Film Preview : Magical moments and gritty reality
Beatles fans and surfers are both in luck this weekend. The Martha's Vineyard Film Society is presenting "Across the Universe," Julie Taymor's musical tribute to the Beatles, and the Martha's Vineyard Independent Film Festival is screening the documentary, "Surfwise."
The unfortunate catch is that moviegoers will have to choose between the two. Both are scheduled for Friday night - "Across the Universe" at Outerland in Edgartown with dinner optional beforehand, and "Surfwise" at the Capawock Theatre in Vineyard Haven.
"Across the Universe" employs a conventional love story as the vehicle for a nostalgic trip through 60s culture. Using 33 Beatles songs as the primary dialogue, the songs, rather than the storyline, carry the movie along. The film seems as much music video as movie musical, with the actors reinterpreting the songs. Diehard Beatles fans may complain that the movie tampers too much with them, but these new, vividly illustrated versions of the Beatles canon - now 40-something years old - also refresh it, and the dazzling visual effects turn it into a magical mystery tour of movie technique.
Ms. Taymor, responsible for the Broadway production of "The Lion King," has long-established Vineyard connections. Her parents owned a house on King's Highway in Chilmark, and her mother, Betty Taymor, still vacations here.
She takes the audience between the Beatles' Liverpool and America, following the odyssey of the movie's hero, Jude (Jim Sturgess), who is searching for the American father who abandoned his mother during World War II.
After he finds his dad at Princeton University, Jude befriends Max (Joe Anderson), a student there, and quickly falls in love with Max's sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). Other musical figures from the era show up, played by Bono, Joe Cocker and Salma Hayek.
Although conventional, the plot holds together a psychedelic stream of imagery. "Across the Universe" will probably resonate most with members of the generation who grew up in the 60s. For others, it's an education in the Beatles' legacy.
"Doc" Paskowitz's surfing family, the subject of the documentary "Surfwise" by filmmaker Doug Pray, is unique and fascinating.
The form is a conventional pastiche of talking heads, archival footage, and occasional scenic shots. Dorian Paskowitz, now 85, is a surfer and devout Jew who talked his way into Stanford Medical School, introduced surfing to Israel, then dropped out to live in a 24-foot camper with nine children and his Chicano wife, Juliette. They traveled from one surfing mecca to the next, rejecting conventional aspects of middle-class life like schooling, material comforts, and sexual propriety.
Filmmaker Pray specializes in documentaries about pop culture phenoms. Here he explores the world of a family that did nothing but surf while the kids grew up. Surfing recreates you," is Doc Paskowitz's motto, and he demands his children do it well. His oldest son, David, the enforcer, describes the family as the "Reich."
The second half of the documentary reveals a darker side. Yet filmmaker Pray wraps up the Paskowitz saga with cheerful scenes from a family reunion in Hawaii. By smoothing out the rough edges, the director leaves the audience feeling that he has just skimmed the surface.
"Across the Universe," Friday, June 20, 8 pm, Outerland, Airport Road, Edgartown. $8 ($5 for Martha's Vineyard Film Society members).
"Surfwise," Friday, June 20, 7 and 9:15 pm, Capawock Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $10; $5 for MVIFF members.
Brooks Robards is a frequent contributor to The Times.