“All You Need Is Love

Across the Universe:
Julie Taymor & The Beatles

By Jen Johans
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*Note: contains plot spoilers*

Like most writers, I feel as though my works are never
finished and often I wish I could go back and rewrite
reviews after I’ve been able to appreciate the films on a
richer level with additional viewings.  With this in mind, it
was with great hesitation that I dug back into the archives
of my website, Film Intuition, to look at what I’d originally
penned on October 15, 2007 in preparation for expanding
my thoughts into a full-length paper on Julie Taymor's
Across the Universe.  And intriguingly, in fact, in the piece
I did admit that, “Some of the choreography is remarkably
inventive and warrants a second viewing just from the
overwhelming finished product that marries both live
action with animation along with perfectly synched

While those words nearly anticipated that I’d regret what
I’d written in the future, surprisingly, when it came to
Across the Universe, I discovered that I had few regrets
about the initial review I’d originally written. And
perhaps even more startlingly, while at this point I’ve seen
the film roughly half a dozen times (as not only a fan but
as a film host who plans on screening the work near the
end of August in my discussion series I created at
Scottsdale Public Library), I realized there’s absolutely no
way to duplicate the sheer enthusiasm I’d felt upon my
first viewing.  Therefore I decided I wouldn't even try, so
to best capture my delight, I’ll begin my exploration of
Julie Taymor’s breathtaking work by quoting directly from
my introduction which illustrates not only my experience
but also a brief overview of the piece:

    “Ever since I first saw the previews for Across the
    Universe that featured Jim Sturgess seated on a
    white sandy British beach singing “Girl” before
    launching into an addictive and magical
    tapestry of Beatles music and dazzling visuals,
    the film has become the movie event I was most
    anticipating in 2007. More than most films,
    musicals must be seen on the big screen and
    Across the Universe is one of those movies that I
    know I’ll remember seeing for the first time for
    years to come.

    "A wholly satisfying work-- Frida director
    Taymor utilizes her roots staging operas and the
    Broadway version of The Lion King with this epic
    period film set in the turbulent 60’s that uses
    more than thirty Beatles songs for its
    inspirations in character, story and locales that
    span Liverpool, Princeton, several states,
    Vietnam and most prominently the lower east
    side of Manhattan.”
    (Film Intuition Review)

Although American by birth, Taymor’s diverse life living
and studying throughout the world is evidenced in every
frame of
Universe, given the brilliant tapestry of
influences from different centuries and countries all
melded together in each successive dazzling sequence.  

With as IMDb notes, a tremendous theatrical background
with training in everything including mime work,
mythology, folklore, Japanese puppetry, and fairy-tales,
the two-time Tony award-winning Taymor discussed her
good fortune of adapting
Universe into the cinematic
medium rather than being stuck with the limitations of
theatre.  She told ComingSoon.net that it wouldn't have
had the epic scope or been made the same way it was, if
the film had been confined to the stage.  

For proof, check out this clip below which opens the film
as the Paul McCartney handsome yet John Lennon
inspired Liverpool based dockworker Jude (
The Other
Boleyn Girl and 21’s Jim Sturgess) recalls the events of the
film which will follow in a flashback.

However, despite the previous clip which illustrates what
can be done in post-production when one has the ability
to play around in the editing room, Taymor did elect to
take some of her theatrical techniques along with her by
recording 90% of the songs live on set (IMDb) instead of
having the actors lip-synch each one as is Hollywood
tradition. And this firm belief in filming things live as
though the actors were starring in a Broadway show meant
that in a complicated duet such as “Strawberry Fields
Forever” which finds one character in America and one in
Vietnam, they’re shot simultaneously with footage being
transposed on another so that it all unfolds as it happens
in a Beatles homage (DVD).  

In fact, instead of a straight table reading, Taymor
required months of musical rehearsals with the cast
ahead of time and as the sound mixer noted on the DVD,
regarding her tendency to show up with a new idea nearly
every day, undaunted by the prospect of constant re-
imagination and writing, Taymor is “probably the most
creative director I’ve ever worked with.”  Hoping for as she
said an “explosion of color and emotion,” Taymor proved
extremely unafraid of experimentation in terms of
staging, cinematography and throughout every aspect of
the process that makes the film a truly sensory experience
where one is able to peel away more petals as if it’s a
flower with each new viewing.

While to the untrained film-going eye, little touches
utilized throughout such as the one in “Strawberry Fields”
may feel simply natural, deceptively simple or glossed
over as we’re swept up in her mind-boggling artistry, to
those with backgrounds in film and theatre, one can only
remain in awe of the boldness, tenacity, and courage of
this wholly original work. Completely, caught up in the
artistry, I’d sung her praises early on in the hopes of an
Oscar push, writing:

    “Additionally, if there’s any justice, it should
    also begin raking in the accolades and
    nominations for a much deserving Julie Taymor
    whose work recalls the same kind of Oscar for
    Special Recognition that Gene Kelly received for
    the epic ballet sequence in An American in
    Paris. While as a musical buff, it’s not lightly do
    I put another individual in the same category of
    cinematic genius as Kelly, keep in mind that he
    received the award for an approximately ten
    minute sequence whereas Taymor’s film runs a
    stunning two hours plus.”
    (Film Intuition Review Database)

For an example of Kelly's impressive sequence, check out
this brief excerpt so that you'll have it in mind as you read
the rest of the paper:

Although as Sharon Waxman of
The New York Times
reported, not everyone was as thrilled by Taymor’s
experimentation and big budget art-film approach as in a
shockingly unprecedented power play, before the film was
scheduled to open, the Sony-based Revolution Studios
producer Joe Roth seized control of the cutting room and
made his own thirty minute shorter version of the film.  
Although, as Waxman continued, according to a source
close to the director, this move left Taymor reeling and
“considering taking her name off the movie,” ultimately,
although she hasn’t commented on the situation, the final
release is Taymor’s original vision.  

While critical reaction was mixed overall, the film did
appear on some notable Top Ten Lists and earned one of
its greatest champions in Roger Ebert who wrote that
Universe “is the kind of movie you watch again, like
listening to a favorite album.”

And indeed, Beatles fans will find the veritable
“Where’s Waldo?” like homage of
Universe overwhelming
as Beatles references can be found in every single frame of
the film from lyrics spoken as dialogue, plot points, even
down to the names of  the primary characters.  The cast
includes: Jim Sturgess’s mop-topped Jude (“Hey Jude”),
Joe Anderson’s mischievous Maxwell (“Maxwell’s Silver
Thirteen star Evan Rachel Wood’s sweet,
pretty Lucy (“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”) T.V.
Carpio’s sexual orientation troubled “Prudence,” (“Dear
Prudence”), Martin Luther McCoy’s Jimi Hendrix inspired  
Jo-Jo (“Get Back”) Dana Fuchs' Janis Joplin clone Sadie
(“Sexy Sadie”).  

Despite this, first and foremost it’s an original story that’s
far more compelling than the one created for the
disastrous ABBA musical
Mamma Mia!
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Text Only (c) Jen Johans.   filmintuition.com

In the spirit of the 1960's and to prepare you for
Universe, I begin with an explosion of color,
multimedia and emotion in a collage set-up which
vanishes as you continue on into the film and article.
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When originally posted in
2008, the embedded
videos we found online
were all in working order.
However, due to Sony
Pictures copyright
violation, a majority of the
clips have now been
removed from YouTube.
We've chosen to leave all
of the original videos
throughout the piece to
give you a reference point
of where to follow along
when you watch the film on
your own to best
appreciate the essay.
Film Intuition
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