Saturday, March 12, 2011

julie taymor | tempest, titus, universe, spidey

Must be tough being Julie Taymor these days. The news on March 10:
After days of rumors, the producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark made the official announcement last night: Director Julie Taymor is out. The problem-plagued musical has also been delayed yet again, this time until 'early summer 2011,' according to the show’s blog... Newser
Also, we Taymor fans have been waiting since last fall for her film treatment of The Tempest to show up on a screen near us, but the longer it takes a movie to get into circulation, the more likely it is to be a disappointment. There are exceptions, but that's common. So I'm nervous.

I LOVED Titus: tough, brave, insane, with its excesses in all the right places; the perfect film of a fascinating mess of a play. The stage version of The Lion King is brilliant, inventive: she made art when you might expect schlock, using an amazing variety of puppets to render the movements of an array of specific animals that populate its African landscapes in a gloriously stylized, always specific way.

A Beatles fan, I was tremendously enthusiastic to see Across The Universe, and truly loved it, though I will say it veered into something pretty sentimental by the end. I was entirely up for the over-the-top cuteness of some of the early sequences: they were all about cuteness and naivete, and Taymor is brilliant at matching style and tone to specific material. And while the characters were types, I was willing to see them as archetypes more than stereotypes. I was with her when the story took an increasingly psychedelic direction, and really with her when it got darker. Only, the film seems to chicken out in the home stretch: instead of leaving things as messy as they should have been, it all got happy again, and the sunshine-lollipops tone that worked so well in the first was pretty cloying for me in the third. I still watch and rewatch the film: it's a favourite. But I wince a bit when things start wrapping up, and blame "studio interference" for the compromise.

The delays in Spiderman make me nervous: maybe Ms Taymor's being made the Judas goat, like a sports manager who gets fired when the team does bad and goes on to coach a string of championship teams. Somebody's got to pay, something must be done to sate the blood-lust of the fans and media, and who knows, maybe it actually works sometimes - "shake things up," "new chemistry," "restore confidence," all that. But often I think it's wrong-headed. Sometimes not.

In the face of all this, and fearing a trajectory, the delays in The Tempest make me queasy indeed, the quease aided and abetted by this chart in the last Film Comment;

click to expand

The best anybody could say is that the film is "of interest," with two "mediocres" and one out-and-out "bomb"? Ouch. Granted, these Film Comment reviewers are a tough crowd, and can be pretty darn snooty. But still, high marks for all the films I've liked the best lately; Blue Valentine, The Fighter, The King's Speech. Unmerited critic feeding frenzy, or a bad sign of something rotting - or at least slipping - in the state of Taymor?

I'll wait to have my own response. Actually, all this makes me more eager to see both the film (if it can get to Vancouver) and the play (if I can get myself to New York): nothing I love better than celebrating a maligned but deserving play or film.

Still...  I do worry about how Julie's doing.

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