Friday, December 10, 2010
THE TEMPEST & JULIE TAYMOR
Julie Taymor's THE TEMPEST, a film adapted from her own stage production of Shakespeare's play, provides a simple, beautiful, richly symbolic, clear, contemporary interpretation of this dramatic and fantastic classic. Taymor's version steers a clear path between the multiple traps of over-hammy acting or poor acting, overly mysterious or banal presentation, and simple confusion or over-interpretation, threading through with sensible and considered storytelling, modern acting, and a rich visual style that serves the film well.
It's a hard play to do, and a very hard play to film.
To be sure, the film was made on a shoestring, and in some places the bare bones are evident, notably the initial tempest. But for the most part, the film looked very good, and shooting the film in Hawaii provided a natural wild and beautiful location.
Using busy actors also reduced the amount of time available for rehearsals and in some cases made improvisation necessary. But Julie Taymor, who is one of the few true genius directors, made some of these problems into virtues.
Notably, Ariel was not available to shoot with the others in Hawaii, leading to the unique and -- mostly -- successful overlay of Ariel superimposed and added to the film separately. The nude but sexless Ariel was only slightly strange -- more for being sexless than nude.
Casting Helen Mirren as Prospera was the plan from the beginning. Changing Prospero (a man) to Prospera (for Helen) was seemless. Her performance was central and perfectly natural. The gender shift was/is a non-issue.
All the acting was very fine. This is perhaps surprising, since many actors were more or less new to Shakespeare and, as mentioned above, due to the small budget and their busy careers, rehearsal time was very limited. But when the director understands a play, actors can bring their performance into line; and one part of Taymor's genius is that she understands the story she is telling.
Another part of her genius is visual story-telling (she was known for her visual direction before she was known as a director), which is how on a small budget she succeeded in making a visually strong film.
Julie Taymor (who will be 58 next Wednesday -- born Dec 15, 1952) studied mythology and folklore in college, and then worked in puppetry. Her approach to Shakespeare (in Titus and The Tempest), both to the actors and to the visual style, seems to derive much of its force from this background.
Julie Taymor, of course, is presently in previews for Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, the most ambitious Broadway show of all time. If succesful, it will merge incredibly difficult and dangerous visual effects (quite a few injuries so far), with a mythic story.
THE TEMPEST was shown at the New York Film Festival (NYFF) and Julie Taymor appeared in several events talking about the film.
At the NYFF Press Conference
Photo by Eric Roffman
Here's an interview with Julie Taymor at the New York Film Festival Press Conference: