Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Penny Arcade Nightmare, courtesy Julie Taymor

Titus. Dir. Julie Taymor. Perf. Anthony Hopkins, Osheen Jones, and Dario D'Ambrosi. 1999. DVD. Twentieth Century Fox, 2000.

In brief, highly-visual vignettes to which Taymor has given the name “Penny Arcade Nightmares” (mentioned in Maria De Luca and Mary Lindroth, “Mayhem, Madness, Method: An Interview with Julie Taymor,” Cineaste 25.3 (2000): 30) or “PANs,” Taymor uses filmmaking techniques highly reminiscent of those used in modern music videos to present Shakespeare’s four-hundred-year-old drama about a much more ancient culture. She also provides a frame for her film that traces provocative parallels between the Rome of the film and the film’s contemporary culture in a highly-conspicuous way.

Each one forces the viewer away from a direct engagement with the otherwise generally-realistic presentation of the plot toward something deeper. Their surrealism invites—or even forces—speculation on a grand scale. They owe their effect to an odd combination of techniques drawn from modern music videos, images similar to those provided by surrealist cinema, and elements of Magical Realism. The PANs present a dreamlike state that often turns to nightmare.

One PAN occurs during the scene in which Lavinia writes the names of her attackers in the sand. As the frantic music plays and Lavinia writes furiously, the film cuts away to a series of moving images in silver and grey. Lavinia stands in a Marilyn Monroe pose, holding her white dress down with the pointed stumps of her hands. The neck and head of a deer extend out of the top of her head, and tigers leap at her from left and right, morphing into the figures of Chiron and Demetrius as they do so. The connection between the despoilers of virtue and the loss of virtus is evident in the scene.

The otherworldly nature of the PANs enables them to serve as periodic signposts to the film’s engagement with violence. They often simultaneously provide and temper images of violence, offering the violence that is a part of this play, human history, and popular culture and transposing it to a realm that is not part of this world.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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