Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Movie: Titus

The definitive movie is Juilie Taymor’s “Titus” with Anthonly Hopkins and Jessica Lange (1999). It’s very mixed.

On the one hand, it’s probably the only good filming of the play. On the other, it’s often ridiculous.

Taymor wants to be Peter Greenaway and puts a lot of effort into the images, but it only works half of the time. A lot of it is too kitschy and overwrought to be charming, and she tries too hard. The acting could have been more subtle and here again is that old problem: The play is written to be declared, but the scenes are played for a kind of pseudo-realism, and it’s often not credible.

On the other hand, it almost works, and this is a play that could easily be grueling torture to watch.

One good thing she does:

She cuts the action enough to make almost everything motivated. Whereas in the play it is much more loopy and disjointed, here you can follow the reasoning of the characters as the plot progresses.

One bad thing she does:

Shakespeare had the bad habit of really playing up the tears. Titus and just about everyone is constantly complaining to the gods and moaning and groaning. Taymor cut out a lot of the play – well done – but she left in most of the bellyaching. It’s too much. Give these people a little dignity, turn your eyes away the five hundredth time they bewail their fate to the gods, please, it drags on you more than the constant bloodshed does.

(The popularity of moaning and groaning is not limited to Shakespeare’s time. Looking at image from earlier productions of the plays, most poster-makers and illustrators seem to concentrate on Lavinia, who does nothing but suffer – there are all kinds of images of her bleeding and being raped etc. She is the weakest character in the play and I can imagine that Shakespeare did all those horrible things to her because she was so annoying. But when putting on the play, directors tend to play her up big for the pity effect.)

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