Aspen Film honors Julie Taymor
ASPEN When I asked Julie Taymor if she could think of anyone who has a career similar to hers, she didnt exactly answer the question. But her response spoke volumes nonetheless.You mean in the United States? she asked back. Eventually, Taymor decided there probably were others whose range of work paralleled hers but it required going beyond national borders to identify them. Im sure there are people in Europe who jump around from film to theater.Yes, Taymor jumps from screen to stage projects. She achieved something on the level of pop stardom in the theater with 1997s mega-hit The Lion King, becoming the first woman to win a Tony Award for directing a musical. She earned some acclaim in the cinema for 1999s Titus, a successful adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy Titus Andronicus, starring Anthony Hopkins as the Roman general. Taymor earned more attention for her films Frida, which earned Selma Hayek an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, and last years Across the Universe, which built a story of the 60s around the songs of the Beatles.Soon enough, Taymor will surely be showered with attention as a theater director. Her current project is a stage adaptation of Spider-Man, with music by Bono and the Edge, of U2.But comparing herself to directors who move between film and theater would be selling Taymor short. She has also directed a handful of operas, including a Magic Flute that was projected live from New Yorks Metropolitan Opera into movie theaters in the U.S. and Europe, and a version of Oedipus Rex, presented in Japan which she simultaneously shot for a DVD. She co-wrote the libretto, with her artistic and personal partner Elliot Goldenthal, for the opera Grendel, which took the point of view of the monster from Beowulf. The one Academy Award she has been nominated for came in the Best Original Song category; she wrote the lyrics, while Goldenthal composed the music, for Burn It Blue, from Frida.But what Taymor does most notably, in film, theater or opera, is put a visual stamp on the stories she tells. She didnt only direct The Lion King, but led the team that came up with the ingenious masks that marked the look of the musical, earning a second Tony for costume design in the process. She isnt credited for the costume design for Titus, but the film did earn an Oscar nomination in the category, plus several other honors on the visual and production side. Frida and Across the Universe likewise earned awards in such areas a make-up and costume design.Referring to Titus, Taymor says Shakespeare is so visual which certainly puts her in the minority of those who rave about the playwrights visual sense, rather than his feel for language, history and human nature. Still, for all the notoriety for how her projects look, Taymor says it is always in the service of a bigger picture. She isnt aiming merely for the eye-popping effect.I think when youre a director, youre finding a visual metaphor for what youre doing, said the 55-year-old Taymor, who will be honored with Aspen Films first Visionary Award on Saturday, June 28, at Paepcke Auditorium, in a ceremony that includes a discussion of her work and clips from her movies as well as behind-the-scenes footage. Its not empty spectacle its visual, meaningful spectacle. The metaphor of The Lion King, the visual circle of life, is in that set. That whole idea of the circle of life is there in that set, in that mountain. It has a power.Across the Universe, for all its dramatic visuals, Taymor notes is very naturalistic. Its set in real time, in real places. In perhaps the most captivating scene, in front of a military draft board, where Uncle Sam comes to life singing the Beatles I Want You, and endless columns of anvil-jawed soldiers dance robotically, Taymor says the knock-out choreography and special effects are designed to spark the viewers imagination.Yes, hes being drafted, said Taymor, a Massachusetts native who was staging theater pieces, involving folklore and mythology, even as a child. But youre also seeing his imagination and his fears. Thats what art does it gives you a cubistic experience of something you think you already know.Taymor has several projects ahead of her: a film musical she is doing with Goldenthal, The Transposed Heads, based on Thomas Manns telling of an Indian legend; and another film adaptation of Shakespeare, this time a comedy, The Tempest.And then there is Spider-Man, currently in production. Taymor, who is co-writing the script, said her version looks not to the recent spate of Spidey movies, but the original comic books. Taymor says she was tempted by the opportunity to work again with Bono and the Edge, who contributed their takes on Beatles songs to Across the Universe, but also the source material.It touches on things Im very steeped in, she said. The dilemma of the young, underwhelming nerd, with no hubris at all, gets bestowed with the greatest of super powers. And has to find a way to lead a normal life at the same time. I found that a great dilemma for musicalizing.
Julie Taymor receives Aspen Films Visionary Award at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, June 28, at Paepcke Auditorium.firstname.lastname@example.org