War begets revenge. Victorious General Titus Andronicus (Sir Anthony Hopkins) returns to Rome with hostages: Tamora (Jessica Lange), Queen of the Goths, and her sons. He orders the eldest hewn to appease the Roman dead. He declines the proffered Emperor's crown, nominating Saturninus (Alan Cumming), the last ruler's venal elder son. Saturninus, to spite his brother Bassianus (James Frain), demands the hand of Lavinia (Laura Fraser), Titus' daughter. When Bassianus, Lavinia, and Titus' sons flee in protest, Titus stands against them and slays one of his own. Saturninus marries the honey-tongued Tamora, who vows vengeance against Titus. The ensuing maelstrom serves up tongues, hands, rape, adultery, racism, and Goth-meat pie. There's irony in which two sons survive.Written by
This movie credits Stephen K. Bannon, at this point, an entertainment-industry figure, as an executive producer. In 2016, after Bannon's rise to international notoriety as a right-wing journalist and member of Donald Trump's Presidential campaign team, an article by The Daily Telegraph pointed out his link to this movie, causing Julie Taymor to issue a statement stressing that "he had nothing to do with the actual producing or financing of it." See more »
When Tamora leaves the party/orgy to join Aaron on the balcony, her hands are clasped across her chest. In the next shot she is holding a cigarette. See more »
What a bang this starts with! Once again, someone with vision and ambition takes on Shakespeare. This first-time filmmaker takes on Shakespeare's first play, possibly a wise choice because the richer the play, the harder to translate to film. That is, the less poetry (mind's eye richness) the more room for eye's eye richness.
Titus is very early and shows at least an immature dramatist and even less so poet. Probably, his actor buddies drove much of the action, and the purpose was either to out gross or parodize Marlowe. The play is unpopular not because it is violent, but because it is clumsy. All the promising parts reappear in much better form in later works. (T S Eliot: "one of the stupidest and most uninspiring plays ever written.")
One of Taymor's apparent goals is to build on and reference the film work of others. I'm not sufficiently knowledgable to get all the film allusions, but the most incidental brushes seem artificial. More solidly, three films form the visual background -- all are Shakespeare films. The basic structure is from Stoppard's Rosencrantz where the whole Shakespeare play is a vision. The framing with the kid, captured by the clown is part of that. Also, in the middle, the clown reappears with a junior version of Dreyfuss' carriage to deliver heads and hand. (What did Taymor tell that redhead girl to get such an attitude?). Stoppard's layers of viewing are amplified here with layers of anachronism, which I must say are more effective.
A second major root is Welles' Othello, which is primarily an architectural film. This is also. Watch it once just looking at the environments, (The baby's "cage" at the end is a copy of Welles' central device.) Very smart, including some clever false perspectives. The third influence is clearly Greenaway's Prospero's Books, which she must have studied for her own contemporaneous Tempest film. Lots of painterly framing and references. (No numbers though.)
Hopkins just doesn't have what it takes, and it is no wonder he swore to retire after this. I think the problem is that he is a screen actor, a face actor. He doesn't create an internal character, but a sequence of mannerisms. He has not studied acting and does not appear to be deeply introspective about the art. He just emotes and has developed the ability to appear emotionally vacant. None of that is valuable here, and one can imagine his crisis when he discovers this. (Lange is just the opposite, constantly monitoring, aware, internal.)
Taymor has problems with pacing. Another filmmaker might create rewards in their laconic sections. Here, they are just slow uninspired periods because she is considers the "script" inviolable.
Taymor's grounding in the popular theater works against her in a commitment to story-telling. Drama is not story; even an apprentice Shakespeare knew this. She is tied too much to showing us everything. A little less worrying about making sense would give the images room to breath and increase the dramatic possibilities.
She understands film architecture, and framing of shots. But she has no sense of moving the camera. On a third watching, you begin to feel constrained by perspective, and see a real flaw here. Where are we the audience? Scorcese doesn't know much, but he knows this, how to make the audience dance -- I assume it is something you have or don't.
These last three points speak to a lack of style in editing. The first part until Titus allows his son to be buried are easy: bam bam bam. That's when the underlying rhythm of the thing should have emerged. She's got vision, but no rhythm.
Broken but worthwhile. Even the flaws are fascinating. Hope she learns. Hope she continues.
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