If you stick around long enough, you’ll realize just how much I adore the Motown girl groups of the early ‘60s. Yet, Be My Baby by the Ronettes is perhaps my favorite. There is something downright haunting about the song and Ronnie Spector’s voice. In fact, some of my favorite Christmas songs are versions sung by the Ronettes as well.
Be My Baby demonstrates Phil Spector’s wall of sound so well. In fact, I can’t imagine the Ronettes sound without it. Yet, here I am probably the only person on the planet under the age of 50 to know what Phil Spector’s wall of sound is or who Phil Spector was. The funny thing is that it didn’t always work so well. I normally love it in the girl group music he helped produce, and yet, The Long and Winding Road and most of the Let It Be (1970) album is overproduced. I actually understood why the Beatles, led by Paul McCartney, released a stripped down version called Let It Be… Naked (2003) decades later, reimagining the entire album without Spector’s wall of sound. I actually prefer Naked.
Sadly, Ronnie, who happened to have befriended the Beatles at the height of their (and her) fame, passed away in January 2022. Her legacy lives on, and frankly, I can’t imagine a time when Be My Baby won’t be considered an absolute pop gem.
I’ve wanted to write about Across the Universe (2007) ever since I first watched it several months ago. It is one of those movies that grabs you, not letting you go. Just when you think you have it figured out, you start back at the beginning. I’m afraid I won’t do it justice.
Let’s start with the facts. First, it was a given that I would enjoy Across the Universe (2007) for the music and subject matter alone. A musical using new renditions of Beatles’ songs that encompasses many of the major themes of the 1960s? What isn’t there to like? Never mind the actual film. It was either going to be wonderful or something never to speak of again.
Next, the music itself is exceptional. When it comes to Beatles’ music, I am normally skeptical when it comes to covers (with the exception of Joe Cocker, of course). In this case, Evan Rachel Wood (Lucy), Jim Sturgess (Jude), and Dana Fuchs (Sadie) forced me to look at some of the Beatles catalog in a new way. Not an easy feat. There are several examples of this, but some of the ones that come to mind immediately are “It Won’t Be Long” (Evan Rachel Wood), “I’ve Just Seen A Face” (Jim Sturgess), and “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” (Dana Fuchs). That is just for starters. The use of “Let It Be” (Carol Woods & Timothy T. Mitchum) as a hymn fits the scene(s) perfectly.
My feelings on the song “Across the Universe” have evolved as result. While I’ve always liked “Across the Universe,” I would be hard pressed to even rank it among my top 25 or possibly 50 Beatles’ songs. No joke. The movie made me reevaluate. While I enjoy the movie version of “Across the Universe,” the cover by the band Evanescence is now one of favorite songs. It is haunting in the best possible way, not easily replicated.
Fortunately for us, the music is only the beginning. All the principals not only can act and sing, but dance as well. The choreography in Across the Universe (2007) is second to none and, along with superb costume and set design, make the movie. It enhances the music in a way that is unforgettable. The bowling scene that takes place during “I’ve Just Seen A Face” is so much fun and over the top. While the first part of the movie is just that – fun and over the top – the choreography and music work together to tell a much darker story as the movie progresses.
While I won’t give away the plot, it is the plot itself that keeps me guessing, keeps me coming back to the movie. When I finished watching Across the Universe (2007) for the first time, my first thought was:
What the heck just happened? What did I just watch?
Frankly, its plot, or lack thereof, is both its strength and weakness. While it isn’t as though it doesn’t have a plot at all, there are large swaths of the movie that leave you asking so many questions. Much can explained away by implied drug use. Now might be a good time to mention that Across the Universe (2007) earned every bit of its PG-13 rating. Personally, I believe it should be more in the R category considering the violence, implied drug use, and sexual references/implications.
Implied drug use can explain away much of the plot issues in the movie, but it doesn’t explain everything. For example, there are certain characters (namely Prudence, Sadie, and Jo-Jo) that I want to know more about. They are that interesting, considering what we know of them. However, I have yet to figure out the purpose of Prudence’s character. She seems to just show up.
While it is easy to see all of these things as “flaws” with the plot, I have to wonder if it wasn’t intentional. I’m not quite sure how the movie could have captured as much of the history of the ‘60s as it did without leaving so much to the viewer’s imagination. As a Beatles fan, that is what is so fun about this movie. There are so many references for fans. My personal favorite is the Brigitte Bardot poster. Supposedly all the Beatles had a huge crush on her. Then, there are the characters themselves. Jude, played by Jim Sturgess, looks an awful lot like a young Paul McCartney. His character is even from Liverpool. With some characters, it is obvious: Jo-Jo is somehow a stand-in for Jimi Hendrix. Others, it isn’t so clear. For example, I want to peg Sadie as Janis Joplin, and yet, it doesn’t feel quite right. In the end, the music, the choreography, the confusing plot, and the Easter eggs geared towards Beatles fans will keep me coming back. If you like the Beatles at all, it is a must-see. If I ever have the opportunity to see it on the big screen, I am there. I’m not sure how I missed Across the Universe (2007) when it was first released.
We all have personal heroes, whether we want to admit it or not. Personally, most of mine are people I know well in real life, but there are exceptions. One huge exception for me is the Beatles, Paul McCartney in particular. There are bands and musicians I like, and then there are the Beatles. I bring this up because a friend of mine just lost one of hers on Monday: David Bowie. In fact, she wrote a moving piece on what his music, and more importantly, his persona, meant to her on Facebook. I get it; I truly do.
The thing is, until he passed away, I never thought of David Bowie or his music that much, although my friend’s enthusiasm for his music is contagious. Now that I have a better understanding of what his music represented and the risks he took with his career, not to mention the generations of artists he inspired, I can say that David Bowie belongs alongside people like Elvis, Johnny Cash, and yes, the Beatles, in a category all their own. All of those artists broke barriers, created – or helped to create – new genres of music. They also crossed genres and inspired new generations of musicians.
So why do we care so much about people we’ve never met? I think that is part of the mystery of art, music in particular. We feel as though we know the artists when we’ve spent decades listening, discussing, and analyzing their work. We invest so much time and energy in the things we love – art, books, music, TV, films, etc. – that when their creator dies, a part of the magic is gone. For example, in my life, there was never the possibility of a Beatles reunion. John Lennon died ten days before I was born. My generation will always wonder what Kurt Cobain would have accomplished musically with or without Nirvana had he lived. Instead of wondering what an artist will do next, after his or her death, fans are left with a finite catalog of music, writing, films, paintings, etc. There is nothing new to discover, only memories of what it felt like to await a new release.