“I’ve been cut into and reset so many times,” says Frida. “I’m like a jigsaw puzzle. And all the operations have done more damage than the accident for all I know. Everything hurts…but I’m alright. At the end of the day we can endure much more than we think we can.” The connection between pain and art is crystallized in the audacious biopic “Frida” directed by Julie Taymor. This was a project that was long in gestation and had at some point different actors and directors attached to it. It became an obsession of actress Salma Hayek to see it to fruition – ultimately co-producing it– and of course embodying the artist herself. Ms. Hayek – who was nominated for the Oscar for her performance – is a force of nature in this. Even when the narrative falters –her ardent turn as this complex Mexican artist will keep you mesmerized.
Artist Frida Kahlo’s life was cut short for she died when she was 47 – but it was quite eventful. She is now one of the most recognized faces in the world – and she’s an important figure to Chicanos – for her work exemplifies Mexican and indigenous traditions. She’s also a feminist icon for her paintings are seen as depicting the female experience rigorously, and she’s also vital to the LGBTQ movement. Her works are now more appreciated and valued than when she was alive. Her paintings – a lot of them self-portraits – combine reality and fantasy – and defy the mentality of cultural subordination created by colonialism – exalting the importance of indigenous iconography.
At the heart of the story is the tempestuous relationship with painter Diego de Rivera – who started as her mentor, and became her husband twice. Their passionate affair started when she was 22 and he was still married to his second wife. They both had numerous affairs while together. She had lovers of both sexes including Leon Trostky and Josephine Baker. “Is fidelity that important to you?” Diego asks her. “Loyalty is important to me,” she replies. Frida is a non-conformist, a victim of a lot of agony as well as someone who doesn’t give up.
A defining event in her life is an accident that occurred when was eighteen years old. She was with her boyfriend on a bus and the driver attempted to pass an oncoming trolley. They crashed and a handrail impaled Frida. This occurrence is dramatized early in the film – and this is one of the moments that works spectacularly well for director Julie Taymor’s creativity is at full play. She uses Kahlo’s painting “The Bus” as an inspiration to illustrate this crucial instance in the painter’s life. Right before the crash Frida notices a painter carrying a cone filled with gold dust. The director slows down the impact – showcasing the glass splintering and showering the bodies with it as it were confetti. Gold dust is combined with glass. There’s a close-up of a blue bird flying out of a hand and another of bright colorful oranges rolling on the floor. We are shown a bird’s eye shot of Frida’s body laying on the ground – covered in blood and gold. Taymor then cuts to an animation sequence with puppets using Day of the Dead iconography at an operating room with distorted voices that explain Friday’s medical condition. “The spinal column was broken , as were the collarbone and two ribs. The pelvis is broken in three places. The metal rod entered the right side of the body… The right leg has 11 fractures and the foot was crushed.” It is bold and brilliant – for we see Kahlo’s artistry come to life. Throughout the film, Taymor will continue bridging Kahlo’s paintings with scenes in her life. She will use all different types of techniques – including animation and collages. We do get inside the artist’s creativity – it’s fantastic, erotic, playful, grotesque and beautiful. One of the highlights is Frida and Diego’s visit to New York. Frida goes to the movies to see “King Kong” and envisions Diego as the big gorilla climbing the Empire State Building and dominating her dreams as well as life. Taymor does the animation in the style of the original film. Another electrifying passage is the usage of the singer Chavela Vargas – herself an icon – singing “La Llorona” as Trostky is murdered and Frida is inspired to paint her famous “The Two Fridas.” Taymor started her career in the theatre with innovative mask, puppetry and dance pieces. She became widely known with her visionary Broadway production of “The Lion King” which won her a Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical – the first woman in history to win such an accolade.
The script is a bit clunky but Taymor’s imagery and resourcefulness and Hayek’s extraordinary embodiment make “Frida” essential.
Frida: “I had two big accidents in my life, Diego, the trolley and you… You are by far the worse.”
Available to stream on Netflix and to rent on YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, FandangoNOW, Redbox, AMC Theatres on Demand, Microsoft and Amazon Prime.
