Originally written January 10, 2000
Director Julie Taymor re-invented theatre with her epic Broadway show The Lion King. Hailed as one of the most visionary directors ever seen on the White Way, it was only a matter of time before her unique vision would find its way to the big screen. But could we have ever been prepared for this….
Titus Andronicus is one of William Shakespeare’s earliest plays and it is his least-performed and least acclaimed. Did that stop Taymor? No. Instead, she used the platform of her staggering success on Broadway to do her own telling of the story of Titus Andronicus, but this time to tell it in a way Shakespeare could never have even dreamed of. This tale is called Titus and it is a rich, grand, epic film that may not make Julie Taymor one of Hollywood’s hot shots, but it certainly earns her the title as the most courageous. And does she still have vision? Oh, you bet.
There is no way to capture in words what the experience of seeing Titus is like. It is a film for anyone who really likes film and likes to see boundaries broken and risks taken. Titus is a film for those few out there who still believe that film is an art form. After all, Titus is still Shakespeare, no matter how you dress him up, and Shakespeare is and always will be literature. But what Taymor does with this Shakespeare is she adds an avant-garde touch, keeps the language but offers a sort of time travel gone haywire, as time periods collide and meld into this world of the film that truly is a world of its own.
The production design and cinematography are eye-boggling and the costumes are decadent. What may feel like over-the-top one minute seems like conservative the next and vice versa. This is most definitely Julie Taymor’s movie, and most directors in her position, with an obviously trusted playwright and a trusted avant-garde vision, would rest there and deliver a film that might miss the key ingredient. Shakespeare was, still, at heart, about the words. And you need actors to speak words. So Taymor pulled out all the stops in that category as well, getting Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange and Alan Cumming to lead a stellar cast.
Again, there is no way to properly discuss this film, at least not in any forum short of a film class term paper. But what I will say is this: it takes stamina to watch this film. It took courage to make it and it takes courage to watch it. BUT if you are willing to invest 2 hours and 40 minutes to a film experience, that is most definitely what you will get. This is no ordinary film and this is no ordinary director. Treat yourself to something special.
A word of warning: the plot itself, typical to Shakespeare, does include extreme acts of violence and barbarism. While our modern eyes are used to seeing blood onscreen and there is nothing here that is worse than anything we’ve seen from Tarantino, it is still gruesome and worthy of warning.
My rating: *** = worth paying full price