Across the Universe
Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, and Julie Taymor, 2007
This is a musical done entirely with covers of Beatles songs. I didn't
like it very much. Why not?
It's not that I don't like the Beatles. I love the Beatles. In fact,
my senior year of high school I was freakin' obsessive about them and
didn't really listen to anything else. So is it a purism thing? Like,
I can't stand to hear these beloved classics performed by other singers?
Nah, it's either; I certainly
had no objection to the way Pleasantville
concludes with a Fiona Apple cover of the song this movie is named after,
for instance. I thought about this for a bit, and I think I figured it
See, as my "musical
acts of note" page indicates, I wouldn't actually give any Beatles
album more than about a 5 on my scale even though I'd give their body of
work as a whole a 9. I find the whole much greater than the sum of its
parts. In this respect, I like the Beatles in much the same way that I
like Jock Sturges. Sure, there are individual
photos of Sturges's that I like in and of themselves, but what I really
love is the narrative they create as the same subjects get photographed
over a span of years, changing and growing from one summer to the next.
Similarly, there are individual Beatles songs that I love. "A Day in the
Life" is likely to get bumped up to #2 the next time I update my
list of favorite
songs, for instance. But just as powerful as the song itself is the
narrative behind it — that this is what a boy band, playing
"I Want to Hold Your Hand" to hordes of screaming 12-year-old girls,
evolved into over the course of three short years. From "Love Me Do"
to "Yesterday" to "Strawberry Fields Forever" to "Revolution 9" —
what else do you really need to say about the '60s?
Which means that Across the Universe strikes me as misguided in a
couple of ways. First, there's the idea of pairing up Beatles songs with a
in the first place. The Beatles oeuvre is already a
metaphor for the '60s; adding race riots and burnt draft notices
and hippie buses is about as good an idea as intercutting between
The Crucible and the McCarthy hearings.
Pattern 18: don't speak the subtext!
Second, if you do decide to go through with the idea, the least you can
do is get the sequence right. Jumping ahead to Abbey Road and
then dipping back to A Hard Day's Night is not hugely different
from when Ingrid Burrington's teacher decided to score a psychedelic
freak-out with "Till There Was You" on the theory that the Beatles were
psychedelic. History doesn't work like an I-Pod Shuffle.
And also, yeah, it's one thing to use the Beatles as the soundtrack for
a history of the '60s, but to use these classic songs to score your
dopey characters' banal story is only slightly better than using them in
a sneaker commercial.
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