Screenplay by Clancy Sigal, Diane Lake, Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas
Based on the book by Hayden Herrera
Directed by Julie Taymor
Starring Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Valeria Golino, Mía Maestro and Roger Rees
Bringing “Frida” to the Screen
“…Before Miramax’s $12m Frida…the only feature film on the artist was a hauntingly atmospheric Mexican movie directed by Paul Leduc in 1983, starring Ofelia Medina. The first attempt at a commercial English-language movie was spearheaded by Madonna, who pronounced herself obsessed with the painter and began shelling out millions of dollars on her paintings…But although Marlon Brando was reportedly lined up to play her Rivera, Madonna’s project faded away. The US television channel HBO revitalised the idea in 1994, acquiring the rights to Hayden Herrera’s biography of the artist that had done much to fuel Fridamania in the 1980s. The rights transferred to Trimark two years later and to Miramax two years after that. Hayek was never far behind, pushing the project until it was finally shot on location in Mexico earlier this year. The final dash was spiced up by Jennifer Lopez’s involvement in another Kahlo project due to be produced by Francis Ford Coppola, prompting gleeful articles about the renewed competition of the two Latin ladies. But Hayek was the most determined, securing access to Kahlo’s art from Dolores Olmedo Patino, a former lover and patron of Rivera who administers the rights to much of the couple’s work. And it was Hayek who also set about putting together the cast, first approaching Molina while he was performing on Broadway in the play “Art” in 1998. “She turned up backstage rather sheepishly and asked if I would like to play Diego,” Molina recalls. “But I didn’t take it very seriously. It was like a dream, but I read the script and it wasn’t very good.”
The original script, adapted from Hayden’s biography by Gregory Nava, was rewritten for Miramax by Rodrigo Garcia, son of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was later overhauled by Walter Salles (director of 1998’s foreign language Oscar winner, the Brazilian film Central Station) who was also expected to direct the movie. “At one point there were 12 versions of the script kicking around,” producer Sarah Green said during a long Sunday shoot in a mansion in the Mexico City suburb of Coyoacan, where Kahlo and Rivera used to hold court. After Salles pulled out, Julie Taymor was called in, and together with Hayek’s boyfriend Edward Norton rewrote the script again. It was already clear that the film would only get an audience if it focused on the Frida-Diego relationship. But Taymor, best known for her stage version of “The Lion King,” set about accentuating the visual dimension by intertwining the major events of Kahlo’s tempestuous life with her paintings. Norton concentrated on the historical context and added some humour in keeping with Kahlo’s taste for crude jokes. Molina oozes admiration for the new version, particularly for Norton’s work. “Ed’s a very, very smart guy,” he says. “I think he was very interested in the political dimension of these two people. He wanted to bring in the fact that they weren’t just hugely talented artists, but also at the forefront of Mexican politics and progressive thinking.” Like the rest of the cast, Molina worked on the film for less than his normal fee, convinced by Hayek’s commitment to the project…” (theguardian.com)
Taymor on Bringing the World of Frida Kahlo to Life
“…I had terrific collaborators in Felipe Fernandez, the production designer, and Rodrigo Prieto, the director of photography, and Julie Weiss, the costume designer. You start from Frida Kahlo, you start from the colours of her paintings, and the detail of her work. But then if you just travel to Mexico and you visit the Blue House, it’s that blue, it’s that green, it’s that red; if you look at Frida Kahlo’s dresses, they are red and yellow and you’re not accentuating the colourfulness of Mexico, that is Mexico. Then I wanted to add these paintings that come alive, so that it would step out of the biography, or normal biopic style, and in doing that, again, I was trying to take Frida Kahlo’s paintings, and show how her imagination would come to these ideas; they are self-portraits, after all, so you can find where in her life they actually happened, like chapter headings and chapter endings; or the moment where the most potent emotional thing should happen, how does she see it? She’s kind of going from the exterior, in the storytelling, to the interior of her imagination. In that, we decided to use collage, which is in Frida and Diego’s style, and sometimes that was because we had no budget, but it was a better choice anyway; sometimes I used animation, puppet animation, you know, hand-painted animation, or computer, because Frida’s style is very naive, and very sophisticated at the same time, so I didn’t want big Hollywood effects. We didn’t have the money, but I didn’t want them anyway, and what Salma said is true, we are very proud of this film, with all these nominations in these categories, because this means that our team did it from their talent; we didn’t have the budget, this is a $12 million film, that takes place in three decades, goes to Paris, New York, Mexico, and it’s a feat because we, through her wonderful connections, and my friends as well, put together a team.” (indielondon.co.uk)
