(Part 13 of an ongoing series)
Oft have I digg’d up dead men from their graves,
And set them upright at their dear friends’ door
Aaron, Titus Andronicus
The late ’90s certainly got its grubby paw-prints all over Shakespeare, but Julie Taymor’s Titus isn’t merely some willfully edgy adaptation, slathering on post-Tarantino hyperbole just because that’s what movies were contractually obligated to do back then. Titus snatches up Shakespeare’s grisliest play, hoists it over its head like a blood-caked championship belt, and struts around the octagon like a banged-up ring girl draped in Alexander McQueen absinthe nightmares. Unlike Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, it doesn’t give a damn about winning over the MTV crowd, and unlike Lloyd Kaufman’s Tromeo & Juliet, it doesn’t jitterbug behind grindhouse spoofery. It’s so utterly unhinged you can feel the insanity vibrating between each frame from the very first scene.
I mean, Titus definitely has MTV and grindhouse in its guts, but it’s often hard to grasp its vibe. It’s like, Violence is everywhere, man! It was in the Roman Empire back in the ’30s, and now it’s in our breakfast cereals. And it’s like You want Shakespeare? Here’s some bloody Shakespeare up your arse. And it’s also intensely reverent to Shakespeare, sticking to the script like Hark, villains! I will grind your bones to dust, and make two pasties of your shameful heads! Titus is definitely winking at me, but sometimes I think it’s also trying to corrupt me with twisted Kenneth Anger magick spells. And sometimes I even think Titus thinks it had a real shot at winning some Oscars, or at least a Golden Globe. (Big awards too, not just Costume Design. Directing and Cinematography for sure, with nearly every shot aiming at its own iconography.)
Yes, Titus is a messy orgy where cheek and wrath and prestige go at it like wolves in the rut- a sick, desperate carnival over the old Bard’s smiling corpse. In short, the ideal Shakespeare for 1999.