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A pretext to approach American and British issues during the
second half of 20th century

Patricia Rivera

September 18th, 2009

General objectives:

• To approach some of the issues the US and the UK during

the second half of 20th century through the movie Across
the Universe

• To practice the 4 skills through the movie and the

topics to be treated

Characteristics of the group

• 17 to 20 year- old (young adults)

• Level B2 CEFR

• EFL students

• 4 two-hour session, once a week


The Didactic Unit I present here hopes to become a tool for

B2 students and teachers that are eager to work with the four
skills in an integrated way. To do this, the main resource that is
going to be used is the movie Across the Universe plus readings
related with the historical issues and characters that have a part
in the movie. The classroom then, should become a place where the
students can spontaneously share, either speaking or writing
essays, what their thoughts and opinions are using English in a
meaningful way, not only to do correct things with it but also to
communicate something that the others can find interesting.

This is what we do all the time in “real life” outside the

classroom: we use the four skills, we read, listen or watch
something (reading and listening) and we talk or write about that
something (speaking and writing). The main purpose of this
didactic unit is to reproduce that “real” environment inside the
class, so students can start using the language in a “real” way.

The movie Across the Universe is a musical that only uses The
Beatles songs (highly likeable by the young students) and tries to
build the story with the lyrics of these songs. Also, the movie
deals with issues that were (are) very important in American
history like wars, drugs, young people problems, familiar problems
in American Society, freedom, political ideas, among other topics
that students will probably feel connected with.

The methodology that is going to be used is one where

students will be stimulated to understand discourse in the movie
beyond words through interaction of the whole class. Students will
participate actively firstly by talking about some of these issues
so they can later see the movie not only as a work of art, but
also as a sum of statements and opinions where they will find
those issues among others they have to discover.

I think that introducing films in a EFL setting is a great

way to approach and to study in depth history and culture of the
Foreign Language community. A film, since it is more visual, can
also be more didactic. This specific movie has an advantage and it
is music that calls the attention of young learners.

SESSION 1 Eliciting students to talk about

110’ American history in the second
half of the 20th century, with
some topics the teacher will
prepare beforehand.
SESSION 2 Speaking about The Beatles and
110’ the impact of this band in
music, history, etc, starting
with the title of the movie.
Watching the first part of the
movie (70’) telling students to
take into account the topics
that were approached.
SESSION 3 Talking about the part of the
110’ movie they watched asking them
how they liked it
Watching the second part of the
movie (70’)
Telling students about the essay
they should write for the next
session (Connectors)
SESSION 4 Discussion around the movie and
110’ how it deals with the topics
that were treated before
Handing the essay in and share
its content with the class


The practice of the four skills will be stressed during all

the activities, especially those skills that are productive for
the students which are speaking and writing. That is why students
will be motivated to participate in discussions and to write an
essay from those discussions.

Because the movie is 133’ long, I have decided to watch it in

two sessions. It will allow students to ask what they did not
understand of it or to try to uncover the ending and not to miss
the second session.

Since the students are now in an advanced level, they are

supposed to understand most of the discussion and topics related
to the movie, but anyway they will be prepared beforehand about
the topics with readings and group work.


1. Short paragraphs with information about the topics to be


- Vietnam war

- Usage of drugs in that time

- Hippism in that time

- What is a musical?

- The Beatles

2. Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe movie (DVD)

3. A TV set, a DVD player, a room where to see the movie, access

to internet

4. A Movie review from The New York Times from September 17,2009

5. All other material that students would like to bring to class

related to the movie or related to the Beatles.


Students will be assessed first, by the essay they are going

to write on any or all the topics dealt with in class, and second,
by the level of participation in class.

Teacher will assess the quality of the whole didactic unit by

a form the students will fill out and the comments the teacher
hears in the classroom.


