Friday, November 2, 2007

Movies: Across the Universe

I think it's basically impossible to make a movie musical that isn't completely retarded. In fact, regular musicals are pretty retarded (except for Cats), because people who walk and talk don't regularly and randomly break out into dance and song to express their innermost feelings. (The reason Cats isn't completely retarded, therefore, is because it doesn't feature any people, and the singing and dancing never breaks back into walking and talking. And if you think it's pretty retarded that people are dressed up like cats who are singing and dancing, then there is no hope for you.) Movie musicals usually make the mistake of including non-singing and non-dancing sequences (that is, walking and talking sequences), which, by their relation, make the singing and dancing sequences look awkward and inorganic. If a movie musical provided seamless singing and dancing, it would not be completely retarded, the way Romance and Cigarettes was, and Dream Girls too (I haven't seen the new Hairspray, but I assume it is the same).

The same mistake is made in Across the Universe, which certainly is the reason why critics have their panties tied in a knot over the movie. Because it is visually perfect, there is no other reason for frustration (perhaps the plot is thin, but clearly the film is not about plot). The plot is this: it is the early sixties, and a group of young people, each by his or her own compulsive accident, comes together (forgive the Beatles pun) in New York, where they have some madcap and heart-rending adventures, motivated mostly by drugs (the madcap) and the Vietnam war (the heart-rending). There is a lukewarm, childish love story (actually, there are two). Anyway, who cares. Like I said, the movie isn't about the plot.

The movie is about Beatles songs (I like the Beatles a lot, but, well, whatever) and, as all Julie Taymour movies are, about stunning, drop dead, eat your hat before you drop dead visuals. Just as there are walking and talking parts and singing and dancing parts, there are quotidian, naturalistic shots, and there are artsy, surrealistic shots. But even the quotidian shots (a boy sitting on the beach, for example, or walking through a cobble stoned alley) are really quite of knock-your-socks-off sort, perhaps more so than some of the artsier sequences (the underwater ballet, for example). The best is the Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite! sequence (Eddie Izzard is Mr. Kite), in which flat paper cutouts gain three-dimensionality and then flatten again, while a contingent of Blue Meanies parade around the screen. Less interesting, perhaps, is the sequence in which Bono portrays Dr. Robert at a psychedelic party (the psychedelic party in Midnight Cowboy, filmed so many years ago with far less technology at hand, is far more psychedelic).

Anyway, if you walk into this film expecting anything in particular, you will likely walk out confused and disappointed, and it's not a film for purists (Beatles songs sung by non-Beatles might offend some fans; as will the love affair between the Janis Joplin-esque character and the Jimi Hendrix-esque character). However, if you like to look at beautiful things unfold between your eyes (strawberries nailed to a canvas, anyone?) you will be as forgiving as I am about the musical silliness.

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