Titus was adapted from one of Shakespeare's earliest plays, Titus Andronicus, which was believed to be his bloodiest work. In the Victorian era, Titus Andronicus lost its popularity because of its gore, and recently just began to revive its fortunes. On stage, this script as a play must be awful. There are so many flaws in the script, the motivations for the character are left unexplained, there are holes in the action, and a character even leaves the country and then comes back, seemingly only to set up the climax. There is little explanation of action, and it is less poetic than some of his masterworks (Midsummer, Hamlet, Lear). And yet, Julie Taymor (renowned for her magnificent Lion King on broadway found perfection in this movie. Not only was it the first film of the play (the rest were mere television productions), it was also world's first glimpse of the genius of Taymor and Shakespeare brought together.

Titus was created in a world which in which - amidst the architectural splendors of ancient columned buildings - Roman warriors, dressed in traditional armor and wielding unsheathed swords, battle for power in a land disconcertingly filled with motorcycles and automobiles, pool tables and Pepsi cans, punk hair cuts and telephone poles, video games and loud speakers. The effect of all this modernization may be unsettling and off-putting to the Shakespearean purist, yet, in the case of Shakespearean adaptations, the directorial judgment has paid off handsomely. Not only does this technique revive some of the freshness and familiarity of Shakespeare's works, but these strange, otherworldly settings actually render more poetic the heightened unreality of Shakespeare's dialogue. Plus, in all honesty, Shakespeare's plays are themselves riddled with so many examples of historical anachronisms that the ‘crime’ of modernization seems a piddling one at best.

Taymor has infused Titus with an anachronistic fantasy, and set it in a world that uses locations, costumes and imagery from many periods of history, including Ancient Rome and Mussolini's Italy. Julie Taymor has said that her reason for doing this is that to her, setting the play in any one time frame dilutes its message, since if it takes place in ancient Rome, we are able to pretend modern society is somehow less violent. And even if it's set exclusively in the present day, the deeper theme is mangled. To her, the play is about violence, so she sets it in every imaginable era to show that we haven't ever conquered our baser instincts. Most people have problems with anachronism because although art is open to any interpretation, some view anachronism as just "too much" of the mixing element of time. However, I think that Titus could not be depicted more real than the way Taymor has chosen. A comparison might be made with the Lawrence Olivier and Ian McKellen's Richard III. Although McKellen's is not a fractured-time narrative, it is, nonetheless, a modernized and stylized setting of the same play. The use of anachronism doesn't automatically make a film great, it just makes it different, and a lot closer to the real play, which is, of course, Shakespeare's brainchild. This movie is so packed with metaphor most viewers find it intimidating. It's an amazingly seamless telling of a story using time-specific visual references to outline the characters and events. i.e. the nazi-esque motorcade, biker costumes appear similar to the Italian fascist movement, evident paranoia. While the rival motorcade appears symbolic of John Kennedy and symbiotic trust.

The costume design is fabulous, obvious 1960's Glam/GlamRock design influences carefully illustrate the vanity and narcissism of Roman culture at the time using flashy wool-lined synthetics. Shakespeare took particular pleasure mocking a society with conveniently and easily deniable gods, such that the gods themselves treat their fates as tragic playthings. And I digress… my main point is Shakespeare built his fame on being what has always been considered taboo and edgy: sex, violence, death and profanity. Julie Taymor having not missed a beat with the visuals, which are terrible and powerful at times, only seek to punctuate tragedy. The 1999 Titus Andronicus differed greatly from this Taymor masterpiece, because Titus Andronicus focused more on hate and revenge, leaving to inexpressibility the oth

In concentrations on the characters of the play, I think Lucius' role has been quite downplayed. As the man who emerges after the bloodletting and chaos "To heal Rome's harms and wipe away her woe", Lucius invites comparison with other savior-figures in Shakespeare like Richmond and Malcolm. In stark contrast to such figures, however, from the very beginning of the play, he has blood on his hands; if his country like Scotland under Macbeth is a "slaughterhouse," or England under Richard III is awash with "warm blood," he has unthinkingly but viciously played his part in making it so. Indeed, it is Lucius who brings bloodshed and death into the play; his first words spoken at the tomb where his dead brothers lie, are:

"Give us the proudest prisoner of the Goths,
That we may hew his limbs, and on a pile
Ad manes fratrum sacrifice his flesh …"

Lucius might seem to be heroic in the end, but isn't it that most heroes, although often unconsciously, have always done something detrimental to their country or cause at some point in time? What kind of brutal and coarse mentality is it, one wonders, that allows a man to compare the smell of burning human entrails with "incense." Moreover, the butchery Lucius is so savouring also sets a cycle of savagery in motion. Alarbus' "lopped" and "hewed" limbs signal the entry into a dramatic world where hands are chopped-off, a tongue torn from a girl's mouth, heads severed, throats slit, and events rise to a macabre crescendo when, in a bloody banquet, a mother unwittingly devours her murdered sons. It is one of many ironies afforded by Titus Andronicus that it is the savior figure who introduces the savage theme of dismemberment into the play.

