- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
Julie Taymor is a gifted and award winning film, theater, and opera director. Following her Academy Award nominated turn as director of Frida (2003), she turned her eye toward a unique musical based on the songs from The Beatles – Across the Universe. Working with the film’s eventual screenwriters, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, she crafted a story of love lost and found, set in the turbulent 60s, and based around more than 30 songs from The Beatles catalog. Featuring stunning musical performances, powerful renditions of classic Beatles’ songs, strong performances, and vivid production, Across the Universe would garner Oscar and Golden Globe nominations.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment delivers Across the Universe on 4K Ultra HD™ for the first time with the very best image quality and with a Dolby Atmos audio. You can read Home Theater Forum’s glowing review by Todd Erwin here.
Across the Universe is currently available on 4K UHD, DVD, Blu-ray, and HD Digital.
“I listened to the 200 songs of The Beatles, and when I heard, "Is there anybody going to listen to my story all about the girl who came to stay," it just felt like the most perfect opening to a love story...”
HTF: I have always loved the opening shot of Across the Universe. In it, it's a typically gray beach day in England and you slowly pull into him. And like the opening of a great book, with the first lines being so incredibly important, how hard was it to decide or find the moment that would open up Across the Universe?
Julie Taymor: Well, [screenwriters] Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais had a three or four-page treatment of who the characters were and they had selected before I was hired some songs. But then when I came on, I listened to the 200 songs of The Beatles, and when I heard, "Is there anybody going to listen to my story all about the girl who came to stay," whatever the lyrics are, it just felt like the most perfect opening to a love story. We couldn't do the second verse because it wouldn't lend itself to our story, but [it was] basically the idea of beginning with Jude talking about the love of his life who's now gone. And he's back in Liverpool. We shot all of that in Liverpool, or up north a little bit.
The screenplay was driven by the 33 songs that I selected. So it was finding songs for specific characters. They had started with three characters: Jude, Lucy, and Max. And I said, yeah, but that's three white guys [laughter] and you've got this incredible power of Black-American music that had so inspired The Beatles. So who would sing the songs like Sexy Sadie if we were going to use that or “Oh! Darling” or “Come Together?” And the kind of music that [the characters] Sadie and Jo-Jo sing is a whole different style than what the three other characters sing. And of course you have Prudence as well. So I thought it was a beautiful simple opening that left us dangling there and then we could go back in time to the late '50s, early '60s which is the high school dance.
HTF: And speaking of high school dance, being a transplant from England, I have always felt that America sees itself as a fairy tale nation, and England, despite some misplaced sense of global importance perhaps, always saw itself as a lived-in, worn, but real place. That's a simplification, and we English tend to easily fall in love with the idea of America. But I always found the opening with the fairy tale, traditional, late '50s-style dance, and then the more rugged opening of what Liverpool looked like, really spoke to how England sees itself and America sees itself. Is that how you saw those two worlds yourself?
Julie Taymor: I definitely do. I was born in '52 and was an early teenager, 11 or 12 when The Beatles hit. My older sister would listen to them all the time and my brother, too, but he was more Rolling Stones. But everybody in the whole world appreciates the brilliance of the early Beatles music now. [And] they should because The Beatles were really able to put themselves into the mindset of 14 and 15-year-old girls all over the place, but definitely American girls. What boys now would sing songs like, "If I fell in love with you, would you promise to be true?" [Or] something like, "Hold me tight, tell me I'm the only one." I can't even see a guy singing that now.
HTF: No, I can’t either.
“I loved these songs but it was really enabling and freeing to put them in the mouths of teenage girls. Whether it was Prudence singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to another girl or Lucy singing it to Jude...”
