Across the Universe
starring Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther McCoy, T.V. Carpio and Joe Cocker and Bono
screenplay by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais
directed by Julie Taymor
I am a Beatlemaniac. So naturally the title of this film grabbed me from the moment I heard it - last year, long before I saw it on DVD. Across the Universe only came out on DVD here in the week of December 15th. It’s not about The Beatles. It’s a Coming of Age movie, a rock and roll musical like Hair, set in the sixties to The Beatles’ songs and featuring young people who have nothing to do with The Fab Four. It is a love story that follows the relationship with his American girlfriend of a Scouser immigrant (Jim Sturgess, 21). It’s good, but I didn’t think it was great. I might watch it again - maybe. One of the most interesting things for me was listening to the names of the characters - all taken from Beatles’ lyrics, like Rita, Sadie, Max, Lucy, Jude, Jo-Jo, etc. - trying to remember what songs they came from, and then also trying to anticipate what songs I would hear next in the scene. The songs are all cover versions of Lennon-McCartney tunes, so there was enough variation in the musical intros and their overall sound to let me wonder what was being segued into the story.
I was beside myself with giddy excitement when I recognized Joe Cocker in it (he had three roles as the Bum, the Pimp, and the Mad Hippie, but his voice and singing style made him instantly recognizable even though he’s a pretty old guy now). I was watching it with my 16-year-old daughter - she just turned on to The Beatles in the last year,
“It’s Joe Cocker! Joe Cocker! Look! Joe Cocker! Don’t you know who Joe Cocker is?! My God, you don’t know anything!!”
And like that. I thought I recognized Bono as Dr. Robert, and discovered in the credits that I was right. I practically screamed at my daughter again,
“It’s Bono! Look! It’s Bono! Bono!! Don’t you know who Bono is? My God, you don’t know anything!”
It was interesting for me to see and hear Beatles’melodies and lyrics that I love being applied to new emotional situations. I turned on to The Beatles when I was exposed to them at just the right time - a vulnerable time - as a teen. I thought their music and lyrics were saying important things in a beautiful way that I could connect with because they reflected, or coincided with my own experience and feelings. In times of stress music can fuse with Life itself, and our feelings about and memories of the music we love become particular for us. For the same reasons my tastes changed, without rejecting or abandoning The Beatles, when I was a college student. But seeing the words and melodies applied to different situations and people - albeit fictional ones - gave me much to consider.
Across the Universe reminded me a lot of the movie version of Hair, starring Treat Williams as the man who accidentally goes off to war after taking the place in the induction line for a buddy who just fell in love with some groovy hippie chick (Beverly DiAngelo). But as for Coming of Age movies from, or set in that period, nothing beats Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon’s Harold and Maude (set to the music of Cat Stevens).
As far as movies about The Beatles are concerned, I still favor the 1978 comedy I Wanna Hold Your Hand (another Coming of Age film, directed by Robert Zemeckis and co-written by Zemeckis and Robert Gale - the pair who gave us Back to the Future), starring Nancy Allen Bobby Di Cicco, and Eddie Deezen. Eddie Deezen is a memorable actor if not a great one. (He is the kind of guy whose face and voice you always remember so that when you see him you think, “Oh, that guy again! Who is that?”) He is the ultimate movie nerd. I mean, his looks and his voice always pigeon hole him as the nerd in films. And what a nerd! He is weird in the school of Steve Busciemi weirdness. I was such a Beatlemaniac in those days that one of my brothers said that Eddie Deezen’s character was exactly like my personality - at least when it came to The Beatles. I think he said that after watching the scene where Deezen sneaks into the New York City hotel where The Beatles were staying in February 1964 (during their Ed Sullivan Show appearances) and started ripping strips of carpet off the floor because Ringo had actually walked on it. (It was a parody of the real practice of cutting up The Beatles’ hotel pillow cases into tiny squares and selling them to fans. The Beatles hair had actually touched the linen!)
Eric Idle’s faux Beatles documentary, The Rutles, is even more hilarious, but for different reasons. The Rutles were so good that if you did not know they were a joke in the first place you might take them as a real group. The same is true of Spinal Tap.