Whew! I’ve gotta say, this movie is exhausting. Directed by Julie Taymor (who, despite no information on the IMDB, is apparently an amazing theatre director), Titus is a huge, epic semi-modernization of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Taymor also wrote the screenplay, I should add – and the writer/director/theatre influence is very strong. At first I thought it was a very French take on an English work – surreal, sexual, concerned with strong imagery when the language is so dense. Later I came to feel that it was just extremely theatrical – but instead of building sets they found fantastic settings in Rome and Zagreb that were surreally unfamiliar and yet perfect.
From a technical standpoint, Titus is very bold and colorful and loud and tragic and huge. From a literary standpoint, it’s relentless misery, unbroken by comic relief, unlike so many of Shakespeare’s other works. From a design standpoint, it’s more classical than say, 1996’s Romeo + Juliet (you know, with Leo), and less of a total reinvention of a world than 1995’s Richard III. So we have incredible Roman soldiers with helmets and swords and shinplates marching in a cool opening sequence – and then we have motorcycles. The good and bad factions are as clearly outlined as cowboys with white and black hats in an old western. But, thankfully, with a creepy, Cabaret-style flamboyance (thanks in part to bizarre but perfect casting of Alan Cumming as Saturninus). All the casting is good, the performances are good, but dear lord that play doth drag on and on, taking with it the golden streams of afternoon and the heady hours of my youth.
Woe betide he who drinketh from the fountain of soft drinks before he views this tragedie of the highest order. Glad tidings to tell that despite the atrocities performed by all involved in this terrible tale of deeds, most of them are done offstage, in the classic Greco-Roman (and Shakespearean) tradition. Alas I cannot cleave to Jessica Lange, despite her performance of strength and bile. And oh, what is that terrible compositing stuff doing in this film?
Location location location – wheresoe’er one needs must find oneself in need of a place so rare, so beauteous in its splendor or simple in its grimness, hie thee to cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, for his eye is sharp, his wit is keen, his purpose, unbending. Some of the production design doth reek of the old school – the reds and whites and blacks which served King Richard III so well but now, without those Nazi parallels, seems too stark and obvious for such complex counter-revenge. I was lost a lot of the time, despite some comfort with the Shakespearean tongue, but even the most obscure of moments in plot were rendered vivid and true tripping over the lips of Sir Anthony Hopkins. And yea the barren skin of many hedonists was spread across mine eyes in flesh and in art – observe ye the Greek friezes painted on the walls of one of the many big, fabulous chambers.
The short version is, it was really well done, but it was not my cup of tea at all. If you love Titus Andronicus, I suspect you will love this movie.
MPAA Rating R for strong violent and sexual images.
Release date 12/25/99 NY/LA
Time in minutes 162
Director Julie Taymor
Studio Fox Searchlight