Sunday, January 26, 2014

Taymor post-mortem, part one, in which I offer tidbits and take issue with many things

While the symposium this weekend was certainly no Blackfriars Conference, it was full of scholarly delight and mind-expanding Shakespeare.  Cheers to my darling friend Haylie for organizing such a smashing event!

The highlight was (clearly) the two-hour conversation with Julie Taymor and Harry Lennix on Saturday.  Harry is kind of a big-deal actor, though the only thing I've ever seen him in is Titus, and I haven't seen that in many a year.  Recently he's been in Man of Steel, Ray, and The Blacklist, and he's got a lot of projects coming out this year.  I'm (obviously) most excited about Macbett, H4, and Romeo and Juliet in Harlem, in which he's playing Macduff, King Henry, and Capulet, respectively.  He's got a deliciously deep voice, he's very tall, and he's every kind of personable and sweet.  I was quite taken with him, and I wish he'd been able to talk more.  

Julie Taymor, on the other hand, while clearly a great artist, did not seem like a person I'd want to hang out with.  I'm not really sure how libel/slander works, so that's all I'm going to say about that.

Rather than try to create an accurate summation of the afternoon, I'm basically just going to transcribe my notes from the talk, but I'll turn it into complete sentences for you.  There are some direct quotes that I was very careful to record accurately and keep in context.  This was also quite illuminating for me, as I was able to gauge just how much I'm drinking the kool aid of my program.  (Hint: it's a lot.  I've got a near-total buy-in to the point of view that's being taught here.)  Here goes:


  • I always forget that Julie Taymor does non-Shakespeare work, like The Lion King and Across the Universe.
  • Before the talk began, they showed a 7-ish minute reel of all of JT's major projects of the last several years--Oedipus, Lion King, Titus, Frida, Magic Flute, Tempest, Across the Universe, etc.  Seeing them all together like that, I'm profoundly struck by how much it all looks the same.  I have complicated feelings about that.  I don't quite know how to articulate them, but I'll just say that I think this is a little more pervasive than just having a distinct, signature style.  It feels flat, repetitive, staid.  (Asyndeton.)  
  • After The Lion King went up, JT was in talks to direct The Cat in the Hat. She turned it down because her vision didn't work with what they [my notes are unclear on who "they" are] wanted.
  • "[Titus] puts Quentin Tarantino into Mary Had a Little Lamb!"  I laughed at this.  It's true, Titus is a whole different kind of gruesome. 
  • JT's first concept for Titus was to set it in Vegas at Caesar's Palace. 
  • "I do think Shakespeare on film is easier" for understanding the language, because of the ability to have close-up shots of the actors; to see their lips move makes it more comprehensible to the audience.  Also, the actors don't have to work as hard to project.  My reaction: This seems like a very narrow view of thinking, and also seems to devalue and diminish your audience.
  • Recorded several of the performances of the last week of the run of Midsummer; may try to distribute it to movie theaters a la NT Live.  Wouldn't that be a treat?  The reviews were great, and I'd like to see it.
  • Pacino was attached to Titus for a year before they got Hopkins.  Pacino just wouldn't commit.  That's an interesting choice.  I don't know that he's right for that role.  However, that's colored by Anthony Hopkins's incredible performance--it's hard to imagine someone else doing that.
  • Hopkins did the hand-chopping-off scene in ONE TAKE.  That's it.  There were no additional shots.  Boom.
  • I might have been misunderstanding this, but it sounded like she was advocating the use of concepts and visual devices to help people hear and understand the language.  I fundamentally disagree with this approach.  If you have a good actor who's spent time with the text and is prepared, you don't need anything else--in fact, adding anything else is going to be a distraction that will prevent people from hearing and understanding the language.  As proof of this statement, I present the American Shakespeare Center and all the work they're doing there.  Specifically, Allison Glenzer, Gregory Jon Phelps, John Harrell, Benjamin Curns, Rick Blunt, Tim Sailer, and Rene Thornton, Jr.  Incredible actors who get inside the text and make it their own.  And yes, they use costumes and props to help tell the stories, but they certainly don't need them.  Any one of those seven, and probably any one of the rest of the resident or touring troupes, could stand on stage--or anywhere--and make you understand the language with no costumes, no props, no nothing.  Just them, and the words, and you.  (Polysyndeton.)  And it would be incredible.
Thus ends the first third-ish of my notes.  Now, dear friends, it is time for me to sleep.  Tune in maybe tomorrow, maybe later in the week, for part two of my notes!

1 comment:

Ellen Margolis said...

Oh so very interesting! Thanks for transcribing and sharing--I know it takes time. But at least one reader appreciates this very much and looks forward to more.