Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Lion King Director, Julie Taymor – An Inside Look

Julie Taymor is  best known as the acclaimed artistic director of the Lion King musical. She is mastermind behind the incredible designs and awesome spectacle. Taymor brings her artistic flair to everything she does. With training and research in dance, puppetry, mask and costume, design aspects infiltrate all areas of her art. Take a look at this selection of projects over the years to see the range of work she has done.
1992 to 1993 – Opera
In the early nineties, Taymor focused on directing opera. After visits to the opera, she felt she could better picture the scenes if she closed her eyes and imagined them. She brought imagery and colour, to productions of Salome, Johann Strauss’ opera based on the Oscar WIlde play, Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Ivor Stravinksy’s Oedipus Rex.
1997 – The Lion King
In 1997, Taymor became a household name with her hit production, The Lion King musical, debuted in the West End, but is now on Broadway and played worldwide. The Lion King features large scale design depicting the African savannah through puppets, costume and set. The technology and art of mime and puppetry came originally from her stay in Paris, at Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq, and complemented later by a course from The American Society for Eastern Arts. Such skills influence not only the Lion King show, but much of her work.

1999 – Titus
When Taymor does Shakespeare, she does the more difficult, fantastical plays – and she does them very well.  This film version of Titus Andronicus is arty, funny and blood thirsty.  It cleverly updates the early Shakespearean Revenge Tragedy — more Kydd than Shakespeare, it is often felt — for a modern audience, fascinated by the bloody violence of the Ancient Romans.  Starring Anthony Hopkins as the possessed revenge hero, it is the leading production of the lesser known Shakespeare play.
2002 – Frida
Taymor’s fascination with visual art continues in this biopic film of the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. The film is perhaps the apotheosis of recognition for Frida’s work, which was not largely acclaimed until the end of the 20th century. The history of the film does not reside with Taymor alone; it was passed around other directors before finally settling in the artistic hands of Julie Taymor. Questionable in terms of history, according to The Guardian, but what historical film isn’t?
2002 – The Magic Flute
There’s symbolism galore in this production of Mozart’s late, most famous opera, The Magic Flute, which Taymor produced on a much smaller scale in Italy in 1993. It is from the 1993 production that Taymor takes some of her ideas for the 2002 puppets. It is a kaleidoscope of colour, costume and puppetry. The surreal, fairytale story is  transformed into a clash of East meets West, as Masonic imagery meets Indonesian puppetry and Buddhist motifs.
2007 – Grendel
This is an ambitious operatic version the novel by John Gardner. It takes its inspiration from Beowulf, the Old English anonymous epic. The monster-filled fantasy poem lends itself well to Taymor’s artistic vision.  It has a cast of 120, some of which fly above the stage. She is director, as well as co-designer and co-writer, showing her various skill in music and art. The tech-heavy production, which took place in Los Angeles, was late to open due to technical difficulties. When it finally did open to the public, it was heralded a visionary spectacle and musical extravaganza, to rival the Lion King in scope.
2007 – Across The Universe
Continuing with her love of music, this time in the realms of pop, Julie Taymor directed and co-wrote a Beatles jukebox musical film. It is a romantic epic over many years and settings, including New York, the Vietnam War and the Liverpool dockyards.
2010 – The Tempest
The newest film version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest is most notable for its comedy, specifically Russell Brand as Trinculo, its fantastical special effects, and its female ‘Prospera’, played by Helen Mirren.  Taymor wrote and directed the film, only changing the script to reflect Mirren’s part having seen a host of male actors with which she was not satisfied. The same scale of the Lion King show can be seen here.
2011 – Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark
This is Julie Taymor’s most troublesome work in terms of production, and it is questionable whether it should be included in the final list.  The Spiderman musical was a long time in coming to Broadway. At the end of the longest preview run ever, In April 2011, Taymor was ousted from the production team due to ‘artistic differences’.
The producers, who wanted a family friendly show, portrayed Taymor as a prima donna, who wrote a bleak book who wasted money on a sinister style and high tech stunts. Taymor herself countered that her book had been approved years in advance, and that the stunts were impossible due to incompetence rather than expense. A legal tussle ensued over whether Taymor should be awarded royalties for an edited book in a musical of which she was no longer a part, which she eventually won. After many delays, Spiderman, the most expensive musical in Broadway history opened in June 2011.
Which of these Julie Taymor works have you seen?  Lion King in the West End? Spiderman on Broadway?  The Tempest in the cinema?

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