Venice 2010: Fresh Images From Julie Taymor's THE TEMPEST

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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Venice 2010: Fresh Images From Julie Taymor's THE TEMPEST
Having been fortunate enough to grow up within striking distance of one of the great Shakespeare festivals in the world and to have spent my entire school career with teachers smart enough to take me there every year, I have never been one of those who believed that the works of William Shakespeare were in any way boring or dull. No, in the right hands this stuff remains every bit as potent as the day it was written and Julie Taymor's are definitely the right hands, which makes it very odd that we've neglected to comment on her upcoming screen adaptation of The Tempest until now.

One of the world's foremost visual stylists, Taymor is so good that she made the stage musical version of The Lion King not just tolerable, but actually enjoyable - yes, I saw it - and with material as rich and complex as Shakespeare to match her visual creativity she is an outright master. See her Titus for proof of that.

And with The Tempest now in Venice, some new images - at least new to me - have turned up to show off her eclectic cast, a cast that includes Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Djimon Hounsou, Chris Cooper, Alan Cumming and Russell Brand. One of these things is not like the others, obviously, and I'm more than a little curious to see what Taymor is doing with Brand in there. Check the images below.
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More about The Tempest

Agent WaxSeptember 4, 2010 2:04 AM

Uhm, I'm not challenging Djimon Hounsou or anything, for he is a great actor, but the only non-white character in the main cast plays the monstrous and treacherous mooncalf who attempts to rape a white woman and then finally learns to accept his abusive slavery/servitude to a white man?

How is that not construable as racist?

Todd BrownSeptember 4, 2010 2:15 AM

That's a good question that can be asked of a number of Shakespeare's plays - Merchant Of Venice being the other big example, and Taming of the Shrew for gender issues - and I'm more than a little curious to see how Taymor addresses it.

Agent WaxSeptember 4, 2010 3:10 AM

Shakespeare had no reason to couch race issues in niceties and ambiguities. The England of his time had literally even fewer non-Caucasians than the present. When Shakespeare intended for a specific character in his plays to be of a certain ethnicity , he would state so explicitly. In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock was explicitly identified as a Jew. He did the same for Othello's ethnic origins. Caliban was, to my knowledge, never identified as being of any other ethnicity. The race issue was never intended to be present in The Tempest (again, AFAIK, but it's been awhile since I last read it). Any spin or interpretation incorporating race issues into The Tempest were done post-Shakespeare.

I'm not saying that it can't or shouldn't be done, and perhaps Taymor is going with the angle that Caliban's abuse can be equated with a form of slavery by the dominant caucasians, but I don't think that angle will work well given that Caliban's deformities are congenital and his character is not exactly savoury. Instead of saying "Behold! These white people view black people as monstrous and deceitful!", the message could easily come across as "Behold! Black people are monstrous and deceitful!" It's a rather dangerous step to take. Methinks if the latter is Taymor's intention, she would have been better off making Caliban a normal black man of neutral character, made only monstrous by the eyes of the rest of the characters.

But anyway, I should reserve judgement until the film is finished and viewable. It's a bit premature of me to go off onto these tangents. It's just that while viewing the pictures, gorgeous as the costumes and make-up are, I literally felt uncomfortable. And I'm not even of African origin.