The Vietnam War was a military "Sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll …and
conflict that occurred in Vietnam, drugs" could have easily been the
Laos, and Cambodia from 1959 to 30 slogan for the 60's.
April 1975. The war was fought
between the communist North Vietnam, The abuse of drugs was one of focal
supported by its communist allies, concerns of life at that time, and it
and the government of South Vietnam, is one of the first things people
supported by the United States and think of when they remember that
other nations. The United States decade.
entered the war to prevent a
communist takeover of South Vietnam Most popular of the recreational
as part of their wider strategy of drugs was marijuana. Though used by
containment. Military advisors some as a culinary surprise,
arrived beginning in 1950. U.S. marijuana was ingested by most in the
involvement escalated in the early form of smoke.
1960s and combat units were deployed
beginning in 1965. Involvement
peaked in 1968 at the time of the
Tet Offensive.
The Beatles' influence on rock music The hippie subculture was originally
and popular culture was—and remains— a youth movement that began in the
immense. Their commercial success United States during the early 1960s
started an almost immediate wave of and spread around the world. These
changes—including a shift from US people inherited the countercultural
global dominance of rock and roll to values of the Beat Generation,
UK acts, from soloists to groups, created their own communities,
from professional songwriters to listened to psychedelic rock,
self-penned songs, and to changes in embraced the sexual revolution, and
fashion. used drugs such as cannabis, also
known as marijuana, and LSD to
explore alternative states of
The musical, in all its various forms, is very much a living art
form. Our goal in these history essays is to see how the musical has
developed over the last few centuries on stage and screen, to assess
where it currently stands, and to finally make some educated guesses
as to where it may be headed in years to come. Let's start with a
basic definition –

musical (noun): a stage, television or film production utilizing

popular-style songs - dialogue optional - to either tell a story
(book musicals) or showcase the talents of the writers and/or
performers (revues).

