Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"across the universe" dvd - movie review

last night i watched "across the universe" and just had to post a review of this remarkable movie. even more remarkable is that before saturday, i had never heard of it. my wife brought the dvd home from blockbuster (plus the one i watched, "into the wilderness") and said it was about the beatles. then my friend richard ("byquist") recommended it. that combination brought this 2007 movie to my attention.

after a quick google search to learn something about it, the prospects hardly seemed bright that it was the kind of movie that would interest me. superficially, just from the cover art, it looked like an ordinary date movie ("chick flick" for the politically incorrect). the second strike was the word "musical" lodged in all the short summaries of the story. still, i'd at least give a beatled theme movie a quick look.

i knew at the outset that the movie wove 40+ beatles tunes into the story line. at first i hoped that it (optimistically) would be like the "quadrophenia" - a period piece about london mods, maybe even as edgy as "blowup" or the original "alfie," with michael caine. but the gritty working class english scenes only occupied the set-up, and jude's, the protagonist, brief return home at the end of the story. the bulk of this movie takes place in 60's america.

even then (since it starts off in the early 6o's) it seemed to unfolded like combination "animal house" (jude at princeton) and "that thing you do" (early 60's atmospherics). but then i got on board for the magic carpet ride (to inject a completely non-beatle vibe) and the movie took off. it suddenly morphed into a beatles driven "forrest gump." jude finds himself on an unwitting trajectory across the major counter-cultural highlights of the 60's.

the tom hanks "detached" forrest is replicated in jude. but his detachment from events is literal on the one hand, he's in the u.s. without a visa, thus not subject to the draft and he's at risk of deportation. jude is figuratively detached, on the other, as a blue collar shipyard worker with artistic skills contrasting with the upper class college kids he takes up. he's neither into their intellectualism, nor their political protests against the war.

about the events themselves. two songs spring to mind - "american pie" and "we didn't start the fire" - both which reel off historical events, the former cryptically, and the latter declaimed. to pick a handful of symbols - sadie (representing janis joplin) and her boyfriend (representing jimi hendrix). the draft notice received by max and his trip to the induction office. the group at the acid test, on the bus, and then at timothy leary's upstate new york retreat.

in reverse order, we see ken kesey's psychedelic bus, "further," drive by them on their way to a "party." suddenly we find them at no ordinary party, but an "acid test," with bono as kesey. then, after drinking lsd-laced punch, they're riding the bus with the merry pranksters for what becomes a "magical mystery tour." on the bus we catch sight of a writer, furiously typing away in the midst of the madness around him. he represented tom wolfe, and was typing what would become "the electric kool-aid acid test." another character on the bus, wearing an american flag shirt, is intended as "wavy gravy."

they they tumble off the bus (and one can catch the reference to neal cassady, the bus driver, by noticing his beat attire, contrasted with the 60's outfits everyone else wore) at timothy leary's upstate new york "research" center. the allusions keep coming fast and furiously - as if we had suddenly switched from lsd to speed - with bono (kesey) denied a welcome by geary (leary). i was astonished to find this level of realism in this movie because that scene mirrored the real life "unfriendliness" between kesey and leary.

moving to max and the to draft induction: this entire scene was lifted straight out of "hair!" however, this wasn't your father's version of a hair musical number. the entire production was reworked and seemed to come straight out of "pink floyd the wall!" the futuristic military-industrial complex dramatically came to life as the draftees were cut and pasted (literally) through the process. an eerie interpretation of the seemingly anonymous big brother assembly line that generated the newly minted soldiers shipped out to vietnam.

it's amazing to see how the circle is closed to end the movie - via sadie. again the historical realism is striking - we see sadie argue with the record agent over his insistence that she drop her band (big brother and the holding company) and go solo. the big surprise is when she morphs (figuratively) into the beatles. this is symbolized, literally, when jude designs the label for her newly formed record company - strawberry (which here, symbolizes apple records, but could on another, be simply an allusion to "strawberry fields forever"). finally, the symbolism is unmistakable at sadie's (the beatle's final) public performance on the roof of the strawberry (apple) records building!

so much more can should be written about this movie. here i just quickly mention some high points. i was hooked at the start when jack kerouac was mentioned at the thanksgiving dinner table! yes there is a plot, yes there is great (beatles) music (and muscial numbers), and there are stunning special effects. in fact, my only regret is not having had the opportunity to see this movie in a theatre.


DawnB said...

Good luck and have a great Race on Monday. Nothing but good vibes coming your way. Have fun.

rundangerously said...

thanks dawn!

hope to see you in norwalk for don's mother's day 10k! good luck at the jersey marathon!