Saturday, September 11, 2010

THE TEMPEST - The Stuff of Dreams - Venice World Premiere

(Venice, Italy) We are such stuff that dreams are made on...

After 400 years, The Tempest by William Shakespeare has metamorphosized into an electric new creation. Changing the gender of the protagonist and casting the masterful Helen Mirren as the female sorceress, Prospera, who has been banished as the ruler of Milan, instead of the traditionally male sorcerer Prospero, was a stroke of genius by Julie Taymor. It feels right, as though Shakespeare should have written it that way from the start. It makes the unseen character of Sycorax, a powerful sorceress who has died before the story begins, much more dynamic. The pregnant Sycorax was banished from Algiers, just as Prospera was banished from Milan with her three-year-old daughter -- that they both ended up on the same bewitched island seems destined, as if the island itself provides the chessboard for the game that must be played.

In fact, in an example of real-life synchronicity, it turns out that both Julie Taymor and Helen Mirren were already on the same wavelength before either of them had met each other -- they both had thought about Prospera as a woman. They met at a party and were talking Shakespeare when Mirren said to Taymor, "You know, I could play Prospero -- as a woman." Taymor said, "Do you want to? Because I've been preparing a film version of The Tempest with exactly that in mind."

The tempest that shipwrecks the royal court, however, is no accident. The King of Naples (David Strathairn) is on the boat, together with Prospera's own dastardly brother, Antonio (Chris Cooper), who was the cause of Prospera's banishment -- he accused her of using witchcraft to kill her husband, the Duke of Milan, so Antonio could steal the title. Prospera conjures up a violent storm and wrecks the royal court on her mysterious island, and then uses magic to lure them to her lair.

During the press conference, Helen Mirren was asked if she felt Prospera represented women who had been victimized because they had knowledge. Mirren said that for many centuries women of knowledge have been punished for their knowledge, and that an educated female is considered a dangerous thing -- even to this day. In the production notes, she says: "The gender switch...alters the political slant of the play, making it obvious that Prospera's banishment has to do with her being a woman in control of a male-dominated court in Milan."

The Big Island of Hawaii and Lanai was the landscape for the mysterious island: black volcanic rock, red earth canyons, white coral bones and a deep blue sea. When Lynn Hendee, one of the film's producers, contacted the Lanai film commissioner, she was told, "No, you can't film here. It's privately owned and the owner doesn't allow filming." (If there is no filming allowed on Lanai, then why do they have a film commissioner??? I want that job!)

In any event, that did not stop Lynn Hendee. She contacted the island's owner, Dole pineapple's David Murdock, and had dinner. "We had a lovely evening and it turns out Mr. Murdock is a huge Shakespeare fan. He liked the idea of this project and thought it would be a tribute to the island that he loved. And, as the audience will see, the island is a character in the film."

Caliban, the dead sorceress Sycorax's son, is played by Djimon Hounsou as a force of nature, barely contained, the volcanic island personified. Hounsou said his only complaint was that he had to spend five hours every day in make-up. The result is stupendous -- caked mud, black and white, one blue eye, strange markings.

When asked how it was to work with Russell Brand (Trinculo), who apparently has an.... interesting... reputation, Helen Mirren raved about him, saying he used language in an inventive way and that he was utterly sweet-natured and a genius. Julie Taymor said she didn't know who he was when she cast him, and spoke highly of him, too, and said he could basically have whatever career he wanted to have. Of course this made me curious about him because I have no idea who he is, either. From Wikipedia:

Brand achieved fame in the UK for presenting a Big Brother spin-off, Big Brother's Big Mouth, and for his radio show, among other television series and award ceremonies. He has also appeared in a number of films, including the romantic comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Bedtime Stories, St Trinian's, Get Him to the Greek, and most recently, Despicable Me. He is noted for various controversies that have surrounded him in the British media, such as the 2008 prank calls that led to his resignation from the BBC. He is engaged to Katy Perry.

Click HERE to read the entire article.

The spirit Ariel is played by Ben Winshaw, who literally was not there for most of the shoot, so Helen Mirren had to act to the air, imagining where he would be. Taymor said it actually worked out for the better because it allowed them to really get creative. Taymor said, "Ariel is not human, does not walk on the ground and is constantly transforming. This limitation was an invitation to Kyle Cooper, the visual effects designer, and myself to invent an entirely new way of combining a live actor's performance with CGI (computer generated imagery)." Personally, I think they came up with some very cool effects, and I would have even liked more of them.

Casting Helen Mirren as Prospera also changes the most important relationship in the play, the one between parent and child. Prospera's young daughter, Miranda, is played by the beautiful Felicity Jones. The relationship becomes matriarchal, which adds many different elements and colors without changing a word of dialogue. When Prospera decides to return to Milan so that Miranda can have her rightful place, she puts on a corset, symbolizing the constricted life she is returning to for the sake of her daughter.

I loved the film, but I love Shakespeare and can never get enough of his work. All the performances are terrific, Sandy Powell's costumes are cool, and the original score by the composer, Elliot Goldenthal, is hauntingly beautiful, as full of magic as the play. Be sure to stick around until the the credits roll for the final song, "Coda," a totally original way to incorporate one of Shakespeare's most famous speeches, the epilogue to The Tempest.

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

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