Salma Hayek on Frida Kahlo
“What I respond to with Frida is her courage to be unique; her courage to be different,” says Salma Hayek, who beat off Madonna and Jennifer Lopez to become Hollywood’s Frida, and whose performance in the film she produced herself won Hayek an Oscar nomination for best actress. “She lived her life exactly as she wanted and never apologised. She was bisexual at a very young age – well before she was in a group of people with whom it would have been more accepted. I think she got caught with the librarian of her school right before the accident.”…Kahlo was a natural star who not only impressed Hollywood contemporaries but made them want to copy her; her most potent weapon was her clothes, her spectacular jewellery, headdresses, skirts. But her costume wasn’t just fanciful – it had specific folkloric associations. She chose to wear, and make her own, the traditional costume of women from the Tehuantepec peninsula, where it is said that women rule. Kahlo was not from this region of Mexico; she was born on the outskirts of Mexico City, her father was a Jewish immigrant from central Europe, and her life was intensely urban. Hayek can therefore claim to be more authentic to the persona than Kahlo was herself. “My mother and grandmother are from this area. My grandmother has a collection of Tehuana outfits. When I did my first movie – it was a Mexican movie, before “Desperado” – we went to the Berlin film festival and I didn’t know what to wear, so I decided to take one of these outfits belonging to my grandmother. They thought I was completely insane.”
…Kahlo was a star – though one, Hayek points out, with a lot more confidence than your average world-famous movie star…”Some movie stars pretend to have a lot of self-esteem,” says Hayek, but in reality they are dependent on others’ approval and adulation. “She had that, without needing anyone to acknowledge her as a movie star or as a painter or as anything.”…”What fascinates me about Frida Kahlo and intrigues me is not the pain. I’ll tell you something. Frida Kahlo, in every picture taken of her, is very serious,” Hayek says. “It’s because she hated her teeth. She had really, really bad teeth. I have pictures that are not usually published where she’s cracking up and she covers her mouth. And I actually have a picture where you get to see some of the teeth, and they’re very bad teeth.” According to Hayek, Kahlo did suffer a lot of physical and emotional pain, but putting it on canvas was a form of exorcism, and she did it with a dark sense of humour. “I don’t see her as this morbid, sad character and I’ll tell you why,” she says. “To start with, nobody paints their last painting, knowing that they’re dying, and calls that painting Viva la Vida [Long Live Life]. She would wake up in the morning and make an art form of herself; and spend hours decorating herself to go to the market to buy some food, you know, or to stay in the house and paint. This spirit of waking up and transforming yourself into a walking work of art – you’re not telling me this was a depressive, obscure person.”… “There’s always an emotional tragedy going on in her life. So I think maybe because she associated physical pain with her leg, she decided to use her left leg as a symbol for her emotional pain. It’s just my own theory.” (theguardian.com)
About Director Julie Taymor
Julie Taymor was born on December 15, 1952, in Newton, Massachusetts. American stage and film director, playwright, and costume designer known for her inventive use of Asian-inspired masks and puppets. In 1998 she became the first woman to win a Tony Award for best director of a musical, for her Broadway production of “The Lion King,” derived from the Disney animated film of the same name. Taymor showed an early interest in theatre when she and her sister began putting on productions in their backyard for friends and family. Taymor joined the Boston Children’s Theatre and performed as Hermia in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” In high school she began attending the experimental theatre workshops given by playwright and theatre educator Julie Portman, in which she learned the art of “living theatre,” creating theatre from ideas or from scratch and using personal experience as the primary inspiration. Finishing high school at age 16, Taymor traveled to Paris to attend to Jacques Lecoq’s mime school. After one year, Taymor returned to the U.S. and began studies at Oberlin College, where she pursued folklore and mythology. Though not pursuing an academic course in theatre, she auditioned for and was accepted into a newly formed company on campus, KRAKEN, led by the experimental director and scholar Herbert Blau. . With a Thomas J. Watson Foundation fellowship (1974), a one-year grant, Taymor left the U.S. to travel and study theatre. Her travels took her to eastern Europe, Japan, and finally to Indonesia, where she had planned to stay three months but instead stayed for four years. In Bali, with funding from a Ford Foundation grant, she founded Teatr Loh—a group of German, American, French, Sudanese, Javanese, and Balinese puppeteers, musicians, dancers, and actors—and developed her first theatre works, Way of Snow and Tirai. In 1980 and ’81 Taymor restaged both of those works in New York City.
