Director’s Chair Introduction: Julie Taymor

by Tony Cogan · June 7, 2021 · Director's Chair · No Comments

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Deadline: 10th July 2021

Hello everyone, it’s time to announce the person who will be featured in Director’s Chair for June and this month I’ve decided to go with Julie Taymor.

Taymor got her start on the stage, working first in Indonesia before doing work in New York. Whilst in New York, she worked for The Public Theatre and Theatre for a New Audience on versions of Titus Andronicus, A Midsummer Nights Dream, The Tempest and The Taming of the Shrew. Taymor’s biggest success on the stage came when she directed the stage version of The Lion King in 1997, making extensive use of puppetry to bring the film to life. The success Taymor had with The Lion King led to her being the first woman to win Best Direction of a Musical at the Tony Awards and it remains one of the most successful productions in Broadway history.

Taymor had been involved in the screen before making her feature film debut, with an episode of Behind the Scenes with Penn and Teller focusing on Taymor’s production of The Tempest, directing a TV adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s Hop-Frog with Fool’s Fire and directing a version of Oedipus Rex, again for TV. She made her feature film debut by bringing over her version of Titus Andronicus to screen with Titus. What made Taymor’s film stand out is how it used anachronisms, creating a version of Rome that draws from all points in the city’s history. The film received mixed reviews on release, but was nominated for the Oscar for Best Costume Design.

Taymor’s second film was Frida, a long term passion project of lead actress Salma Hayak. Taymor brought the visual style she showcased in Titus to Frida, whilst also recruiting the Brothers Quay to direct stop motion scenes for the film. Frida was a critical success on release, being nominated for 5 Oscars, including Best Actress, and was named one of the top 10 films of 2002 by the AFI.

For Taymor’s third film, she moved into musicals, directing Across the Universe, a jukebox musical featuring the music of The Beatles. Whilst Taymor did have struggles with producer Joe Roth, who wanted to cut down the run time and testing a shorter cut of the film without Taymor’s knowledge, the film was ultimately released the way Taymor wanted it to be. The film received mixed reviews on release, but was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy and it was praised by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison.

Taymor followed up Across the Universe by going back to Shakespeare, directing an adaptation of The Tempest, the central idea of the film being the gender flipping of Prospero, with the character being played by Helen Mirren. The film received more negative reviews when released, although it was nominated for Best Costume Design at the Oscars.

At the same time as these films, Taymor was working on a stage version of Spider-Man with Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. This became one of the most infamous productions in recent Broadway history. With numerous cast members being injured, budget overruns and over 100 previews, Taymor was removed from the production in March 2011, after previews had already commenced, with the show heavily retooled after Taymor’s departure.

After that, Taymor again returned to Shakespeare, directing another stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Taymor eventually filmed this version of the play before going on to direct another film, this time a biopic of Gloria Steinem. Having multiple actresses, in particular Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore, play Steinem the film premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, although plans for a cinema release were scuppered by the COVID-19 pandemic. the film was eventually released on Amazon Prime in the US and Sky Cinema/Now TV in the UK, with it receiving mixed reviews on release.

As a reminder, the films of Taymor’s you can cover are as follows:

  • Titus
  • Frida
  • Across the Universe
  • The Tempest
  • The Glorias

I look forward to reading whatever you send me.