Film & Discussion
7 PM Tuesday, January 16
1225 Elm St, Cincinnati, 45202
"Bold, beautiful, visually enchanting ... an audacious marriage of cutting-edge visual techniques, heart-warming performances, 1960s history and the Beatles songbook."
~ Roger Ebert
Across the Universe was a New York Times Critics' Pick, and for good reason: the ability to artfully convey the socio-cultural-political legacy of the 1960s is a major accomplishment. By the way, it is a musical and a love story. And, it's driven by the lyrics of The Beatles, arguably the most accomplished and prolific songwriters of the last sixty years. Wrapping this all in a single package is a high-risk endeavor that few filmmakers would attempt.
Thanks to a highly original concept, strong performances, terrifically integrated songs, exceptional production values and Julie Taymor's inspired direction, Across the Universe is brilliant. The choreography is inventive, the editing and transitions are superb and the film's remarkable ability to weave between whimsical musical and powerful drama commands the viewer's attention. It is entertaining, genuine and sobering – tracking the times as well as the evolution of the Beatles' music.
What makes the film unique is Taymor's creative reimagining of the Beatles' most iconic and diverse musical work from the period. "The original Beatles songs are perfect," she said in an interview – "Perfectly arranged, perfectly sung. That's why the movie versions need to be complete departures." The unexpected interpretations of those lyrics add to our appreciation of the story, American history and the lasting impact of Beatles music.
Transitioning from the innocence of the early sixties, the film follows a boy from Liverpool and girl from Dayton Ohio as they fall in love, are swept up and come apart in the evolving culture framed by the war in Vietnam, the struggle for civil rights, protests, the nascent women's movement, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Julie Taymor brings a socio-political edge that makes the story as relevant now as the decade it depicts.
The range of characters echoes the range of the songs, bringing diversity in gender, race, ethnicity and lifestyles. The principal cast ‐ Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther McCoy, T.V. Carpio – is young, 19 to 30 years old at the time of filming. Relatively unknown at the time, they were selected via audition for singing and acting ability. Plus, there are cameos from established stars – Joe Cocker, Bono, Salma Hayek and Eddie Izzard.
Obviously, Across the Universe resonates with those who lived through the sixties. But Taymor also wants to reach people born later: "I really want younger people to see the passion in this movie ... the events and the people getting involved in those events did happen and we need to be reminded of those times. You throw up images that are familiar to people, but the context is what makes people see them differently. So, you see it with fresh eyes, and therefore a fresh mind and fresh heart. And hopefully, you change a little, you're transformed."
There are joyous street dancing scenes, clever and colorful set designs, and breathtaking visual compositions, ranging from the muted blues and grays of a Liverpool club to the solarized colors of Richard Avedon's Beatle portraits to stylized puppets and animation. Taymor's imagination is boundless. Examples: The interpretation of I Wanna Hold Your Hand as a sad ballad of unrequited love. The up-tempo treatment of I Just Saw a Face. The army induction center and fields of Vietnam in I Want You (She's So Heavy). The deplorable fate of returning Vietnam veterans in Happiness is a Warm Gun. Joe Cocker singing Come Together and Bono's rendition of I Am the Walrus. And many more.
Perhaps most powerful interpretation is Carol Woods' passionate gospel version of Let It Be. Juxtaposing the funeral of Lucy's high school sweetheart killed in Vietnam with the funeral of Jo-Jo's little brother killed in the Detroit riots will rip your heart out. For a sample, watch the rehearsal clip below. It's also a nod to the fact that the Beatles were inspired by American black music, as is the inclusion of Martin Luther McCoy as Jo-Jo, performing in the style of Jimi Hendrix.
The Beatles recorded for only seven years, 1963-1970, yet gave us over 200 timeless songs that became an important soundtrack of our lives. They brought social consciousness to pop culture and as the times changed dramatically their music evolved as well.
Sony, which owns the Beatles library, offered Julie Taymor the opportunity to do something special. She reimagined 33 Beatles songs to tell a story about love, war, revolution and peace, capsulizing a history of the generation that came of age in the turbulent '60s. Anyone familiar with the Beatles' melodic music will find the visionary interpretations of their lyrics to be extraordinary.
Music composers and producers T-Bone Burnett, Elliott Goldenthal and Teese Gohl ensure this is not a music video or a fluffy pop concoction like Moulin Rouge. Rather, the Beatles' lyrics fully inhabit this love letter to a generation, it's ideals and causes. In the film, songs often travel from one character to another, one scene to another, across time and space. In a stroke of genius, Taymor and Goldenthal had women sing songs that were once the province of male-only voices.
In traditional musicals, the story often stops when someone starts singing, but in Across the Universe the lyrics tell the story and the music moves the plot forward. Taymor deliberately limits spoken dialog, expressly because the story is in the lyrics. To keep the singing flowing seamlessly with the acting, the film uses vocal tracks recorded live on the set rather than a studio version, almost unheard of in films of today.
Full Trailer, 2-minute version
Julie Taymor, 1-minute profile of best-known works
Let It Be - full version
Charlie Rose interviews Julie Taymor
Across The Universe, director Julie Taymor; 2007; USA; 133 minutes; Rated PG.
Tuesday, January 16, 7:00 PM, in the beautiful, newly renovated Memorial Hall, 1225 Elm St, Cincinnati 45202. Map and Parking Info
Post-Film Discussion Leader: Dr. John Alberti
Tickets for the event (social hour with cash bar, film, post-film discussion) are:
Adult general admission, $10 advance, $15 door.
Adult reserved boxes, $15 advance, $20 door.
Student/ArtsPass general admission, $8 advance, $12 door — must show valid ID upon arrival.
All tickets available online and at (859) 957-FILM.
Seating Comfort — Some patrons have found the wooden seats to be somewhat unforgiving. You may bring a cushion with you to the screening.
QUESTIONS? Please or call (859) 957 3456.
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There is so much to feel, see, hear and think about in Across The Universe. For more than three decades, John Alberti has been immersed in the study of communication and its impact on popular culture. We're honored to have him talk with our audience about the fine points of the film and the socio-cultural elements that surround it.
Dr. John Alberti has taught at Northern Kentucky University for twenty-five years, with focus on the relationship between American literature and popular culture as evidenced in cinema, television and music.
He is currently chair of the English department and director of the Cinema Studies program at NKU, and has been instrumental in bringing the Festival of New French Films to campus in recent years.
John is a graduate of the University of Southern California (BA, English, 1981) and UCLA (MA, English 1984 and Ph.D., English, 1989). He recently authored Screen Ages: A Survey of American Cinema, and his current projects include work on gender in American cinema and television; writing in the digital age; and the movie adaptations of the Harry Potter series.