Shakespeare is Julie Taymor’s touchstone. She comes back to him not only in countless stage productions but on film as well, from the exhilarating visual and violent “Titus” with Jessica Lange and Anthony Hopkins to Helen Mirren’s incomparable take on Prospero in “The Tempest.” Taymor also loves the Beatles (“Across the Universe”), Frida Kahlo (“Frida”), “The Lion King” (the $1 billion-grossing Tony-winning musical), opera (Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” life partner Elliot Goldenthal’s “Grendel”) and her swooping version of the Broadway hit “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark”–for which she successfully sued to get royalties.
One of the high points of the recent Toronto International Film Festival was not only watching the world premiere of Taymor’s latest Shakespeare film–shot by her “Frida” cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, combining her recent acclaimed Brooklyn live theater production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with hand-held close-up filming–but interviewing the theater/opera/film director right after. See highlights in the video below.
It wasn’t hard to get her going on Shakespeare–or how she managed to mount this last-minute movie with only two day’s prep. The answer? Multiple cameras took different positions through the last four shows, and then went hand-held and up-close during day performances. Taymor used no visual effects. Will we see this in theaters? It deserves to be seen for all of us who missed the stage production. This “hybrid of live theater and film,” as Taymor describes it, is too gorgeous to miss, far more sophisticated than the usual Live at the Met, with a rousing fit-to-film score by Goldenthal.
Taymor’s in her joyful element, deploying a stunning team of artists who deliver spectacular stage and film craft, exquisite period-free costumes, brilliant masks (Bottom’s is manipulated by hand controls), billowing sheets, stunning lighting, bamboo forests, and rambunctious pillow fights. Her fine ensemble of 15 actors, including muscled David Harewood as Oberon and alabaster Tina Benko as Titania plus 17 fairy children in white makeup and clothing, were confident and often hilarious at the end of their run. And hyper-flexible theater star Kathryn Hunter as Puck is a marvel.