Friday, December 10, 2010


My "every third thought" may not have been on the grave while watching Julie Taymor's The Tempest (2010); but, it was certainly on the exit. Despite some fantastic visual flourishes (which I've come to anticipate in Taymor's films), her mercurial imagination failed to enliven or communicate Shakespeare's language, which frequently flailed about within the actors' efforts. It was a struggle to understand what they were saying. I began to rely on spectacle to make sense of the film's narrative trajectory rather than Willy's words.

That being said, I am admittedly the first to appreciate Taymor's spectacular aesthetics. In the film's best setpiece Ariel (Ben Whishaw) is a black-winged satan (i.e., adversary) who drives the King of Naples (David Straithairn), Antonio (Chris Cooper) and Sebastian (Alan Cumming) mad with confusion and fear. The face of Ariel is refracted onto surfaces: the trunks of trees, the faces of frogs, underneath flowing water, on windgusts.

In a separate sequence Stephano (Alfred Molina), Trinculo (Russell Brand) and Caliban (Djimon Hounsou) are chased across the island by hellhounds whose pelts burn like gleaming coals. In an effective gendered reversal, protagonist Prospera (Helen Mirren) uses her magic staff to raise the film's shipwrecking tempest and to conjure an intricate vision of the mathematical geometry of the heavens rendered as a kaleidoscopic cosmic compass and orchestrated by the music of the spheres. Mirren's anchoring performance is leant support by Tom Conti as the good-hearted Gonzalo, and Alan Cumming as the effete, impressionable Sebastian, both of whose command of Shakespearean verse was welcome and orienting; they were able to mean their words, which is—of course—the great challenge actors face in enacting Shakespearean language. Not all of Taymor's ensemble succeeds.

At MUBI, David Hudson has rounded up reviews from the film's premiere in Venice and its centerpiece presentation at the New York Film Festival, including a Twitch dispatch from teammate Peter Gutierrez. Opens at the Century 9 SF Centre on December 10, 2010.

Cross-published on


Ed Howard said...

Seeing the trailers for this, my first thought was: looks like all spectacle, no substance. Second thought was: looks like Taymor really likes Derek Jarman's great, gaudy version of The Tempest. I doubt I'll be seeing this, but Jarman's take on this material is fantastic, using Shakespeare's language and augmenting it with his own punk/glam aesthetics.

Michael Guillen said...

Thanks for stopping by to comment Ed. You've intrigued me to add Jarman's version to my Netflix queue.

PortlyDyke said...

Well, another film to add to my list. Prospero's Book was the first film I ever saw on DVD, I think -- someone told me I absolutely had to rent a DVD player, because you had to pause it to take in all the visuals. I'm all over the spectacle. ;)