Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Julie Taymor’s catastrophes

Has ever a supposed genius (more anon) had such a run of debacles as has Julie Taymor? It’s nearly a decade since Taymor, a director of theatre, film and opera, delivered the perfectly decent Frida. A biopic of Frida Kahlo, …

Sun, Mar 20, 2011, 21:46

   

Has ever a supposed genius (more anon) had such a run of debacles as has Julie Taymor? It’s nearly a decade since Taymor, a director of theatre, film and opera, delivered the perfectly decent Frida. A biopic of Frida Kahlo, moustachioed Mexican painter, the picture was not exactly a critical smash, but it received pretty decent reviews and played well in the sort of arthouse cinemas that have Kahlo paintings on their coffee cups. By that stage, Julie had, among many other things, transformed The Lion King into a hugely successful, mildly avant-garde Broadway show and directed a diverting film of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. In the early 1990s, in recognition of her radical theatre work, Taymor had received a MacArthur Felowship, a tribute sometimes referred to as “the genius grant”. (Actually, if you look at the list, prominent geniuses are fairly few and far between. But never mind.)

So, a great deal was expected of Taymor. It’s hard to describe quite how awful Across The Universe turned out to be. A musical featuring the songs of The Beatles, the film attempted to talk us through the turmoil of the 1960s. For somebody so bright, Taymor proved to be weirdly fond of the overly literal interpretation. People were constantly coming in through the bathroom window or wanting to hold your hand.

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Many people thought that the low point came when Bono appeared as “Dr Robert” (U2 and cinema — an unholy combination),but, for me, the nadir was the scene where, to the strains of She’s So Heavy, the Statue of Liberty is carried through the Vietnam jungle. Get it? The national trauma is, like, so heavy and that. Anyway, the film was bloody awful.

Last year, Taymor released a version of The Tempest starring Helen Mirren as a female version of Prospero and Russell Brand as a non-acting version of Trinculo. Featuring visuals by the My Little Pony team and performances that veered from the desperate to the laughable, the picture was so awful that, despite getting a brief UK outing, it wasn’t even released on these shores. You don’t need to see it.

Then, we had the Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark fiasco. Nothing much more needs to be said here about that doomed production. Following several serious catastrophes involving flying actors — thankfully none fatal — the show managed the remarkable feat of receiving the worst reviews in Broadway history without actually opening. That’s right. As I write, the poor thing is still in previews. Last week, Taymor recieved the ultimate rebuff: she was sacked as director. Given how individual Taymor projects are, this is rather like hearing that a writer has been fired from his own novel.

Is there any way back? Well, Ms Taymor emerged from the theatre and she will, one assumes, always manage to get modestly budgeted productions produced off Broadway. But few seriously regarded arts practitioners have ever delivered such a jolting series of rabid turkeys. Up like a rocket, down like a filthy stick.

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