In most movies, the one villain, sometimes, in some twist of fate, would almost always end up either dying or having a change of heart. But Aaronwas plain brutal and evil to the end - even with the birth of his child with Queen Tamora. He did not hold on to the child and let it live because he loved the baby, he loved the power that the baby wielded, being of half-noble birth. Aaron was purely evil, so it confounds me to consider that maybe he did love the child.

In general, all I can say that Titus by Taymor was tastefully done. As discussed in class, it's a violent film about violence. We may have agreed that Titus was satirizing the evils and ideologies of violence by ironically taking part of it. I think that in doing so, the movie was able to capture the film's essence and deepened it by aesthetically sticking eerily close to the real plot of the play, which not many film adaptations have done. The sheer flamboyance of the display of gore and violence done by Taymor also ensured the timelessness of Shakespeare. Every scene is constructed meticulously. Of course, I cannot envy quite so completely, the full out patience and exacting eye that it took to look at the creative genius of each idea. For every room, each building, each camera angle of the few rundown humble city sidewalks, made to contrast the elegance of the royalty, or to add to it's persona. These things are created like any other movie must create its sets. But for me it seems that they may have found the perfect camera angle to film whichever character's scene it was. Taymor's audacious mix of styles may not ultimately gel, but if you had to film Titus Andronicus, it's hard to imagine doing it in a more challenging, dynamic - and faithful - way. And what theatre could rival Taymor's cast: Anthony Hopkins as Titus, for once stretched by a role to the full range of his talent; Jessica Lange as Tamora, the revenge-driven empress presented here as a human tigress, swathed in tattoos and sheathed in gold lamé; and Harry Lennix, bringing a grace and dignity to the role of her lover and henchman, the villainous Aaron.

Interesting links:
Lucius, the severely flawed redeemer of Titus Andronicus
"Now is a time to storm"
Entertainment out of Violence

Submitted by: 053430

The reputation of (almost) pornographic violence that precedes Titus distracts would-be audience from experiencing the movie by themselves sans preconceptions. As mentioned in Mary Lindroth's article, ' "Some device of further misery": Taymor's Titus brings Shakespeare to film audiences with a twist', the fact that it was based on one of the, if not the, worst (according to critics) plays ever written by the renowned playwright William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, which is mainly a revenge tragedy, already pre-configures the audience’s expectation of what could only come across as a violence overload. This is not exactly untrue. However, the film is much more than this, and it is unfair to the masterpiece that it is for audience to get put off by the bad reviews. Titus is definitely a film worth watching with the condition that one views it with an open mind (and un-squirmy guts).

Lindroth opens her article with a quote from a student who has just seen the movie. One would expect the response to be something about the pies or the serving spoon, as these were the most brutal scenes in the movie because of the showing of the actual violence. The response of the student was indeed a little surprising but totally understandable. She was struck most by the scene of Lavinia standing on a stump with her stick hands and blood-dispenser mouth. It was one of those scenes where the acts of violence were done off screen but the resulting mutilations nonetheless sends us shuddering. The student described it as “heartfelt”.

As mentioned in the previous post, the anachronism of the film serves to make Shakespeare relatable to 21st century audience. Lavinia, I think, is somehow exempt from this anachronism but not less sympathetic. From the beginning she was portrayed as a proper lady, young, pretty, soft spoken, submissive, religious, and in love: all attributes of the old-age concept of women. She never wore nor participated in anything modern unlike the rest of the characters and props. Even her death, and the reason for it, is archaic (suicide/murder brought about by shame as consequence of getting raped). This stump scene is one of the most poetic in the movie, starting with the bloom-like movement of her revelation of the stick hands and then the shocking yet beautiful slow-mo of the blood from her mouth flailing in the air. Paired with her uncle’s very tangible heartbreak, the heartfelt-ness of the scene elicits in us a reaction, may it be a protest on the injustice of it all or a mere sympathetic sigh.

This brings me to my first point (in accordance with Lindroth’s): that Titus’s violent content is not just for the sake of storyline continuity or entertainment. Instead, the absurdity of the violence itself is a call for our attention and reaction, that is, our active participation in the movie experience. The boy is put in that movie for a reason. Titus himself said so in this line:

"Let us that have our tongues/ Plot some device of further misery/To make us wondered at in time to come" (3.1.133-35)

He plots his revenge in a way that would generate a reaction from the audience, i.e. wonder. This was the goal of Shakespeare which is enhanced by the well-placed anachronism and scintillating cinematography of Julie Taymor. We are asked to have an active hand in looking at ourselves and how nonchalantly we react towards blatant violence. What does that say about our time?

My second and last point is precisely that: what the movie says, the Text of Shakespeare’s work, since a Text can only exist in an activity and as discourse (Barthes: From Work to Text), which in our case we can call “watching the movie”, an act which is essentially also a discourse since we are asked to participate in it, cannot be determined by just what the critics say (that it is merely a violent movie about violence to satisfy our bloodlust). The Text is an overcrossing of meanings, not a co-existence of, and these meanings are irreducible to what the author of the work says, because in a Text, the author does not have authority like he has in his work. Shakespeare may have ascribed a specific meaning to Titus Andronicus, but as a Text, these meanings are expanded by the viewers.

Submitted by 051866

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