A Cross The Universe Is Still The Best Dance Music Doc

Eight years after it was released, the Justice film remains one of the best music docs ever made.

Eight years after it was released, the Justice film remains one of the best music docs ever made

The past few weeks have been a blur of Justice-fuelled hype. Less than seven days ago the duo released their third studio album and fans across the world are eagerly awaiting an expected tour announcement. With so much Justice buzz, we could be forgiven for forgetting that their genre-defining tour documentary, A Cross The Universe was released eight years ago today. But, as we'll no doubt be seeing the Frenchmen back on the road in the not-too-distant future, now seems like the perfect time to revisit this masterpiece of a music documentary.

A Cross The Universe was released on 24th November 2008, just two months after the also amazing Soulwax doc, Part of The Weekend Never Dies, but while the former focuses on interviews with the great and the good of dance music, ACTU is a full-throttle distillation of tour life. Covering the duo's second North American tour, the film is shot and directed by Ed Banger art directer, SO ME, and Romain Gavras (the man behind all your favourite music videos). Crucially, though, the Justice lads were also producers on the film and were heavily involved in the editing process.

Gaspard and Xavier, who were both 23 at the time, were filmed 24/7 for the duration of their three week tour. Talking to Exclaim Magazine afterwards, Xavier explained: "We asked them to film everything because we knew that after there's the edit, and the edit is when you get your privacy back." If this was any other act, their edits would no-doubt sanitise the film into nothing more than a puff piece, but with Justice, the portrait is well and truly warts and all.

Scenes like Gaspard getting married in Vegas to a girl he's just met, Busy P in his pants, or Xavier bottling a fan, would never make the final cut in today's immaculately PRed music landscape. In fact many scenes which would've shown the lads in a slightly more sympathetic light were the very scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor. 

The most obvious incident of this was the aforementioned bottling. In ACTU  a drunken Xavier, seemingly out of nowhere, smashes a bottle over a fan's head, before going on stage to perform. Immediately after they come off stage, Xavier and then Gaspard, and then their tour manager, Bouchon, are put in cuffs and driven off in a police car.

Talking after the release of ACTU Xavier explained that the fan had been an obsessive who had followed them throughout the tour, their was plenty of footage of him hassling the band, which could've painted Xavier in a slightly better light. But they chose not to show them, as the felt the scene was more impactfulness without context.

It was this dedication to creating something truly entertaining, rather than in anyway promotional (or arguably insightful), that makes ACTU what it is. On release, film critic Justine JC said "The film is literally an arbitrary compilation of the people and events involved in the band’s tour." It's exactly this lack of adherence typical music doc tropes or structure that makes the film so inherently watchable. Xavier described the aim as "too almost make like a teen movie; it doesn't talk about music, it doesn't talk about us as characters, because we didn't want that either."

Indeed for a music documentary ostensible about Justice, very, very little is learnt about the duo over the course of the hour. Yes, we get unparalleled insight into their life on the road, but they hardly ever speak directly to the camera and almost no time whatsoever is dedicated to discussion of their music.

But for all it's lack of music talk, the documentary easily achieves the inevitable reason for which it was commissioned - it makes you really, really want to go see Justice. Like, right now. Tonight.

From the moment it starts to the moment it ends the film is jam packed with the kind of high energy hijinks that everyone in their twenties wants to be getting up to on a night out. In a way it's a document of the ultimate night out, one which took three weeks to film and traverses the length and breadth of the United States. It goes from underground clubs in New York to mansions in California via Las Vegas wedding chapels and midwestern gun ranges. 

It's Fear And Loathing On Tour and, even eight years later, it's un fucking believable.

16 bizarre moments from A Cross The Universe:

Erol Alkan lovingly strokes Xavier's hair

Xavier climbs ass-first into a freezer

Xavier self-flagellates with a belt

Gaspard feeds a Nurofen to a squirrel

Gaspard plays a tin whistle

Kanye West smiles from ear-to-ear

Their coach driver explains the process of winning Guinness World Record for lowest vocal note

Gaspard and Xavier play basket ball in a supermarket

Busy P does a hoedown while driving a truck

Busy P completely fails to catch a frisbee

A teenage Sky Ferreira sings "We Are Your Friends" from the green room floor

Gaspard gets married in vegas

Xavier sings at Anthony Kiedis for a prolonged period of time

Bouchon, is arrested for bringing a handgun into a roadside diner

Xavier bottles an obsessive fan

Xavier, Gaspard and Bouchon are arrested

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Written by Matthew Francey

24 Nov 2016