As part of a broader look at ‘film style’, we watched the film ‘Across the Universe’- a Romance/ Drama/ Musical directed by Julie Taymor. The film follows the stories of Lucy, an upper class young American and Jude, a working class artist from Liverpool, England. It is set against a backdrop of the Vietnam war to a soundtrack of Beatles songs.
The musical format of this film gave the director an enormous sense of freedom to experiment with style. Almost every scene has a musical backdrop and it’s own look and feel. To say that each scene is like a separate music video would not do justice to the unity and flow of the overall narrative -the film actually feels quite cohesive. In some ways it’s stays true to that ‘high school musical’ format where people break into song in the middle of classrooms, sports fields and workplaces but there is a level of sophistication present where the songs really do progress the narrative and convey the complex emotions of the characters.
Mixed in with the typical whimsical, joyous scenes and the montages of love and heartbreak are more serious moments where the backdrops are of war, rioting and protest. One of the lasting memories is the solemn solo of ‘Let it be’ by a young kid leaning on a burnt out car in the slums. This leads into a moving aerial shot showing a sea of black umbrellas in a funeral procession.
The free-form style of this film also allows for some surreal sequences that serve no real purpose other than to entertain. One such moment is when Jude’s friend max is called upon by the military to serve his country. The giant animated uncle Sam and the beautifully choreographed sequence where the young potential soldiers are put through their paces by chiseled sergeants evoked memories of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’.
Shortly after, the film enters it’s psychedelic phase when all the young hippies go on a road trip in the magic bus. All sorts of weird colour inversion and posterization techniques are used to convey that late sixties drug culture.
In a lot of ways, the chronological progression of the music in the film mimics the progression of the artistic career of the Beatles (I’m not sure if this was intended)- starting with the more romantic and conventional and ending with the more layered, complex and psycodelic.
To summarize, I would say that this film is a feast for the eyes and ears, using music, dance, 2D and 3D animation, film effects and animatronics to tell a simple but moving story. The musical genre is perhaps the only style that could tie all these elements together so successfully.