last night i went to see across the universe with coiledsoul and her pal from out of town. we met at the farmers market/grove for dinner first. i arrived a little early and strolled down the main thoroughfare of the grove. in the distance the horizon was still a golden pink, but above my head the stars were coming out. ah, the magic hour. i walked to the farmers mkt and waited at the rendezvous point outside the greek restaurant, sitting on a stone bench and watching the night take over the sky, a half moon presiding silently over the transition.
presently my friends arrived, and we went to the venerable gumbo pot. i had a delicious shrimp po'boy and some just-ok "cajun hushpuppies" -- deep-fried cornmeal balls with bacon, spices, onion that were very dense and heavy.
while dining on the patio we were "entertained" by the karaoke hoe-down, apparently a regular phenomenon. the first contestant was a young man who sang something that seemed to be from rent or some other recent musical, and he was just terrible. the song went on for, like, 10 minutes. his mom was really proud, though. next came "kevin," a big beefy guy who was in a posse of midwestern types sporting bright yellow drew carey t-shirts. he'd just won a car on the price is right, and apparently he was going to celebrate by singing "mack the knife" (bobby darin version). he was more enthusiastic than brilliant, but at least he sang on key and had moves. when he was done, i told my companions, "it's not gonna get any better than that." and the next guy up proved me right with a horrible rendition of an elvis presley song, so bad that i can't even remember what song.
we fled to the movie theater and soon were planted in front of across the universe.
directed by julie taymor of broadway's lion king fame, it's a breezy musical pastiche of the '60s, set to beatles songs. it had a couple of moments, but mainly it managed to trivialize both the beatles and the '60s. no mean feat, i suppose, but not one worth achieving.
it's the tale of several diverse cliches who end up living in a greenwich village flat together: liverpudlian sailor jude (pictured above), who jumps ship in america to find his dad, a WWII u.s. soldier who abandoned his mom while jude was still in the womb; privileged princeton student max, who befriends jude before rebelling against his parents, dropping out, and ending up in the 'nam; max's sister lucy, whose high school boyfriend goes proudly off to war and comes back in a box, fueling her increasingly manic activism; jojo, who leaves behind the detroit race riots to play guitar in nyc, because "music is the only thing that makes sense anymore"; prudence, asian-american lesbian cheerleader who flees ohio for a more liberating lifestyle in the big city; and sadie, the (of course) sexy singer in a village nightclub and landlady to the whole bunch.
there are more minor characters called molly, dr. robert (played by bono -- yechhh), martha, julia, etc. there are cameos by joe cocker as a bum in the subway; eddie izzard as mr. kite; and salma hayek as a nurse. one of my companions commented that this movie is the most deserving recent candidate for the "rocky horror" treatment, and i couldn't agree more. the more i think about it, the worse the movie becomes.
it put the beatles' lyrics -- often used to reflect the inner feelings of the characters, which made actual acting less necessary -- to a few amusing uses, like the introduction of prudence, who sits in the bleachers of her high school football field, gazing at the quarterback and the head cheerleader, yearningly warbling "i want to hold your hand" -- and then the QB walks out of the shot, leaving the cheerleader to be serenaded. it turned "i want you/she's so heavy" into a nightmarish vision of uncle sam posters coming to life and menacing the draftees at their physical, which was kinda cool, but it went right over the top with the scene of these same young men hauling the statue of liberty, bent nearly double with its weight and groaning "she's so heavy." ack.
probably the most moving sequence was the juxtaposition of the detroit riots and the resulting funeral of jojo's little brother with the funeral of lucy's boyfriend, while a gospel choir sang "let it be." this managed to emphasize the multiple tracks of upheaval and tragedy in this era, how two worlds so far apart were woven together, bonded by the tyranny of the status quo. the words "let it be" seemed appropriate to show what was happening and would keep happening, leading to more demonstrations, civil-rights struggles, war deaths, assassinations, families torn apart, minds destroyed, hearts forever broken ... as well as the more joyful elements of free thinking, questioning authority, and standing up for what you believe in.
but the counterculture was made to look at once hopeless and quaint: idealistic and ineffective, and ultimately no better than the authorities they were fighting. which was, to put it mildly, a distortion. the movie made it seem as though those times were just about colorful, funky storefronts and groovy music and impromptu hippie parades. (i realize this isn't the first time that's happened, but it's still a turnoff.) and there were way too many dumb lines, the product of people not being able to resist having characters actually say stuff like "she came in through the bathroom window" and (about max) "who knows, maybe he murdered his grandmother with a hammer" and even "jude, jude, judey judey judey!!" groaningly bad stuff.
it was awfully facile at points (see strawberries impaled on canvas above, part of a whole segment connecting maimed strawberries to vietnam carnage). and what we were left with was a silly pronunciation that "love is all you need" -- specifically, jude's love for lucy, but also ... i dunno. like i said, the movie made the protest culture seem impotent, and it kind of bypassed all that messy social-change stuff in favor of championing solidarity in the pursuit of romantic fulfillment: that is, when everyone bands together to tell the cops that jude is up on the roof singing about love, man, they don't start bashing heads like throughout the rest of the movie but let him serenade his girl. "oh, well, then -- if it's love he's singing about, ok. sorry to have bothered you!" (not an actual line from the movie.)
the idea of the beatles' music as a common cultural experience seemed cheapened when used as a backdrop to a drippy love story. a side plot about jojo (who's a sorta stand-in for hendrix) and sadie (a joplin avatar) getting caught up in, but ultimately escaping, the ol' art-versus-commerce train wreck just made the gloss of it all even more distasteful. "and then there was like the whole selling-out, thing, man! baaaad trip." (also not actual dialogue.) for meta interpretations of the beatles and their impact, i preferred the more abstract ruminations of cirque du soleil's love.
after the movie we went out for a couple of drinks and discussed the film, as well as doctor who, torchwood, comics, and other important topics.
on the way home i rumbled up fairfax and saw a bright light looming above the hills. "wow, look at that moon," i thought for a nanosecond, then remembered it had only been a half moon when i was walking in the grove. this light was far too harsh and blinding -- it wasn't a celestial body nor some UFO coming in for a landing, but probably the biggest lamp i have ever seen, suspended above this giant estate in the hills, which often seems to be rented out for parties or shoots or other events. it was a bit of a mindfuck -- so big and bright. it illuminated the curvy walls of the structure like a massive streetlight or, in fact, the moon itself. i felt sorry for the neighbors.