2. Movie Review

Across the Universe (2007) composite of John Lennon and Paul

McCartney, with a personality to
NYT Critics' Pick This movie has match.
been designated a Critic's Pick by
the film reviewers of The Times. From here the movie only gets
Abbot Genser/Revolution better. Somewhere around its
Studios.Evan Rachel Wood is Lucy, midpoint, “Across the Universe”
and Jim Sturgess plays Jude in captured my heart, and I realized
Julie Taymor’s “Across the that falling in love with a movie
Universe.” is like falling in love with
another person. Imperfections,
September 14, 2007 however glaring, become endearing
quirks once you’ve tumbled.
From its first moments, when a
solitary dreamer on a beach turns That surrender is the kind of
to the camera and sings, commitment that Ms. Taymor, a true
unaccompanied, the opening lines believer in the magic of art, asks
of the Beatles’ song “Girl,” Julie of an audience. And as the movie
Taymor’s ’60s musical fantasia, intensifies, and she brings in a
“Across the Universe,” reveals its fantastic array of puppets, masks
intention to use the Beatles’ and synergistic effects, you may
catalog to tell two stories at find yourself in a heightened
once, one personal, the other emotional state, even as you
generational. That young man, Jude realize that what you’re seeing is
(Jim Sturgess), is a cheeky unadulterated white, middle-class
Liverpool dockworker with a baby boomer nostalgia.
twinkle in his eye. He quickly
emerges as a winsome vocal
This risky hybrid of long-form Carpio), an Asian-American lesbian
music video and movie musical with cheerleader who hitchhikes to New
clearly drawn characters tells the York from Dayton, Ohio, and (in a
story of Jude’s star-crossed love joke on a Beatles song title)
affair with Lucy (Evan Rachel crashes into the house through the
Wood), a girl from upper-crust bathroom window.
East Coast suburbia. It follows
the couple as they are swept up Jo-Jo, who suggests a softened
and come apart in the evolving Jimi Hendrix, becomes Sadie’s on-
counterculture of left-wing again-off-again boyfriend and
politics, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ sometime lead guitarist. Prudence,
roll. who early in the film sings “I
Want to Hold Your Hand” while
The story, briefly: Jude, visiting gazing wistfully from afar at a
the United States in search of his blond cheerleader, develops a
long-lost father, meets Lucy secret crush on Sadie. While Jude
through her brother, Max (Joe embraces art, Lucy, who lost her
Anderson), a student at Princeton, first boyfriend in Vietnam,
where the father is discovered gravitates toward antiwar activism
working as a janitor. Max takes after Max receives his draft
Jude home to his stuffy family for notice and reluctantly leaves to
Thanksgiving, during which Max fight in the war.
shocks his parents by announcing
that he is dropping out of If the young lovers are familiar
college. He and Jude drive to New ’60s archetypes, the actors’
York and settle in a sprawling natural performances and the easy,
East Village tenement and are soon colloquial dialogue by Dick
joined by Lucy. Clement and Ian La Frenais (“The
Commitments”) allow the characters
Their landlady, Sadie (Dana Fuchs, to transcend the generic. When
who played Janis Joplin in the Off Lucy, gazing at Jude, sings “If I
Broadway show “Love, Janis”), is Fell” very slowly, in a sweet,
the movie’s resident earth mother. trembling voice, she is one girl
An aspiring rock singer, she worriedly fantasizing about one
sounds like a warmer, more boy.
controlled Joplin. Her triumphal
“Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” Most of the historical events are
announces Lucy’s arrival in New lightly fictionalized in a movie
York, and later in the movie, her that maintains only the fuzziest
voice hoarsely shouting “Helter of timelines. Its 33 Beatles songs
Skelter” rises above the mob (two without words) have been re-
during a Columbia University riot recorded and sung by the actors.
at which Jude is arrested. Yet “Across the Universe” feels
emotionally true both to the
Rounding out the bohemian Beatles, whose music today seems
household are Jo-Jo (Martin Luther to exist outside of time, and to
McCoy), a guitarist who arrives the decade it remembers. Smart,
from Detroit by Greyhound after uncluttered musical arrangements
his younger brother’s death in the help reposition the songs to
Detroit riots, and Prudence (T.V. address the situation at hand. As
a result, music that has congealed The dreamiest reverie, set to
in collective memory — especially “Because,” begins with a tableau
the clever, breezy early Beatles of nine friends blissfully lying
songs — emerges refreshed. A on their backs in the grass in a
visceral peak arrives with mandala pattern. The circle
“Strawberry Fields Forever.” In disperses as Jude and Lucy find
this gorgeous production number, themselves in a watery blue sky
an artwork by Jude in which rows where clouds melt into liquid, and
of bleeding strawberries are the entwined lovers are themselves
pinned to a white surface floating underwater. Most fanciful
transmutes into a hallucination of of all is a largely animated
strawberry bombs raining over sequence in which Eddie Izzard is
Southeast Asia. Then the artist, Mr. Kite, the ringmaster of a
in an anguished frenzy, begins psychedelic circus with a dancing
smashing strawberries on the walls chorus line of “the blue people.”
and floors and destroys his work.
Amid the phantasmagoria are
This happens around the time that several star cameos. As Max
Lucy, who works for a militant recovers from war injuries in a
antiwar organization, angrily veterans’ hospital, he has a
dismisses Jude’s art as “doodles morphine-induced fever dream in
and cartoons.” He charges into her which the beds in his ward rear up
office, snarls the song from the floor to the song
“Revolution” and instigates a “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” and he
brawl. It is one of several is tended by five Salma Hayeks.
moments in which “Across the Bono appears as the acid guru, Dr.
Universe” grasps a central Robert, a Ken Kesey-Neal Cassady
emotional duality of a culture in fusion who sings “I Am the Walrus”
which rage and ecstatic idealism at an acid-drenched party and
clashed and played into each other conducts Jude, Lucy and a roiling
at the same time. band of Merry Pranksters on a
delirious bus journey through a
Another extraordinary scene rainbow-colored countryside.
follows Joe to a United States
Army induction center at which an “Across the Universe,” in the
Uncle Sam poster comes to animated spirit of the counterculture, goes
life, leans down, points a giant with the flow. Its scenes, songs
finger and growls, “I Want You and witty roughhouse choreography,
(She’s So Heavy).” Inside the spun off from the Beatles’ movies
center a choreographed sequence “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!,”
finds inductees in their underwear dissolve into a stream of
sliding involuntarily along the consciousness with only occasional
floor through lines of Army punctuation.
officers in grim Expressionistic
masks, marching in robotic Because of its oh-wow aesthetic,
formation. The new recruits are its refusal to adopt a critical
next shown, still in their distance from the ’60s drug
underwear, lugging a giant replica culture, its tacit approval of the
of the Statue of Liberty through characters’ antiwar activism and
the Vietnamese jungle. its token attention to the
decade’s racial strife, “Across
the Universe” leaves itself wide
open to derision, complaints and
endless nitpicking. But it
couldn’t have succeeded any other
way. The movie is completely
devoid of the protective cynicism
that is now a reflexive response
to the term “the ’60s.”

“Across the Universe” believes

wholeheartedly in the quaint,
communitarian spirit it exalts.
You share the joy of its blissed-
out hippies in the grass. You feel
the deepening friendship between
Jude and Max that is sealed in
Max’s incandescent performance of
“Hey, Jude.” And during the time
it lasts, the intoxicating passion
of Jude and Lucy, both innocents
by today’s standards, convinces,
for a moment, that love is all you