Julie Taymor has conquered Broadway and won respect in Hollywood and the groundbreaking director now risks rattling Beatles purists by adapting their beloved songs for a new movie, Across the Universe.
The musical debutted at the Toronto International Film Festival on Monday, and Taymor told Reuters she was well aware of the wrath she may face when, for instance, Beatles fans see the bouncy pop tune 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' sung slowly by one high school girl longing for another.
"That was the big danger," Taymor said. "Can we take these songs that belong to everybody and everybody has their own interpretation -- and can we put them in a context where they start to become specific" and different?"
The gamble is huge, but Taymor is considered a creative visionary, and she knows big risks reap big rewards as well as garner major scorn. In her career, she has known both.
Taymor, 54, created the stage play of Disney animated movie The Lion King, which in 1994 earned $784 million at global box offices and two Oscars. Taymor's wildly imagined musical claimed six of Broadway's Tony awards and is in its 10th year.
Her opera of Mozart's The Magic Flute and her film Frida, about the artist Frida Kahlo, met moderate success. But Titus, her film version of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus earned mixed reviews and flopped at box offices.
Taymor defends Titus by saying it lacked adequate theatrer distribution, among other issues, and regardless of its popularity, Taymor undoubtedly put her own creative stamp on the Bard. She has done the same with the Beatles.
Across the Universe, which debuts in major U.S. cities this Friday, adapts Beatles songs into a love story between two young adults living through the turbulent 1960s.
"The main thing is these kids and how they move through the times," Taymor said.
From the decade's carefree early years to the stormy war protests in its latter period, Beatles songs from 'Can't Buy Me Love' to 'Revolution' helped shape and shift pop culture.
Jude (Jim Sturgess), a boy from Liverpool, travels to the United States where he falls in love with Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), a privileged kid from a suburban home whose brother, Max, has left Princeton and faces the Army draft.
The trio move New York where they become immersed in the counter-culture and anti-war movement. They are guided through their experience by characters like Dr Robert (Bono).
Taymor and composer Elliot Goldenthal rearranged the melodies and instrumentation -- but not the lyrics -- to 33 Beatles tunes. 'I Want You,' for instance, transforms from a tale of sexual need into Uncle Sam's desire to draft men.
Goldenthal said he would visit the set, watch the actors perform, then rewrite the songs to fit the scenes.
Taymor said the songs are as relevant today as they were in the 1960s, and the new arrangements possess sounds and invoke feelings meant to reach a new audience.
"Their music doesn't date," she said. "Sometimes it's these new arrangements that... allow the audience to hear the music as if they are hearing it for the first time."