shows up in New York city to rent a room in the extensive loft belonging to Sadie (Dana Fuchs), where Jude & Max are likewise living. Sadie has a band, for which her boyfriend Jojo (Martin Luther imperfectly channelling Jimi Hendrix) plays guitar.
Jojo's main number will be "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Sadie rules two of the best performances in the film, a great bluesy take on "Why Don't We Do It in the Road" & "Don't Let Me Down," channeling Janis Joplin, if not Etta James.
Quite obviously Max, Prudence, Sadie, Jojo, Jude & Lucy have names from Beatles songs, but not all those songs will be heard (I really wanted to hear "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" while Max was in 'Nam, but no go). One that we do hear is "Dear Prudence," sung to Prudence when she locks herself in her room to pine for unrequited love of Sadie.
As the tale progresses Max will be drafted but end up in a veteran's hospital singing "Happiness is a Warm Gun" while his sister joins the anti-war movement & has "Revolution" sung at her angrily by Jude.
And on it goes, with many more songs & effective moments, such as Eddy Izzard in a comedy psychedelic sequence singing "For the Benefit of Mr. Kite," as Izzard dances with characters reminiscent of the cartoon Yellow Submarine (1968). And one of the the most powerful bits within the film transforms "I Want You" into a Draft theme song, with a monstrous & beautiful dance sequence.
Or Joe Cocker as the bum on the subway platform does a tremendous version of "Come Together." He has additional cameos as a pimp and as a hippy, but it's the homeless guy in the subway he plays best. He was born to play homeless guys.
On one level Across the Universe is just a collection of music videos. Yet it does have a coherent set of interweaving tales as we follow the intersecting lives of the six primary characters.
A truly perverted though beautiful music video, Rufus Wainwright stars with Dakota Fanning in the award-winning Across the Universe (2002), promo video for the soundtrack to the feature film I Am Sam (2001).
The film's soundtrack incorporated a number of Beatles covers by divers performers, some exceedingly well done, none so well sung as Rufus's cover of Universe.
In the context of I Am Sam the intent for the video would be to extend the idea of Dakota as Lucy loving her father Sam, who takes excellent loving care of her though he is mentally retarded. She is more adult than her father, & behaves accordingly.
As a stand-alone video, however, there is no hint of fatherly meaning anywhere, & Dakota has been directed to sigh & take sensual adult postures that are dangerously close to outright erotica, & Rufus most certainly is not her daddy in any genetic sense.
The visual content of the video is a wondrously strange combination of Kafkaesque men in dark suits & glasses & hats defying gravity (standing perfectly still adrift above sidewalks or between alley walls or high in an overcast sky), into which gloomly world strolls the brightly pinafored Dakota with red balloon.
She is being attracted to the point of seduction by Rufus's beautiful rendition of John Lennon's great song.
This is one of the best renditions of this often-covered number, & the video itself is one of simple beauty. The still very young Fanning looks awe-struck & in love as she tries to get closer & closer to the source of the song, making eye-contact with distinctly bedroom eyes & date-rape drugged expression with Rufus's almost-angry hence threatening returned gaze.
This is no accident; it's furtive child porn, though I'm sure Rufus had no idea it would be edited as if about lovers coming together.
But if a novel like Lolita can be a great work of art, I guess a music video should be permitted to traipse along the edge of deplorable subject matter too, if it can be this prettily done. But that final set-piece of the child using her magic balloon(s) to bring her adult lover down to earth to be with her, ewww, sicko, a perfect pedarastic fantasy of the child begging for it, the adult remaining completely innocent of causation.
A vastly more appalling music video, not for its sick subtext but for the pure awfulness of the cover, is the music video featuring Anja Rupel singing Across the Universe (2003) for the industrial band Laibach. Laibach's music is usually harsher than this. This one's kind of like being subjected to Handel's Messiah covered by Abba.
The disjointed imagery begins with a child's hand doing cave-man art, then immediately to boys with their shirts off fake-skiing on a fake mountain.
We then see Anja Rupel singing, together with a chorus of four boys who perhaps represent the guys from Laibach. The sound gives the impression of Rupel's own voice quadruple-tracked to achieve something worthy of a Victoria's Secret advertising soundtrack.
The boys in brown suits look like Nazi Youth, an image underscored by the symbol of the flying wolf carved on a wall behind the lead vocalist.
This rendition is so stinkoid that even Laibach's ennunciation "EE-mages of bwokken light which lies befoe me like a MEEL-yun eyes" grates like a monkey playing an oboe.
At one point she's standing amidst white turkeys, & I thought, wow, someone's making an editorial comment even as this is being filmed! In case the commentary that this performance is a white turkey was mistakenly thought to be accidental, the video cuts from the turkeys to the waddle-sized adams apples of the boys.
The recurring images of skiing (faked & actual) seems to imply that Laibach thought the film was about scoring big at the winter Olympics, or at the 1936 Olympics. At the very end of this "pretty" mess, however, is a crazy-looking Rasputinesque bastard (Milan Fras) who "hums" into a microphone like a totalitarian dictator trying to hypnotize the masses. That, at least, was funny.
[Footnote: I wrote this review before I knew Laibach actually does possess Nazi sympathies which they mistakenly believe is punk. I had assumed they were just ignorant, but it's totally intentional. The Slovak group took its name from Germany's imposed name for the Slovenian capitol during WWII; the band farquently performs in nazi uniforms; & they've incorporated a who series of Nazi emblems in their videos & stage performances. Man oh man am I glad they suck so hard, as it would've been just so creepy if I'd liked them for a half-minute.]
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