In 1980 she met composer Elliot Goldenthal, who became her life partner and artistic collaborator. One of their first projects was the original musical “Liberty’s Taken” (1985), an irreverent retelling of the story of the American Revolution. Other early collaborations included a stage adaptation (1986) of “The Transposed Heads: A Legend of India,” by Thomas Mann, and “Juan Darién: A Carnival Mass” (1988), based on the short story “Juan Darién,” by the Uruguayan author Horacio Quiroga. The latter earned Taymor an Obie Award (given for Off-Broadway theatre) for best direction. In 1996 she restaged it for Broadway and incorporated her soon-to-become-trademark puppets and masks. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Taymor also directed several plays by Shakespeare, including “The Tempest” (1986), “The Taming of the Shrew” (1988), and “Titus Andronicus” (1994), each of which ran at Theatre for a New Audience, a venue in Brooklyn devoted to Shakespeare and classic drama. In the early 1990s Taymor began branching out to directing films and staging operas. Her first production of an opera, Igor Stravinsky’s opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex, based on the play by Sophocles and conducted by Seiji Ozawa, was recorded in 1993. The film of the performance was screened at a few film festivals and aired on television; for the latter it won an Emmy Award (1993). She staged Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” in Florence in 1993, with conductor Zubin Mehta, and the following year she took on Richard Strauss’s “Salomé,” conducted by Valery Gergiev in St. Petersburg. In 1995 she staged Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, conducted by Klaus Weise for the Los Angeles Opera. Taymor’s first film, “Fool’s Fire”—based on the short story “Hop-Frog” (1849) by Edgar Allan Poe—aired on television in 1992 and was screened at the Sundance Film Festival later that year. In 1996 Taymor staged Carlo Gozzi’s play “The Green Bird,” in which she experimented with Bunraku, a form of Japanese puppet theatre that has the puppeteers in view of the audience but silent and cloaked in black so that their presence recedes into the background. In “The Green Bird” Taymor introduced her own version of Bunraku, which eliminated masks and involved speaking parts for her actor-puppeteers, a model she used again for “The Lion King” (1997).
Taymor was considered an unusual choice to design the staging of Disney’s “The Lion King” for Broadway, given how dissimilar her aesthetic was to the whimsical and sentimental style of Disney animation. However, she won over the Disney executives with her innovative use of life-size puppets paired with actors. She designed traditional African costumes for the actors and animal masks that rested on their heads, allowing the performers’ facial expressions to be visible. For some of her costumes, she created what appeared to be full-body puppets that were worn by the performers. The giraffes, for example, were actors on stilts wearing tall conical masks. In sum, Taymor created more than 100 puppets for the show, which came together into a fantastic spectacle that made “The Lion King” one of the longest-running musicals on Broadway. She won the Tony Award for best costume design in 1998. Following the critical and financial success of “The Lion King,” Taymor dedicated more of her time to feature films, releasing her first, “Titus,” based on Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus,” in 1999…Taymor followed up with “Frida” (2002)…The biopic won Academy Awards (2003) for best original score and best makeup. Other films directed by Taymor include “Across the Universe” (2007)…and “The Tempest” (2010), based on the play by Shakespeare and for which she changed the male role of Prospero to a female Prospera, portrayed by Helen Mirren. Taymor also worked with Goldenthal on two more operas during this period: another staging of “The Magic Flute” for the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and an original work, “Grendel” (2006), based on the Old English epic poem Beowulf…After a long hiatus, Taymor returned to directing Shakespeare onstage with her 2013 production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Theatre for a New Audience. She then helmed a 2015 production of “Grounded,” a one-person show featuring Anne Hathaway as a fighter pilot, at the Public Theater. Her production of “M. Butterfly,” starring Clive Owen, received middling ticket sales and reviews and ended its run soon after premiering in 2017.” (britannica.com) “In addition to her two Tony awards, she has also received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two OBIE Awards, the first Annual Dorothy B. Chandler Award in Theater, and the Brandeis Creative Arts Award.” (allamericanspeakers.com)
Taymor’s latest film is “The Glorias.”