24 October 2007

Across the Universe

I swear, Davey, I'm not completely ripping off your format.

I caught this film last night and I must say: It was Taymor-tastic. Julie Taymor directed this much-anticipated movie, which uses songs from The Beatles' repertoire to narrate the emotional upheaval of a few fictional characters living through the 1960s in New York City (and a little of Ohio, New Jersey and Liverpool). I say much-anticipated, and I speak solely for myself. This movie has been on my radar for some time, filmed as it was predominantly in New York, and I'm a hugemongous fan of Taymor and The Beatles.

Most people know Taymor from her movie adaptation of Titus Andronicus, or her work developing the popular Broadway adaptation of The Lion King (or, her upcoming collaboration with U2 and Sony to produce a Spider-Man musical, about which I am [mostly] speechless [it's going to either be the coolest thing ever or forever ruin my impression of her artistry]). Those who still love shows that only live for a few weeks at a time, however, know her from farther back as a director who merges to magnificent effect all kinds of cultural expressions, particularly puppetry. Across the Universe is likely the most mainstream, Hollywood-happy film Taymor has yet made, though it's hard for me to say because I have still not seen her Frida. Yet she still manages to incorporate more-theatrical elements at times, such as huge puppets, mask work and "penny arcade" sequences (as she refers to the animated montages in the Titus commentary).

I have to agree with the The Washington Post review that laments the unspectacular story and theatrical unity of the whole thing. I expected more from Taymor. However, I believe this review neglects the intentions of the piece as well, which is the poison pill of any critic that swiftly renders his or her critical virility utterly inert. As I understand it, Taymor aspired to create a story based solely on The Beatles's music and lyrics and the cultural goings-on of the period in which they were created--preferably a story with resonance to a contemporary audience. In this aim, I believe she succeeded, whether or not I appreciated the end of the film. (I didn't. There needs to be a separate 'blog entry for my feelings about double conclusions in films of late.) And ultimately I don't believe the film should be judged on its merit as an outstanding or well-constructed musical, because I don't believe it was aiming for that specific genre. Nor should it be judged on how profound a statement it made. The Beatles, after all is said and done, were pop musicians. On that basis, I find the movie a success because I enjoyed it.

Puppets and pop music are figuring into my creative life a lot lately. Or, rather I should say, figuring into my fantasy creative life lately, because it's all in my head, nothing done got creatited yet. Heather and I continue to express mutual enthusiasm for creating a Punch & Judy act betwixt us (a plan put somewhat on hold during performances of Prohibitive Standards on account of my breaking her toe with a chair), and I just keep thinking more and more about the kind of theatre I want to make for myself, which invariably incorporates popular music. Part of the satisfaction for me of the "homework assignments" during the development of As Far As We Know was the awareness that it meant I got to use one of the many pop (or indie) songs that had been scratching my itch of late.

So how does one begin to find one's creative voice, one's unique expression, in all of this? How do you encompass all the vast and profound experiences of thirty years into a moiety of melodrama? I've no idea. But I do believe I'm gathering material for my nest as we speak. The female creative influences of my life share some qualities in common that I seek to emulate, or at least steal with great admiration. A certain approach to creation as perception, a sort of found-object art, only with people and behavior rather than only objects. A release in the surreal, in the way interpretation of something common can make us notice it anew. Compassion, garnished with perspective. And meanwhile the many men of my motley career continue to offer their common, yet still sustaining, examples to follow: the value of discipline and having something to prove, the energy inherent in competition, the unique forge of approaching some things on one's own.

And why now? Why am I becoming, slowly, so hell-bent on directing something, or at least creating something to call my own? Is it the same urge that drove me into play writing after working showcases for a year here in New York, a frustration with things not going my way, or is it a realization that I can't get by on the same skills I used in my twenties, or is it something deeper? It's a curious, and somewhat unrelenting, urge.

I needs me some puppets!


Davey said...

A. You can't rip off my format, I ripped it from you.

B. I think you need to re-read The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch : A Romance. If you still want to do a Punch and Judy show after that then I'll come barker.

C. You are the second person to tell me that Across the Universe is good, while my eyes and ears tell me that (based on the trailer) it is crap. So I will have to see it for myself and judge it on the whole movie. But not until I see 30 Days of Night, b/c while I love me some movies based on music, I really love me some movies based on graphic novels.

Jeff Wills said...

Oh, I remember Mr. Punch. That's part of my inspiration.

Across the Universe is not a great film, and I am not highly critical of music, bear in mind. I simply enjoyed it as I was prepared to.

I'll let you know when we get our scary P&J on . . .

Nat said...

Dude. I'm so puppeted out right now--wanna come do my show for me?

Jeff Wills said...

Nat, for the last time, I won't be your understudy for "Puppetry of the Penis," okay? Let's put this issue to rest.