Saturday, October 2, 2010

Taymor's TEMPEST, a visual treat, stays true in spirit to its great source material

What a beautiful piece of filmmaking -- and how true in spirit to Shakespeare's great play -- is Julie Taymor's renditon of THE TEMPEST.  As this is a Disney/Miramax co-production, I would normally -- being the frugal fellow I am -- suggest you wait until its scheduled release date (as of now, December 10) to plunk down your cash. But if you can obtain a ticket to its second and final NY Film Festival screening at 10pm tonight, Saturday, October 2 (the first one, at 7pm, is sold out), go for it. The enormous screen at Alice Tully Hall should do this gorgeous film justice, and you may want to see it prior to reading much about it. Not that there is much to spoil for buffs of The Bard, but Ms Taymor has indeed made a few interesting changes in her paired-down, theme-heightened version -- chief among these is the casting of Helen Mirren as Prospera (yes, that's an "a" at the end). And why not?

If The Great Shake were around today, he'd embrace the rise of women. He was too smart not to, but being of his time and knowing quite well which side of his bread was buttered (and by whom), he played along regarding the "fair sex," just as he did about most else. Casting Mirren is no stunt, either; she's equal parts moving and commanding in the role. And hearing much of the play's words out of her mouth (as well as that of others in this fine cast) is a pleasure. Other than Prospero, The Tempest tends to live or die by its Caliban and Ariel.  Yes, certain other characters in certain productions stand out now and again, but as this is a play about justice and the uses of authority (via magic), audiences tend to look to the magical characters -- Prospero, Ariel and Caliban -- for their thrills and joy.

Djimon Hounsou makes a spectacular Caliban. He is such a handsome, full-bodied actor, and his rich voice has seldom been put to better use than here. With make-up and costume that manage to accentuate his blackness and his "whiteness" (you'll see), he becomes a slave whose enormous possibilities lie just beyond our ken -- and his ability to tap into them.  Caliban is one of Shakespeare's strangest creations, and Taymor and Hounsou make the most of this. They don't (and we can't) explain Caliban -- this marvelous "other" -- but we also can't take our eyes off him. We are fully engaged, as we should be, by who he is and, at the film's moving conclusion, what might become of him.

As Ariel, Ben Whishaw adds another feather to his growing cap. Androgynous and beautiful, fairy-like and asexual, alternately powerful (frightening when need be) and pliant, the actor is a great choice for this role.  Granted the role is half special effects, but Whishaw's skills are such that his performance and the effects seem joined at the hip-- and everywhere else.  I'll have more to say about this remarkable film upon its release.  But if you can make it to Lincoln Center today and can afford the $25, I'd advise the trip.

Check out the entire New York Film Festival here.  For The Tempest, click here.

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