Art Here and Now
Daring creativity happening now around the world
Across the Universe, The Power of Myth, 1967

I was born after the 1960s. What I know is only from stories and grainy video, comprised of many heroic and striking moments, modern stories not unlike King Arthur’s Court or Hamlet. The difference is, these are modern stories from not that long ago, and you can see their effects clearly all around us.

When I think of the ’60s, I see beaded curtains opening onto a California beach. William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan play to smoky, turtle-necked fans creaking in wooden chairs. I hear Janis Joplin and Odetta. And I see violence, bombs off our shores, great leaders slain one after another, causing uprising until the Golden Gate summer, where before it ends, the environmental movement, the peace movement, the civil rights movement and much more are finally planted to take slow root.

The problem is, that’s not how it happened. It’s no more what happened than Shakespeare’s Richard II. There is some element of truth to it, but the characters and plots were refined to tell a story and teach great lessons. Joseph Campbell said that we don’t have modern myths to hold onto. The myth of 1967 tells otherwise.

The biggest cultural reflection of this budding myth bloomed as The Beatles. They obviously influenced lots of people, and helped carry the message right into now.

Across the Universe attempts to bring the totality of this starry eyed story into one place and tell it in the language of the myth itself — as a multicolored, trippy, musical journey about love and war from Liverpool to the East Village. It attempts to bring all these different people and places into one archetypal legend.

Julie Taymor has a long and respected history of creating experimental, very original works of art in many disciplines. She gained greater notoriety directing The Lion King on Broadway, and later the films Titus and Frida. You can see hints of some daring and beautiful ideas in Across the Universe, and I can only imagine what would have happened if the film took an even more experimental direction (not that it looks at all like a typical Hollywood film). But this ever pressing need to compromise between experimental daring and loosely knit clichéd myth ends up making a pretty bad movie. I can also only imagine the endless boardroom, film executive and Beatles meetings that destined it to compromise from the beginning.

Despite that, I’m very glad she made it.

I would rather an artist strive for something spectacular and fail than simply try something mediocre and succeed with no lasting affect.

Beyond the movie itself, there is a larger current – building art that looks at this hugely influential time beyond the bounds of history, in the language of archetypes and legend. The Beatles are beginning to appear frequently in strange places they would have never appeared before, like Cirque Du Soleil’s Love. It hints at what inventive combinations and new stories will be created as modern music reaches the end of its copyright, moves out of heavily controlled, money-motivated restrictions and into the culture’s hands, into the public domain. It’s one step of a giant cultural mash up that’s only just starting.

Learn more:
The Beats, Summer of Love, Joseph Campbell, Julie Taymor, NYT – Film Has Two Versions; Only One Is Julie Taymor’s

Buy something related:
work by Julie Taymor, Joseph Campbell, The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Odetta or This Book is Free (Beneath the Diamond Sky)

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posted by Trout Monfalco