The third film by Julie Taymor, Across the Universe (339 screens), has racked up an intriguing mixture of reviews. Some have ecstatically called the film a rousing success, and Anne Thompson, writing in Variety, has compared Taymor to Orson Welles! Other reviews have called the film an unmitigated disaster of proportions similar to the infamous flop Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978), which also re-imagines several Beatles numbers and incorporates them into an ill-advised movie musical. Myself, I rated the film somewhere in the middle. I thought it had a handful of truly inspired moments, a few truly awful moments (apologies to Eddie Izzard), and a great number of numbingly routine ones. (It reminded me too much of a play, not a movie.)
Writing in the New York Times a few years back, A.O. Scott mourned the absence of total disasters in the movies. A lack of disasters meant that people weren't really putting themselves on the line, and by turns, that safeguard also results in a lack of real masterworks. Pauline Kael once wrote a review of Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 entitled "Hail, Folly." She praised "huge, visionary epics" of "mad" directors, like D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, Erich von Stroheim's Greed, Abel Gance's Napoleon, Sergei Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible trilogy (left unfinished after Part II), and Francis Ford Coppola's then as-yet-unfinished Apocalypse Now. "The calamity of movie history is not the follies that get made, but the follies that don't get made," she said.