Spider-Man director Julie Taymor is dismissed

Natalie Mendoza, as Arachne, left “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark”
in December after being injured.

Julie Taymor became a star director when she successfully turned the movie The Lion King into a musical. She then took over the project of turning the comic book Spider-Man into a musical. This week Taymor was dismissed from the $65 million boondoggle. The New York Times story about her fall is worth reading. The article suggests that Taymor so placed visuals over storyline that the musical didn’t work: “Ms. Taymor is a proud perfectionist, but more of a visual scene-setter than a storyteller, and her outré approach to a classic superhero story and such a huge commercial product helped speed her undoing.”

My tentative guess is that Taymor is like many contemporary movie directors I’ve seen discussing their work in interviews on the DVDs of their movies. Their approach to movie making is entirely focused on visuals and emotions. They are not interested in plot, they don’t care about an intelligible and meaningful plot; thus they also don’t care about the dialog, whether it makes sense or not, or even whether the audience can hear it or not. Movie making for them is about emotion manipulated by imagery, not about a coherent world of character and storyline. This is why so many movies today are such a mess. It’s not that skill and expertise and devotion to quality have declined among movie makers; it’s that movie makers are consciously devoted to a postmodern concept of movie making that precludes quality, that requires movies to be a mess.

Here is the article:

March 9, 2011
Precipitous Fall for ‘Spider-Man’ Director

It was 1996 when Disney Theatrical Productions took a chance on a little-known director of experimental theater named Julie Taymor. They handed her a musical based on their hit film, “The Lion King,” and they found themselves with a billion-dollar hit. Ms. Taymor became the theater world’s star auteur.

Now, all of a sudden, she is something else entirely.

After nine years of work, Ms. Taymor is stepping aside as director of the most expensive and technically ambitious musical ever on Broadway, the $65 million “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” its producers announced on Wednesday night. They named a new director to replace her and a script doctor to rewrite the show, as they prepared to overhaul the production during the next three months—including adding two new songs by the composers, U2’s Bono and the Edge. [LA replies: note that there is an individual who calls himself “the Edge,” and the Times and presumably the rest of the world goes along with this. How do his friends address him? “Hey, the Edge, how ya doin’”? ]

On Wednesday night, the producers, along with Bono and the Edge, told the “Spider-Man” cast that Ms. Taymor was out. According to one person who was there, Bono said that Ms. Taymor would still be part of the show, but that he felt sad she would not be there day to day. The producers told the cast members to put on their “game faces.”

Friends and colleagues of Ms. Taymor’s said she was being pushed aside because of sharply negative reviews by theater critics last month and because she would not make changes that the producers and her fellow creators, Bono and the Edge, had sought.

Ms. Taymor did not include a comment in the press release that the producers issued—a sign of the discord among them. A spokeswoman for Ms. Taymor said on Wednesday night that she was “not commenting at this time.”

How Ms. Taymor went from artistic genius, a reputation that helped secure all that money for “Spider-Man,” to a girl falling from the sky (to paraphrase a song in the show) is not only the stuff of Greek drama but also sure to become theatrical legend. Broadway has exploded into a big-budget, star-driven, high-priced marketplace; Ms. Taymor is a proud perfectionist, but more of a visual scene-setter than a storyteller, and her outré approach to a classic superhero story and such a huge commercial product helped speed her undoing.

According to four of her colleagues, Ms. Taymor boxed herself into a corner with the producers in the last few weeks by rebuffing their requests to allow outsiders to make changes to the show. She would not meet with some of them, and she did not act on suggestions for improvements; at one feedback session with the cast, some actors argued for strengthening the central love story between Peter Parker and M. J. Watson, but Ms. Taymor insisted, “It’s there.” The Edge, Bono and the producers also expected that she would make far-reaching changes in the show’s critically panned Act II, but after attending recent performances, they concluded that she lacked the objectivity to ruthlessly reshape the show.

Friends of Ms. Taymor, a Tony Award winner for best director and costume design for “The Lion King,” described her as anguished and distraught.

“Julie’s an extremely sensitive person, and she has always felt like a mother to her plays, a mother to her characters,” Jeffrey Horowitz, a friend and artistic director of New York’s Theater for a New Audience, said Wednesday. “This is like a mother being taken away from her family. She loves that family. She wants that family.”

The new director of “Spider-Man,” the producers said, will be Philip William McKinley, who previously directed the Hugh Jackman musical “The Boy From Oz” in 2003 as well as several Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses. Early in his career, he worked as a performer in Las Vegas, a city known for the sort of thrilling spectacle that the producers want more of in “Spider-Man,” not to mention a profitable tourist hub that figures prominently in their plan to make the show eventually profitable.

With 101 preview performances now under its belt, a record and far more than the typical 30, “Spider-Man” is now so troubled that the producers plan to shut down the show for two to three weeks in midspring. That would give time to Mr. McKinley and the script doctor, the playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (“It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s Superman”), to make changes. Opening night, which had been set for March 15, will be delayed a sixth time, to early summer, the producers said.