Julie Taymor: So I loved these songs but it was really enabling and freeing to put them in the mouths of teenage girls. Whether it was Prudence singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to another girl or Lucy singing it to Jude. There are many songs that actually work as well, if not better, in the mouth of a female. So I also, very purposefully with my brilliant Bruno Delbonnel, the DP of Across the Universe, made a very strict color palette. So if you look at Brookline, Massachusetts, it's golden, brown, fall colors, and very horizontal with the white picket fences. Very horizontal. And when I was in England, in Liverpool and in those kinds of locations, everything was vertical and narrow. In the streets in Liverpool, you're seeing it's blue, and black, and brown, and cold, and gray. Very appealing colors but opposite palettes. So you nailed it, that's exactly how we separated these two worlds. Jude's world and his fantasy of his American father's place. He was going towards that golden ideal.
And the movie is split into three or four sections. You have that early-Beatles high school, adolescent, idealistic, pre-Vietnam War section, beginning of Vietnam War. And then, of course, you have the colorful drug-swirling, psychedelic time. Then you go into the aftermath of that, which is the reality of hell; the Vietnam War. And it's an awakening because Lucy becomes very obviously political. And Jude, who is apolitical, wants to be able to just be himself and love in his own way. He's not a political being. But Lucy, whose first boyfriend was killed in the war and whose brother is wounded and mentally destroyed by the war, becomes a radical.
[When we were making Across the Universe,] America was in a war with Iraq. The [scene with the] march on 5th Avenue, the big parade with the LBJ and all of that stuff, all the extras with all those signs, ‘no more war’, ‘make love not war’, they thought they were in a march against the Iraq war [laughter]. I mean, seriously. I was in the Bread and Puppet Theater years ago when I was a teenager and I was in one of those giant Vietnamese ladies in the protest. So this is personal for me. But it was amazing. And honestly, with our horrendous political situation right now, it's absolutely important that young people see this movie, and see how important it is to get off their asses, out [from] behind their cell phones, and their PlayStations, and their computers, and out into the street to protest.
HTF: Yeah. And you know, it's a perfect time for Across the Universe to be rereleased. Because I think there is a resurgence in the form of protests. It can get exhausting to maintain a level of outrage, but it's also important to have your voice heard. And I think Across the Universe is a fascinating choice to rerelease in 4K. This new format brings out the vivid colors and brings it to life in a way like never before.
“[T]here is an enormous audience and I think it's really important to get them to see it. Obviously, this is for their parents, and their grandparents, because they were of the time. But I think getting this new generation of young people from 12 years old up to see this movie would be great...”
Julie Taymor: I hope so. I wish they would rerelease the movie too. I wish it were on the big screen again, because it didn't get promoted during its time. And it'd be really thrilling to have a whole new generation see it. Because you remember, 10 years has gone by. The kids who were 5 years old are now 15, the perfect age. So there is an enormous audience and I think it's really important to get them to see it. Obviously, this is for their parents, and their grandparents, because they were of the time. But I think getting this new generation of young people from 12 years old up to see this movie would be great.
And I don't think a lot of people in England saw it, by the way. It wasn't released well. It had a pretty good DVD release, but the studio didn't put it out.
HTF: Yeah. Well, that's a shame I think.
Julie Taymor: It was nominated for a Golden Globe that year but they didn't have them – it was the year with Iraq where they canceled the Golden Globes
HTF: I think it deserves more attention. I’ll be sure to make sure at least my family back in England watches it if they haven’t already [laughter].
Julie Taymor: Thank you [laughter].
HTF: Sony putting out its catalog titles, and newer titles in 4K, is really leading the way in showing how catalog titles, older films, should be treated in the new 4K format. So it's the best possible format and the best possible presentation for the film, don’t you think?
Julie Taymor: It's so much better in 4K. I mean, I think it's a matter of taste on the visuals, it's vivid, definitely, I thought it was beautiful before [laughter]. I mean, it's probably sharper and all of those things but definitely the music [in Dolby Atmos] is on another level. That's important.
