Saturday, February 14, 2015

Titus (1999 film)

Based on the play Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare, Titus is the story of a general who tries to seek vengeance against a queen as it would play into his own downfall. Written for the screen and directed by Julie Taymor, the film is a radicalized interpretation of the Shakespeare play where the Roman Empire is set in the mid-20th Century in a world that is very anachronistic and chaotic as it plays to this general’s downfall as the titular character is played by Anthony Hopkins. Also starring Jessica Lange, Harry Lennix, Alan Cumming, Laura Fraser, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Colm Feore, James Frain, Matthew Rhys, Angus MacFayden, and Geraldine McEwan. Titus is a sprawling and rapturous film from Julie Taymor.

Set in a world that mixes Fascist-era Italy and Ancient Rome into an anachronistic world, the film revolves the downfall of a general in the hands of a queen whose life he had destroyed as she would seek vengeance for the death of her son in the most graphic way. There, Titus Andronicus copes with the decisions he has made in his life as well as the decision of who would be Rome’s new emperor as it would come back to haunt him as he faces dishonor and ruin in himself and his own family. Much of it involving a plot by the Queen of the Goths in Tamora (Jessica Lange) who sways the mind of Rome’s new emperor Saturninus (Alan Cumming) while conspiring with her moor lover Aaron (Harry Lenix).

Julie Taymor’s script does explore the world of vengeance in all of its fallacies where Titus would descend to madness not only by his own hands but also in the way his own family would be affected. Much of it is observed by his young grandson in young Lucius (Osheen Jones) who is mostly silent for much of the film. The script also involves commentary by Aaron who would break the fourth wall to unveil many of his plans to destroy Andronicus and his family. Even as Aaron becomes an integral part into playing both sides for his own gain until he would become vulnerable in his attempt to play into observing Titus’ own fragile state of mind.

Taymor’s direction is definitely grand in not just the way he tells the story but in how she would fuse to different periods of Roman history into a story where it could’ve been told in any time frame. Shooting on location in various areas in Rome and nearby as well as a few of its ancient monuments. Taymor definitely aims for something that mixes decadence and surrealism in her approach to telling the story as she goes for all sorts of dazzling visuals in her compositions. Even as she isn’t afraid to put in things like video game arcades or pool floats into the film as it is obvious they weren’t around during Fascist-era Italy. Using a lot of wide and medium shots as well as some low camera angles, Taymor goes for a film that plays into a man coping with a world that is changing as the decisions he made for this next era of Rome would have some serious repercussions.

Taymor also infuses a lot of these lavish moments about the way some of the parties emerge as well as some of the film’s violence. The latter of which involves rape and other graphic moments where it is told in a very stylistic manner. Even as the impact of what Titus would see are shown in some very eerie close-ups as while Taymor would use wide shots and some unique framing devices to play into his own confusion and the need to comprehend about what had happened. All of which would lead to some definite extremes into Titus’ own plot for vengeance as it played into its fallacies as well as the cost of what one man did for vengeance as well as Tamora’s own quest as it led to tragedy. Overall, Taymor creates a very extravagant yet harrowing film about the fallacy of revenge.

Cinematographer Luciano Tovoli does brilliant work with the film‘s very colorful and lavish cinematography with its use of stylish lights and shades for some of its nighttime interior/exterior scenes along with vibrant colors for the daytime scenes. Editor Francoise Bonnot does amazing work with the editing as it is very stylized with its jump-cuts and dissolves to play into some the craziness that goes on in the film as well as in some of the drama. Production designer Dante Ferretti, with set decorator Carlo Gervasi and supervising art director Pier Luigi Basile, does fantastic work with some of the film‘s set pieces from the palace where Saturninus lives in with Tamora to the home of Andronicus. Costume designer Milena Canonero does excellent work with the costumes as they’re lavish from the gowns that Tamora wears as well as the design of the uniforms and clothes that the men wear.