The ouster of any director is tumultuous for a Broadway show, but Ms. Taymor’s creative DNA is embedded especially deep in “Spider-Man,” which makes it far from clear what the show will become in Mr. McKinley’s very different creative hands. Bono and the Edge, for their part, are expected to play a greater role; one of their songs is expected to be a new Act II opener that reflects Peter Parker’s struggle between being a young man and being Spider-man. Currently the act begins with an odd-fitting ode to the greatness of Spider-man, replete with dancing clergy and Columbia University professors.

Ms. Taymor’s fall from favor unfolded through the fall and winter, and its origin lay in what most people regard as her greatest asset: Her vision of boundary-breaking theater.

In interviews she made clear that her main interest was telling a mythlike story about a human struggling with super powers, rendered with hallucinatory effects like technically elaborate flying sequences and set changes. The lead producers, Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris, were all for it as long as the show was a rollicking spectacle, a Cirque du Soleil show with a script, that would regularly sell out the Foxwoods Theater. The musical costs more than $1 million to run each week, believed to be the highest in history, with any profit going to royalties and repayment of the $65 million capitalization cost.

Not only was Ms. Taymor one of the creators and the director, she also wrote the script with the playwright Glen Berger, designed the masks and was closely involved with the costume design. Mr. Cohl, a rock concert promoter, was her primary contact; he was a relative newcomer to Broadway, installed by Bono after the previous producers left the show nearly bankrupt. People on the show said he and Mr. Harris lost patience with Ms. Taymor’s search for a new form of theater when, really, others involved in the show were content to be in the tradition of Broadway spectacles like “The Phantom of the Opera” or “Miss Saigon.”

As the March 15 opening approached, the two U2 musicians and the producers became convinced that Ms. Taymor was not making or even considering the wholesale changes they thought were necessary.

This week, the producers told Ms. Taymor she had to accept outsiders with fresh eyes and ideas or step aside; she, in turn, defended her work and argued that the current production reflected what all of them had long been working toward. According to two investors in the show, Mr. Cohl said to them that he told Ms. Taymor on Monday that she had to leave the show.

A woman answering Ms. Taymor’s phone on Wednesday referred questions to her publicist.

Some of Ms. Taymor’s fans said on Wednesday that they were shocked by the turn of events for a director whose work, including “Juan Darién” and “The Green Bird,” and her production of “The Magic Flute” at the Met, represented a singular, dreamlike imagination.

“I think the world of Julie and find the entire saga beyond sad,” said Stuart Oken, a Broadway producer (“The Addams Family”) who worked with Ms. Taymor on “The Lion King” when he was an executive at Disney Theatrical. “She dreams on a large canvas, and our community is richer for that ambition. It certainly worked out well on ‘The Lion King.’ ”

[end of Times article]

- end of initial entry -

Carol Iannone writes:

Interesting. When she she served an already realized vision, as in Freida or Lion King or Titus Andronicus, she was great; but where there is no vision, Taymor perishes!

Sage McLaughlin writes:

Carol Iannone beat me to the punch with her remark that “where there is no vision, Taymor perishes!” Other than the Lion King musical, probably her most successful venture was her film adaptation of Titus Andronicus. What struck me about that film was its super-extreme-energy-soft-drink level of stylization. It was practically unwatchable to me, but it is very popular with young audiences who crave visual stimulation. Quoting Chesterton, “They are walking in their sleep and they try to wake themselves up with nightmares.”

Taymor, in spite of her famously galactic ego, is not herself much of an artist. To the extent that she is even a little bit original, it is as a set designer and an art director. But let’s face it—she has nothing to say, does she? She is much the same as the current crop of Chinese historical action movie makers. They will attack your senses with splashes of color and movement, but it’s all just a sensory tickle-fight. The visuals and explosive melodrama are evocative, but evocative of what? Nothing but base feeling.

You can’t possibly grow wiser by watching Taymor’s stomach-turning and vaguely nauseating visuals in Titus. And it’s certainly no coincidence that she chose the one Shakespeare play with no really important insights into human nature, but plenty of purposeless violence and nihilistic power-seeking. Her motive for the Spider-Man debacle is probably similar to all the Hollywood studios clamoring to get their hands on the next Marvel or DC comic book movie, or JRR Tolkien film: the actual creative work has already been done, and all that is left is to apply one’s technical mastery of costumes, visual effects, etc. Even Scorsese is doing book adaptations these days heavy on dream sequences and obsessed with “perspective.”

Taymor is emblematic of much of the entertainment industry, which is spiritually impoverished. She is a scene-setter, not a story-teller. It’s no wonder that Hollywood is much better at making 30-second movie previews than it is actual movies (it was once the other way around).

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 11, 2011 10:21 AM | Send

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