HTF: And the music is fantastic. And you also have a score in here by Elliot Goldenthal, who works around the songs. And I have to tell you since I was 15 or 16 and I discovered his music, I have been a fan of his. Just the other day, this is before I knew I was going to be talking to you, I pulled the score of Titus off soundtrack shelf and I was staring at Anthony Hopkins on the cover, where he’s caked in that vivid blue, and listening to that fantastic music. His score for Alien 3 is extraordinary work.
Julie Taymor: Oh that score, that and Butcher Boy [laughter].
Julie Taymor: I agree, Titus is just an amazing score. And the other thing you should know is about 80% of Across the Universe are Elliot's arrangements. Maybe even 90%, and [they were] his ideas to slow the songs down or to minimize. When it doesn't sound like The Beatles arrangements, they're Elliot's arrangements because one of the things that he always said was, "If you're five chromosomes away from The Beatles, then you'd better have The Beatles [laughter]." You understand what I mean?
HTF: Oh yes.
“I feel also that The Beatles music are classics, they are like Mozart....”
Julie Taymor: He also says the licks are the ghosts in the room, meaning that you don't need to hear all of the licks because if you're familiar with The Beatles they're there in your head anyway, so they can be implied. And I just found that his arrangements are so spectacular. They show you that this music can incorporate so much emotion.
I feel also that The Beetles music are classics, they are like Mozart. Which means that you can take a Mozart and you can have a chamber work of the flute, you can have a solo version of “The Queen of the Night”, you can have a vocal sing “The Queen of the Night”, and you can have this orchestration. You don't have to always do the original orchestrations or arrangements. It's just like the song by the little black boy…the gospel song….
HTF: “Let it Be”
Julie Taymor: Yes. Let It Be. [It] just reeks of being a gospel but that's not the way Paul sang it. But when I needed to have a song in that place, it just made so much sense having it be a black church choir singing that song along with the lead singer and a child who, obviously, is killed. And it has so much meaning to it.
The only criticisms that I've really read of Across the Universe in general would be that it was too literal by having musicals and I don't get that. What is a musical supposed to be? The songs in this particular musical forward the story. They literally forward the story. It's not a jukebox musical. That would be a misconception. That's when you have Jersey Boys songs that are sung by a band that has nothing to do with what's going on in their lives.
On the other hand, for “I Want You”, I was looking for a song for Max to be inducted and I had two that I was thinking of. One was “I Want You”, which was so obvious with Uncle Sam. And the other one was, "You say yes, I say no [laughter]." “Hello, goodbye”. The soldiers were going to come and try and get him because he burned his draft papers. But that wasn't nearly as strong as “I Want You”. And “She's So Heavy” being about the Statue of Liberty. I understand songs, people like to have their own interpretations but when it is a musical it has meaning. Definitely it has to have meaning.
“Bono loved the idea of playing Dr. Roberts. So it was really a lot of fun. He wanted to do it as an Irish man or an English man and I said, "No, no, I know Bono, he can do it as an American"”...”
HTF: As a lifelong U2 fan, I love Bono's in the film. He was really fun to watch. I’m curious how you came to have Bono be a part of your film?
Julie Taymor: Well, I met him through Elliot Goldenthal, my other half. Elliot had done a score for Neil Jordan (The Good Thief) and Bono sang “That's Life”, the Frank Sinatra song, and Elliot did the arrangement. So we met during that time. And then I had started working with Bono and Edge on Spider-Man right after Frida. So then knew him again much more deeply. And Bono loved the idea of playing Dr. Roberts. So it was really a lot of fun. He wanted to do it as an Irish man or an English man and I said, "No, no, I know Bono, he can do it as an American" [laughter]. I think he's really funny and he's improvising in some of it, the alligator [bit], that's a big improve.
HTF: Well thank you, Julie; it's been a real pleasure talking to you. And congratulations on Across the Universe, it’s a fantastic film, intoxicating film.
Julie Taymor: Thank you! And I'll tell Elliot what you said; he just walked in the room [laughter].
HTF: Please do, he's a musical genius. Thank you.
Julie Taymor: Okay, thank you so much!