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Julie Taymor
Julie Taymor
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Julie Taymor Interview (page: 6 / 6)

Theater, Opera and Film Director

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  Julie Taymor

A recurring idea in your work is this idea of ritual, that theater in itself is a ritual. We all sit in a room and have a communal experience. There was a ritual aspect to your production of Oedipus Rex and Titus as well. You draw this parallel between art and religion, and it seems to be very close in a lot of your work.

Julie Taymor: I'm not religious, but I believe in the ecstasy that art and religion can create in human beings, the ecstatic or the awe -- as I like to call it, you know, "a-w-e" -- that it makes people feel in a way that isn't their banal, everyday feel. That they go, "My God, it transformed me. My life changed." Frida Kahlo, the story of Frida Kahlo, I'm in Australia and I meet a woman and she says, "I have cancer, and watching that film has completely transformed my life because now I know that every single moment I can actually fill with color, and I don't have to go into the dark and the morose."

When people talk about all of the bad things happening in the world, you just go, "Okay, and how do we live our lives? How do we live through those dark times? How do we bridge those horrors and those ailments and those deaths and those accidents?" And...

Theater evolves through religion to be the mediator between the darkness and existence, to help you get over the hump of a bad season and no rice paddies and a sickness, a demon that's come into your family and has spread malaria. And you go, as the artist -- the shaman -- would make these spirit journeys, and he would take you into a place. Now, it's a psychological play, but as we said, the concrete world isn't necessarily the most powerful world. The world of the mind -- whether you're watching Matrix or whatever -- the world that's inside here has the power to do a lot of good and a lot of damage.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

So that is the religious part of it. That's the part where...

When people are there, and they're committed -- whether they're a performer who says, "I'm going to take the next 10 hours to put on my costume, it will take me that long, and as I do, I will eat this food and I will cleanse my body," whether -- you know, if you're a dancer, a Kathakali dancer from India putting on that 40 pounds of fabric -- it transforms who you are so that you can stay up all night and dance for 20 hours. As a regular Joe, you can't do that.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

So we've seen that. There is something human beings can do. "The adrenaline rush," we call it. Fear, tremendous love. When people kill themselves, commit suicide over love, that kind of passion will move mountains. And I know, as an artist -- and I still feel weird about that "A" word, "the artist" -- but I know that that's the greatest pleasure I get. Satisfaction more than pleasure.

I love to make people laugh and cry, and that's very good. But in another way, when these moments have happened, and people have written me or have told me, "You don't know what that did to my life," I feel incredibly blessed. I was just given this gift somehow from my mommy and my daddy, and whatever else, to actually do that for people. And it's -- I have to say what I have to say, but not in a void. I'm not one of these people that go, "Oh well, I'm just going to do my art and I don't give a shit what anybody thinks." I don't feel that way. I really, really love to have people honestly be moved and inspired. And whether it's just here or just here -- it's always better if it's the both. That's why Shakespeare is so great, because he gets you from the gut to the heart to the head, and that's what I aspire to do, more than anything.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Julie Taymor Interview Photo
In your film Frida, pain was healed through color and art. Unbelievable pain, more pain than most of us can imagine. That was one of the most colorful films ever made.

Julie Taymor: Yeah. In our culture, we think that happy and color is trivial, that black and darkness is deeper. But Nietzsche said -- which is a line that I firmly believe -- "Joy is deeper than sorrow, for all joy seeks eternity." And if you see Grendel, you'll see, as he's on the edge of the abyss, ready to leap to his death, he sings, "Is it joy I feel? Is it joy I feel?" And it's so, so moving. You can have a lot of different explanations for the ending of that opera, but there is something so palpable that you will feel when he sings those lines.

Through all of the art forms that you have brought us, you have been working with the same composer through much of it. Can you tell us how you came together and how you knew that was the right partnership?

Julie Taymor: But you don't know it's the right partnership because it just grows. I think we met in 1980, so 26 years ago we met.

A film producer who had worked with Elliot said -- and who was a friend of mine -- said, "You're equally grotesque, so you might be attracted to each other's art." Then we created a musical together called Liberty's Taken -- that Norman Lear produced, actually -- of the underside, the bawdy underside of the American Revolution. And we started to work together in theater. He would do incidental music, and I would direct, or design and direct. And we found that our tastes and our inclinations and the stories we wanted to tell were aligned.

Juan Darien would be the piece that really did it for us. He brought that piece to me. It's a Uruguayan short story by Horacio Quiroga. It's also a requiem mass. Elliot's idea was to put the requiem mass together with the seemingly naïve child's tale of cruelty. It's a child's tale just in that it's about a little jaguar in a circus, but what it shows is really man's inhumanity to the "other."

We have often been attracted to the story of the other, the outcast. And he and I just loved working together, so it just kept happening, and our relationship is completely bound up with our work. We enjoy each other's art. He's done Frida and Titus, and of course he won an Academy Award for Frida, which was very nice. I was happy it was on my film, you know.

Even with the Beatles, he and T-Bone Burnett are producing, but Elliot has done a good deal of the arrangements, and it's incredible to hear his new take on Beatles songs. It's amazing as a composer.

Do you edit each other's works?

Julie Taymor Interview Photo
Julie Taymor: That's an interesting question. We so much love what the other does, and respect it, that if he does something that I don't quite get, I won't question it -- especially in the opera. The opera is his. The composer is at the top. He's top dog. So for me, last night, I didn't take a bow, because I wanted to see Elliot go on stage. It was the most extraordinarily wonderful thing to have all those people standing for him. There's a lot of private stuff that goes into that, but it is his work in opera. It's Mozart's Magic Flute. It's not Schikaneder's Magic Flute. Now, I've done the Magic Flute, and I've got a nice one that keeps coming back, but in years it will die and Mozart won't.

So Goldenthal's Grendel is there, and in that, I didn't even listen to a lot of it until it was done, because in film -- when he's doing music for my films -- I am the director and I can say, "I don't like that. It doesn't work." And he has to sublimate, even if he feels it does. But now, after these many years, if he really believes, I can probably see it. You see? There's a different communication. We're much faster. It's very easy to see where the other is going and support it. So it's an amazing artistic collaboration in theater. He's done ballets on his own, and other works, but we're doing theater and film and now opera, and we're doing musicals as well together.

After Across the Universe is edited, do you have another project already in mind?

Julie Taymor: Yes, we have. I have a couple. We're doing a movie musical of Thomas Mann's The Transposed Heads, which we did as theater and as a musical, and now we're throwing out all the original and writing together. We enjoy writing songs together too. I did one for Frida. I do the lyrics, he does the music. So we're writing this musical together.

Then -- if it happens, it happens -- but I've been slated to direct a Broadway musical Spiderman with Bono and the Edge writing the music. It just hasn't quite been signed off on; it's been in development for a while. But I would like to do that. I look forward to that. I've got a weird take on it.

Thank you very much for a great conversation.

You're very welcome. Thank you.

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This page last revised on Sep 28, 2010 16:31 EDT
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