We finally got around to watching "Across the Universe" last night--the Julie Taymor movie based on songs by The Beatles. Since we don't go "out" to the movies very much, we tend to rely on their availability on Netflix, which naturally involves some delay. This, particularly, is not one that's best seen on a television screen--though ours is of adequate, if not excessive size. The play of image, color and movement cries out for the big screen but, well, we made do with what we have...
... and loved it. I generally get nervous when artists in one medium start messing around with art that's generated in another, and part of the reason for the delay mentioned above was frankly my own hesitation about what I feared might be the Hollywoodification of a phenomenon that meant much to me in the Sixties. As I'm sure for many others, The Beatles were in good part responsible for the change in my life from shrink-wrapped British public schoolboy and somewhat snobby intellectual into, well, I suppose kind of a hippie. Or as close as a shrink-wrapped British public schoolboy could get. I flirted with marijuana and LSD. I expanded my mind. So to speak.
It was fun. (It was also quite painful, as I recall!) From my first encounter with The Beatles as a grammar school teacher, shocked by the rebellious length of their hair and the freedom of their ways, to the time of their last concert on that rooftop on Abbey Road, I was a fan--and their progress reflected in many strange ways the course of my personal life.
So I brought a big stake to this movie, and was pleasantly surprised to find myself, after the first few minutes of suspicious reserve, thoroughly engaged. I loved the way the story kept shifting around, refusing conventional linear narrative and yet returning often enough to its theme to be emotionally coherent. I loved the easy movement from real time to dream time, from real life to dance, from speech to song. I loved the bold use of image, color and rhythm which made of the screen a painting in action--as, in one scene, the splash and fury of action painting itself. Even the psychedelic scenes--hard to accomplish without degenerating into cliche--worked well for me.
What also worked well was the casual play with the history of the sixties--from race riots to Vietnam protests, from pop art to the music scene. The movie felt free to evoke characters in new, an-historical contexts--Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix--and mingle them in emotionally and aesthetically satisfying ways. It recaptured the spirit of the times, the joyful excesses along with the real agonies, the two sides of that always elusive coin of the "love" that John Lennon preached.
Clearly based on the Liverpuddlian Lennon himself, the main character manages to be charming and, at times, indignantly childish and provocative. The support characters engage us with their struggle for freedom, their spirit of fun, their sheer energy and verve. The love story blends fantasy with reality in finely-tuned balance, and its outcome satisfies the soul and brings a tear to the eye. Love, appropriately, triumphs over discord and strife. And all in all, the movie provides a delightful and thoroughly entertaining experience.