Special makeup effects artist Tony Gardner does superb work with the makeup for some of the characters in their look as well as some of things they wear to play into Andronicus‘ troubled mind. Visual effects supervisor Kent Houston does terrific work with the visual effects with its emphasis on surrealism for the dream sequences as well as some of the key elements that drive the story. Sound designer Blake Leyh does nice work with the sound to play into some of the sound effects as well as the sense of terror that occurs in the film in terms of its plotting and in Titus‘ mad state of mind. The film’s music by Elliot Goldenthal is wonderful for its orchestral-based score that features elements of bombast to play into the drama as well as some comical moments as the score features elements of electronic music and rock with contributions by Page Hamilton of the alternative-metal band Helmet.

The casting by Irene Lamb and Ellen Lewis is incredible as it features some notable small performances from Raz Degan as Tamora’s eldest son Alarbus, Geraldine McEwan as a nurse who would bring Aaron his son, and as the trio of Titus’ youngest sons, there’s Kenny Doughty, Blake Ritson, and Colin Wells as the men who become victimized in Aaron and Tamora’s plot. Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Matthew Rhys are superb as Tamora’s son in Chiron and Demetrius, respectively, who create chaos and cause trouble while James Frain is terrific as Saturninus’ brother Bassianus who is love with Lavinia as he tries to bring peace only to be a source of ire for Saturninus. Osheen Jones is wonderful as the young Lucius who is the film’s observer while Angus MacFayden is excellent as Titus’ eldest son Lucius who tries to see reason for everything while coping with the chaos that is emerging. Colm Feore is fantastic as Titus’ brother Marcus who is sort of the film’s conscious as he copes with the decisions his brother has made as well as the sense of chaos that has loomed over his entire family.

Laura Fraser is amazing as Titus’ daughter Lavinia who becomes victimized by Chiron and Demetrius in the worst way where she spends much of the film in silence to display the loss of innocence that she once represented. Harry Lennix is great as Tamora’s lover Aaron who would be the architect of the conspiracy as he often breaks the fourth wall to create elements of chaos. Alan Cumming is brilliant as Saturninus as the new emperor who is this man that represents a form of chaos as he becomes drunk with power. Jessica Lange is remarkable as Tamora as Lange brings a lot of theatricality and ferocity to her performance as a woman who felt wronged as she plots the ultimate revenge. Finally, there’s Anthony Hopkins in a tremendous performance as the titular character as a general whose decisions that he makes would come back to haunt him as he descends into madness where Hopkins brings a lot of energy to his role as well as not afraid to ham it up.

Titus is a phenomenal film from Julie Taymor. Armed with a great cast as well as dazzling visuals and sprawling set pieces. It’s a film that plays into the fallacy of revenge as it’s told with such style that pays true to the works of William Shakespeare. In the end, Titus is a spectacular film from Julie Taymor.

Julie Taymor Films: Frida - Across the Universe - The Tempest - The Auteurs #42: Julie Taymor

© thevoid99 2015


Ruth said...

I've been curious about this film for some time. I should also check out Taymor's other works.

thevoid99 said...

If you're into William Shakespeare, you would definitely want to see this. It's quite long but definitely engaging as I would describe it as Shakespeare being reinterpreted by Federico Fellini. Frida I think is still Taymor's best work.

Anonymous said...

I found this hard to watch. It's beautiful to look at, and Lange is certainly on fire, but overall I found the film very unfocused and choppy and kind of hard to get into, which surprised me, to be honest.

thevoid99 said...

@Fisti-It was quite tough at times because the dialogue is so stylized in the Shakespeare rhythm. Yet, I took my time to watch it as it is still quite sprawling and the performances are big as it plays to what is expected in Shakespeare.

Ben Broadribb said...

An excellent review. One of my all-time favourite Shakespeare film adaptations that proves just how brilliant the original play is, despite the fact that it's often derided as one of Shakespeare's inferior works (something I disagree with completely).

thevoid99 said...

@Ben Broadribb-If this one of Shakespeare's inferior works, then it must be better than everything else. I don't think it's inferior at all.