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In Tribute to Across the Universe: Forgive Its Flaws and Go See It — Part 2

April 29, 2009

mr. kite

One of the strongest numbers of the movie Across the Universe is “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” sung by Prudence (T.V. Carpio).  The truck carrying army soldiers like newly departed Dan passes by Prudence’s high school in Ohio, where she’s a cheerleader.  The warm song arrangement complements her light and passionate voice perfectly.  The camera zooms in on the star football player and another cheerleader, and Prudence reveals she has a crush.  What starts as one of the more touching scenes in the movie quickly evolves into one of the funniest, as Prudence walks and sings through a field of football players doing drills and throwing one another to the ground as if they were practicing for an upcoming World Wrestling Federation match.

This is the second post in a two-part series in tribute to Across the Universe.  Part 1 is here.

The effectiveness of Prudence’s solo is probably due, in part, to Taymor’s and Goldenthal’s decision to have as much of the singing we hear done on-the-set, as opposed to the actors mouthing the words and dubbing the soundtrack later.

“We made the choice of having as much of the songs – maybe three-quarters of the time – sung to live playback,” Goldenthal said.

This decision helped make Lucy’s “If I Fell” number more believable, too.  Once Lucy joins Jude and Max (who’s dropped out of Princeton) in New York’s Greenwich Village, she falls in love with Jude, expressing it in the song.

jude

“It’s just such a difference having Lucy sing ‘If I Fell,’ being there, acting in front of the camera, it’s something that you can’t replace,” Goldenthal said.

To help Wood show her love for Jude in that number as realistically as possible, Sturgess stood on the other side of the camera so she could sing the song to him.

Across the Universe is far from just a love story, of course—this movie is a social statement on the 1960s.  Soon, Max is drafted into the army to fight in Vietnam and Lucy becomes a political activist.  Jude’s disagreements with Lucy on the effectiveness of her activism ultimately threaten their relationship.

We’re also treated to some trippy sequences that start with Bono as Dr. Robert singing “I Am The Walrus” in an apartment with quintessentially ‘60s décor, eventually leading a very colorful bus full of hippies on a road trip.  Along the way, the colors of the road, trees and the rest of their surroundings go out of whack, preparing us for what’s about to come from Eddie Izzard, who gives arguably the best performance of the movie.

The scene, set at a circus, encapsulates the mixture of planned and unplanned organization Taymor said she used for most scenes.

“You have to [plan scenes out], because you’ve got to decide what part of the lyric you’re going to cover,” Taymor said, but “there has to be room for spontaneous creativity.”

Across the Universe

That combination of planning and spontaneity certainly worked for the number “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” in which Eddie Izzard plays Mr. Kite.  For the first half of the number, he’s surrounded by oddly proportioned “blue people” whose costumes were made to recall the Blue Meanies from the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.

Where are we going,” Jude asks as a group of people walk toward Mr. Kite and the circus tent.

We’re going out of our minds!” Lucy responds fittingly.

Izzard’s performance was improvised, something that’s charmingly clear when you watch the movie.

“In this way Mr. K. will challenge the world!  With the blue people! They’re great! They’re just—chilled out,” Mr. Kite says.

There’s another creative use of lyrics during the number “I Want You,” in which Max makes the transition from New York resident to U.S. soldier fighting in Vietnam.  Once he walks into the building where doctors determine whether he is fit to serve, Uncle Sam pops out of a poster on the wall and reaches for him, saying “I want you—I want you so bad.”  After Max makes it to Vietnam, you’ll see another interesting connection between the visuals and the lyrics in this song at “She’s so heavy.”

Some viewers might justifiably call Across the Universe too long or say that numbers such as “I Want You” could be edited more tightly.  While the movie could have been shorter, there are more than enough imaginative arrangements of Beatles songs and fantastical visuals to balance this imperfection.  For the casual or serious Beatles fan looking for a two-hour escape, Across the Universe is wonderfully entertaining and worth seeing if only to support a director who is willing to take risks.  As Taymor says about the movie’s setting, “The thing that really appeals to me about the time is that people really took chances.”

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One comment

  1. […] in the Journey Zach’s Blog « Take a Quick Trip to Adventureland In Tribute to Across the Universe: Forgive Its Flaws and Go See It — Part 2 » In Tribute to Across the Universe: Forgive Its Flaws and Go See It — Part 1 […]



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