Written by Sombra Blanca
If your rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, like mine, can only be lived vicariously, the Justice documentary A Cross the Universe packs in a few years’ worth. Despite the fact the documentary’s subjects, Frenchmen Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay, don’t play rock ‘n’ roll at all, at least not in the traditional sense.
Whether their brand of banging electronic house music is “the new rock ‘n’ roll,” as one fan proclaims, I’ll defer to others. But A Cross the Universe, a summary of their three-week North American tour in early 2008, reveals enough antics to rival the legends of any hesher hero.
At 64 minutes (shorter than the accompanying audio CD in the two-disc set), Filmmakers Romain Gavras and So-Me haven’t the time to delve into the duo’s history, why they make music, or any other biographical sketches. A little airport confusion, a stock shot of a plane in the air, and the film is off, fueled by the frenzied, over-the-top music from Justice’s first and only full album so far, Cross. (Not the word but the symbol, kind of like what Prince did).
Naturally a documentary about touring is going to include some live footage of the shows, and the directors include plenty of it, or at least a generous amount of fan footage. Crowd surfing in every clip, crazy costumes among the concertgoers, hands in the air as if they didn’t care, and an almost painful amount of strobe lights. Seriously. I understand the intent is to match the “thump-thump-thump” of the beat, but how their uninspired lighting tech avoided seizures, I have no idea. The lighting is the main reason it’s a good thing A Cross the Universe isn’t a straight live show.
If I had a gripe about the live footage, it would be that the close-up crowd shots dominated any clips of Augé and de Rosnay actually “playing” their instruments, even if it would horrify purists by showing a couple of CD players among other equipment. And especially because one of the gigs, the 2008 Coachella Festival, was purportedly their first performance with a live PA setup. It would’ve been nice to see trial-and-error (or success) footage from that show alone.
Instead, the directors never let the film linger too long in any one moment, and constantly flip back and forth between on- and off-stage. The duo, their tour manager Bouchon, and other members of the entourage find themselves in a hotel room filled with pantily clad ladies one night, watching a marriage on another night, and peppered along the with way with arrests, celebrities, and bottles both emptied and broken on purpose.