Across the Universe, the revolutionary rock musical is set in the helter-skelter 1960’s. The film depicts various historical events in the 60’s including
· Civil Rights
· Beginning of Hippie era
· Rock N Roll
The musical travels from country to country to illustrate the events occurring around world all at the same time. Some countries and cities include Liverpool Detroit, Manhattan, Ohio, and Vietnam. Over thirty songs from internationally famous English rock band, The Beatles are cleverly intertwined in the film. In between these events is a love story taken place by main characters Jude and Lucy. Each Adventure that they face is based on this historic year.
The film begins with Jude a dockworker, leaving liver pool to search for his father in America. As he enters the country the beginning of national reform is taking place. He meets a young American girl Lucy, who becomes part of the anti-war movements when her late military boyfriend is killed and her brother is drafted to the Vietnam War. Political tensions rise as the world enters the “mid exploration” phase also known as the hippie era. Other scenes portrayed are the 1967 Detroit riots, anti-movement protests, and the introduction to rock n roll.
1967 Detroit Riots
On an early Sunday morning officers roamed the 12th street in Detroit, Michigan. Officers raided an illegal after hours bar called the “Blind Pig”. Eighty-three people were arrested. More squad cars were called in to transport the remaining arrestees. Over an hour later the last prisoner was taken away. By this time more than 200 protestors spectated outside the bar. Protestors began to through bottles at the police officer and police car. That was the commencement of one of the worst riots in US history, the 1967 Detroit riots. At the fourth day 7,000 National Guards Army troops were present, 43 people died, 342 were injured, and an estimate of 1,400 buildings were burned.
Let it be
When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
One of Walter Benjamin’s main points in “ The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” is that the reproduction of art takes away the original meaning of the piece. Although this may be true for paintings or murals, it may not necessary apply to all art. In the musical, one of my favorite and most meaningful scenes in the film is when the song “Let it be” is sung. The song is being played as the 1967 Detroit riots are taking place. As young African American boy hides behind a car he is singing the track trying to escape from the dangers of the riots. In the background African Americans are fighting with police officers, some are being shot, beaten, running away, avoiding the burned cars and looting. The scene then transitions to a funeral service and an African American woman singing the song with a gospel choir. The person in the coffin is the young boy in the previous scene.
So what does the song mean? Anybody can interpret the song in his or her own way. Beatles member Paul McCartney explains that the song is about his mother’s death when he was fourteen. His song signifies as the song states let it be; let things go and move on. In the film the same meaning is portrayed but we do not have a visualization of Paul’s mother but another mourning scene as loved ones grief over the young boys death. As I have mentioned that Benjamin’s reproduction theory does not always apply to all works of art. The meaning of the song is enhanced in this film by providing an illustration of the track. The song is better understood by seeing a visualization of it. The song also captures more attention to the audience by playing out what the song means compared to just listening to the song or reading the lyrics. Think of it as a music video, when we hear a song about death we don’t really understand the deeper meaning until we see the visualization in the music video. Unfortunately McCartney never filmed a music video but this film gives us a accurate idea of what the video could have been about. In this case the remake of the song does not take any meaning away from the original song. The way the song is illustrated not only provides a better understanding of the song but also enhance the songs significance.
Music in the Background
In the video “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger, he talks about the impact music has on art. He plays Italian opera music as you see a famous painting. He states that the meaning of the “paintings are modified and changed by the sounds you hear when looking at them.” Specific pieces of art are altered by hearing music in the background but not in other pieces like musicals, film, or plays. Across the Universe is a musical and obviously contains numerous sounds. What would it be without music? Not a musical obviously. It would just be a simple classic film about the 1960’s. This film is about the struggles of the 1960 portrayed through the art of music. Music is what brings this film alive. Each sense shares significance with the song being played. As I stated the remake of the songs used expands the meaning of the individual record but in this case music enhances the meaning of the film in general. The music playing as each scene is being acted out enhances the film’s meaning. In the “ Let it Be” scene with the young African American boy would have just been a scene of someone hiding from the riots compared to a young boy singing his fears away. The meaning of the artwork is being modified but in an influential way. The story is not only being played out in the film but also in the music. Each song has its own story incorporating to the movie’s meaning. The songs and scenes compliment each other to ultimately provide the deeper meaning of the musical.
In my Opinion
When I first watched this film I was not fully aware of the events that occurred in the 1960’s. Watching the film helped me comprehend the struggles that individuals were facing. I had a visual picture of each event. The music helped me even further understand the film. Each song helped me set the mood for the scenes and the movie in general. By hearing the song and watching the song being played out brought out the deeper meaning to the situation. The way the songs are cleverly placed at the perfect moments catch the audiences attention. This film is a representation of what musicals are made for. The incorporation of songs and film is so ingenious that it makes you watch the film over and over again. This movie has put musical in a whole different level surpassing grease or Mama Mia. Across the Universe brings together the art of music, historical events and love.
Berger and Benjamin’s theory do apply to many pieces of art but may not be applicable to all pieces of art. I do believe that music is on of those pieces of art that should not be enforced these theories. Today music is changing art in many ways by enhancing the beauty of the art. Across the Universe can be used as an example of the revolutionary impact that music has had on the reproduction and symbolism of art.
Music's the only thing that makes sense anymore, man. Play it loud enough, it keeps the demons at bay. –JoJo (Character from Across the Universe)
Xiomara Arnao is a student at California State Northridge University . She hopes to become a Nurse and help those in need.