Across the Universe
Lugging a Statue of Liberty through the jungle, gallivanting in fields with Bono, dancing in formation on the streets of Manhattan sporting business suits and briefcases…just another day at the office for Julie Taymor and her cast and crew as they filmed this mind-bending Beatles musical.
The reported $45 million production follows two young lovers, Jude and Lucy (Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood), as they travel from prewar innocence to ’60s hippie radicalism. And, as is typical of Taymor — the creative force behind the movies Titus and Frida, as well as the Broadway production of The Lion King — the film mixes theatricality, surrealism, and over-the-top fantasy.
With only 30 minutes of dialogue, most of the story is told through 33 ”reimagined” Beatles songs, which are all sung by the actors. It was up to Taymor’s composer/companion Elliot Goldenthal and music producer T Bone Burnett (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) to make the Fab Four material work. ”The challenge was to create something fresh and new,” says Taymor. ”If it was too close to the originals, we might as well have had the original people singing them.”
Taymor insisted that all the actors (including U2 frontman Bono, who cameos as the psychedelic Dr. Robert) perform their songs live, which was particularly challenging during several underwater sequences. ”This whole movie was: What the hell are we doing?” says Wood. ”We’re naked in a pool in New York and we’re singing really fast underwater. We had no idea what was going on, but it made every day an adventure.”
Taymor has since encountered a few unexpected adventures of her own. After shooting wrapped, she found herself in the middle of a well-publicized fight with Revolution Studios head Joe Roth over Universe‘s final edit. Taymor now downplays the dustup, suggesting that her back-and-forth with Roth was just part of the usual filmmaking process. ”Almost no director has final cut anymore,” she says. ”Not even Martin Scorsese.” According to Taymor, she and Roth finally worked out a compromise edit that they both could live with. And at least one early viewer seems pleased with it: Paul McCartney. Taymor says she sat next to the legendary musician at a screening in London and ”he loved it. Under his breath he was mouthing the songs.” Hmm, wonder if he could do that underwater.