Julie Taymor’s ‘The Tempest’ Screens This Friday

Julie Taymor bent our minds with an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” as well as her Beatles fantasia “Across the Universe.” Now she’s back with the Bard’s swan song, “The Tempest.”

Taymor’s background is in experimental theater, puppetry, musicals and operas, but she’s faired relatively well when it comes to cinema. “Titus” is an interesting albeit schizophrenic mess, though it might be worth revisiting 11 years on with its visual panache and bloodletting. “Frida” was a critical favorite and nearly everyone seemed to enjoy “Across the Universe,” although some of the Beatles’ renditions were painful (i.e., “A Day in the Life”).

So, when we heard that Taymor was adapting Shakespeare’s final play of alchemical romance, there was the possibility that it could very well become another interesting mess like “Titus.” Then Taymor mesmerized us with the inspired casting of Helen Mirren as Prospera (the character Prospero inverted as the wife) with Alfred Molina, Chris Cooper, the brilliant Djimon Hounsou, David Strathairn and pan-sexual Alan Cumming rounding out a group of all-star thespians.

Taymor even found space for Russel Brand (?) and some up and comers like Ben Winshaw and Felicity Jones, as well as Taymor’s Broadway Spidey star Reeve Carney.

Beyond Taymor’s obvious visual skill in costume design and choreography, and her ability to attract great actors, one should also celebrate Taymor the experimental artist for bringing to the screen the subject of alchemy. A mode of thinking that was all but stamped out many hundreds of years ago because an anarchic elevation of the individual’s intellect and artistry could simply not exist in a framework that emphasized supplication and a yearning for annihilation, followed by resurrection.

The alchemy in the “The Tempest” influenced poets and artists from Pre-Raphaelites like Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Sir John Everett Millais (he of the nearly photographic Ophelia painting) to Romantics like Percey Shelley and, it would seem, pre-Surrealist writers like Comte de Lautreamont, whose dark prose poem “Maldoror” must go down as one of the most unbelievable books ever written—pure literary alchemy.  Comics writers like Alan Moore and Grant Morrison probably even owe something to Shakespeare’s final play.

It will be a delight to watch Taymor treat the subject of alchemy with a combination of great visuals and even greater actors.