By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Taymor’s behavior grew worse, I’m told, after she delivered a cut of the film last October clocking in at two hours, 32 minutes, and started receiving critiques about the film. Without giving details, Roth himself made reference to Taymor’s “hysteria” to the NYT. Such as? “I gave her a note to cut two supporting characters, one white and one black,” a source told me. “And she starts screaming, ‘I’m not cutting all the black people.’ ”
Contrary to the NYT’s account, I’ve been assured that problems with Taymor’s version went way beyond length, to the point where the pic simply doesn’t work. “It is visually a really interesting and arresting movie,” says one insider, “but, as usual with her, it veers off into the absurd.” While an insider explains, “The visuals get in the way of the narrative, which makes no sense. And the pacing is all wrong. They have a scene with Bono that’s psychedelic, and goes on and on, and has to be cut down.” Still another source chides, “By the time the dancing puppet heads come out, you’re just like no, no, NO.”
Despite all this, Taymor again and again voiced unrealistic notions about Across the Universe’s box-office prospects. “Here she’d made the world’s most expensive art film. Yet she kept claiming it was ‘the next Titanic,’ a movie that did $1.8 billion worldwide,” a source told me. (While Revolution puts the movie’s budget at $45 million, sources tell me the original budget was $77 mil and has ballooned from there.)
Sometimes agents can broker peace in director-producer-studio wars like this. But Taymor’s agency, CAA, “kept lying to everyone concerned. To her, they said they’d take her side against everyone. To the producers, they said they’d take their side against the client,” according to a source.
The movie’s first preview, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was disastrous despite the Taymor-friendly intelligentsia crowd. “Everybody’s notes were the same: The movie’s too long,” an insider explained.
So then Taymor delivered a second, shorter version, this time two hours, 15 minutes. “Still, the previews said it was too long. But she was now refusing to take any more out of it,” a source told me. “Everyone was very frustrated by the fact that five months had gone by and she didn’t listen and she didn’t care.” At one point, Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal took Taymor to dinner and diplomatically told her “how good it could be” if only she’d cut the movie. But Taymor still refused. “That’s the refrain of everyone: There’s a great movie in there, somewhere. But as it stands now, it’s so complicated it’s just a bad movie,” a source explains.
So, finally, a frustrated Roth handed the movie to an editor, who cut it to one hour, 45 minutes. That version was shown in Phoenix, Arizona, this month to a test audience packed with young girls who are perceived by the conventional wisdom to be the primary audience for romantic musicals. The pic suddenly scored 86 percent in the top two “recommend” boxes. Taymor immediately had a meltdown, I’m told. Roth offered to preview both cuts of the movie side by side to a more demographically balanced audience. She refused.
“Sony has made it clear that if something isn’t done to the movie, then it wouldn’t support it,” an insider explains. The problem here is typically Hollywood: No one wants to be the bad guy. “Both Amy and Joe are running away from a confrontation with Julie because they’d rather be popular than take a hard line,” a source says.
Meanwhile, this pic has further soured Sony Pictures’ relations with Roth, which have gone from good to bad to awful. There are audible sighs of relief at Sony that Across the Universe is one of Roth’s final projects under Revolution’s too-autonomous arrangement. “In the old days, Joe would have said to Sony, ‘You need to release this.’ And Amy Pascal would have humored him. But now, Amy barely tolerates him,” a source says. Few know it was Sony czar Sir Howard Stringer who deserves blame for bringing in Roth. And for reasons that defy logic, Roth will have a new deal with Sony, albeit a very small one, just so he can save face in Hollywood. Now that’s insane.
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