Across The Universe, the 1960s set musical utilizing the songs of the Beatles, is at the center of yet the latest round in the ongoing Hollywood struggle between art and commerce.
Specifically, director Julie Taymor is upset that Revolution studio chief Joe Roth has taken the film, re-edited it without her knowledge and test-screened the result last week. In a report in yesterday’s New York Times, an unnamed source has described that Taymor is feeling “helpless and [is] considering taking her name off the movie.”
The film stars Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturges as a young couple whose relationship is tested and torn asunder by the social turbulence of the 1960s. I have previously discussed the project and posted its trailer here.
While it is normal for a studio to test various edits of a film to determine what will respond most favorably with audiences, it is a process that usually includes the participation of the director. For Taymor to not even be informed of Roth’s cut is a marked departure from the standard operating procedure.
Taymor’s version clocks in at a reported 2 hours and 8 minutes. The edit overseen by Roth – who, in addition to his duties as Revolution’s head since 2000 has also directed America’s Sweethearts (2001) and Christmas With The Kranks (2004) – is reportedly a half-hour shorter. The Times is reporting that Taymor does not have final cut.
It seems to me that Hollywood has forgotten the lessons learned two decades ago when Terry Gilliam duked it out with Universal Studios head Sid Sheinberg over how Gilliam’s film Brazil (1985) was to end. Sheinberg argued that the Gilliam’s darker ending tested poorly and took the film away from the director to have it re-edited to include a more upbeat ending. Gilliam countered by taking ads out in the press chastising Sheinberg and by holding clandestine screenings of the film for Los Angeles critics, who promptly and loudly hailed Brazil as one of the best films of the year. Chagrinned, Sheinberg relented and released Gilliam’s version of Brazil. But the victory came at a price for Gilliam, and despite successful projects such as The Fisher King (1991) and 12 Monkeys (1995), he is still thought of in some circles as a “difficult” director to work with.
As noted, Taymor is reportedly contemplating removing her name from the film if Roth goes ahead and releases his shorter edit. The cat’s out of the bag though, and viewers know that any shorter version that shows up in theaters isn’t Taymor’s. Will this affect the film’s potential box office? Very probably. Although Taymor may not be a household name yet, her work on Titus (1999) and Frida (2002) have proven her to be not only a capable director but one with an exceptional eye for visuals. A move like Roth’s is just plain insulting to a filmmaker of Taymor’s track record.
It has already been announced that the Sony-owned Revolution Studios will cease operations in October of this year with Roth moving on to a producer position at Sony. Revolution already has a varied history, producing hits like Black Hawk Down (2001) and Rent (2005). It also has had its fair share of misses including The Master Of Disguise (2002) and Gigli (2003). With a release scheduled for September 28th, one hopes this would get resolved fairly quickly so Revolution can close its doors on a high mark rather than a low.