New DVD Musicals: Miss and Hit

by Beacon Staff • February 27, 2008

and

Romance and Cigarettes,Across the Universe

Commodification is the name of the game in Julie Taymor's square and soggy cinematic adaptation of the Beatles' most popular and accessible tunes.

Over 30 songs are performed in Across the Universe, each sung by actors who represent different stereotypes of 1960s counterculture. We have the idealistic rebel, the rich suburban girl turned hippie, the closet case homosexual, the earthy rock star, etc., all of whom inadvertently commercialize the very anti-commercialistic radicalism pivotal to the era they are impersonating.

Taymor-usually an extraordinary art director- applies self-conscious, American Apparel-style materialism to the gritty New York City slums of 1960. She then revamps it into a bright and bubbly Toon Town of crunchy granola liberalism, all the while stripping it of any sort of historical authenticity.

The song adaptations, for the most part, are short and well rendered, but we have the Beatles to thank for that, not Taymor and her stiff and unsatisfying movie musical.

Across the Universe's idealized version of revolution does to the Vietnam war what Rent did for the AIDS crisis-it serves as a parody.

Romance and Cigarettes

Romance and Cigarettes looks like it was shot in the backyard of a crummy upstate New York house with a budget of $5,000 dollars. Whether that's a good thing or not is certainly up for debate, but there is no question that writer/director John Turturro had this exact vision in mind when he made this intentionally trashy movie musical.

Told from the perspective of an adulterous ironworker named Nick (James Gandolfini), Romance and Cigarettes satirizes the traditional Hollywood musical by having low-life characters break into corny and outdated pop ballads with as much over-the-top enthusiasm and gusto as the old-time Broadway stars. The only difference is that these ballsy actors have practically no vocal ability whatsoever. Though Turturro's film comes across as ludicrous through almost every minute of its running time, there is something deceptive and defiant in its attempt to subvert the movie musical with its immodest, unprofessional musical numbers.

Watching Kate Winslet rip off her clothes in a motel room while belting the lyrics to a so-terrible-it's-catchy love song reminds us that music, however unglamorous it might be, is capable of bringing joy to even the most mundane and unappealing of circumstances.