I was so excited thinking to myself how Julie Taymor is the greatest female director (directress?) when the gut-punch came… she was the ONLY female director I could name. Sure I knew a few others, but no one that fell in my snobby who’s who list. It’s just that she has such a distinctive style that what she brings to film transcends the question of her gender, making her simply a great director.
An incredibly VISUAL director, may I add. She was the director/costume/set designer for the Lion King musical, but I’d say that barely scraped the surface of her eye. Titus, still one of my favorite movies, shook the breath out of me when I saw Caesar’s, Mussolini’s, and Ciampi’s Rome all forced onto one vulgar stage. Trojans accompanying a bulletproof bubble car into a palace filled with orgies and video games… what was incredible about it wasn’t so much the design itself, but the audacity. She had captured the malevolently charming Shakespeare at youth, when Titus, his first play, was both biblical and Kill Bill-ish at the same time, a wry play of spaghetti for the Elizabeathens’ grindhouse.
It’s funny we’ve been subconsciously choosing character pieces. The unwatchable must-see Irréversible, the disappointing and pedestrian Kinsey, and a second viewing (Xstine’s first) of The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. Luc Besson, I realize, appeals to me on the same level as Julie Taymor, as they are theatrical rock-stars who take visual cliches and, recklessly, polish them with timing and tone into moments you can’t believe were so stirring in retrospect. I love that mix of embarrassment and teenage glee their shots excite.
This whole line of thought came after watching Frida, which I had mild expectations for. Boy was I slapped into this aside. Mia Maestro’s perfect ass, wrenching effects and forced perspectives, top-notch set design, a Brothers Quay animation of a hospital on Días de los Muertos (Grim Fandango fans will love their tongues in cheeks), and my big fave Alfred Molina whose performance was not ruined (as I had expected) by a distractingly attractive Salma Hayek. In fact, Salma wasn’t bad at all. At her worst, we saw a little too much of her real self, and at her best, it was a deep homage to her personal heroine.
I will agree with every bad review I read of it at RottenTomatoes. Frida is fairly textbook in the telling, possibly even boring to some, and it doesn’t dwell much on the effect of her physical pain on her art. But IMO, Frida Kahlo would have wanted it that way. As she said to her adulterous husband, co-artist comrade Diego Riviera, “I had two big accidents in my life Diego, the trolley and You… You are by far the worst.” For someone who had shattered half the bones in her body and had a metal pole piercing her vagina, I think we can infer that the film’s focus on their relationship was in the right. Regardless of the inspiration that was borne from her physical pain, it was her creativity, borne from her emotional anguish, that gave her work the delicate touch balancing the comfortingly common and the outrageously perverse.
Perhaps that’s why Kill Bill didn’t shock so much as bemuse. It was more homage than directing, and when you design a story in which the upper limit of gore has already been done away with, it just isn’t challenging. What Taymor has done is as challenging as Titus, whose rape and mutilation scene is still one of the most disturbing I’ve ever seen. This from someone who had to cover Xstine’s eyes through the first half of Irréversible. Tone is infinitely more multiplicative of violence than quantity. Frida understood that.