Julie Taymor’s Abstract Reality

Julie Taymor photo

By Kaylynne Enloe

Two-time Tony award-winning director Julie Taymor is known for her abstract productions and stunning visuals. At Oberlin College, where she became a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Taymor studied mythology and folklore. She was part of many theater productions throughout her childhood and also traveled to France to study mime after high school. Taymor became a seasoned traveler, which deepened her fascination with different forms of dance. Phi Beta Kappa advocates excellence in the liberal arts and sciences; Taymor’s life revolves around the arts, her creativity evident in her fascination with theater, staging operas, and puppetry, but mainly she sees herself as a storyteller. Throughout her childhood and adulthood, Taymor had plenty of firsthand experience directing productions and bringing a story to life.

Taymor’s unique stage background made her the perfect contender for designing and directing The Lion King on Broadway. Her portfolio consists of plays like The Green Bird, an unusual fairytale that gave Taymor experience with the same puppetry technique she would go on to design and use for The Lion King. Broadway Direct writes that she created animal heads for the “essence” of the characters but let the “personality come through in the actor below the mask.” This allowed each actor to contribute their own artistic ability, becoming more vulnerable and personable.

According to Vanity Fair, Taymor filled a plot hole in the story by giving Simba “a trial to earn the mantle” before he faces his uncle Scar. She presented audiences with a deeper understanding of the decisions Simba had to make about his future. Her extensive research for the costumes and flow of the story showed her devotion to preserving African arts and culture. She would later become an executive producer for The Lion King photorealistic remake released in 2019.

Taymor is no novice when it comes to film either. She directed Frida in 2002, nominated for six Oscars and winning two of them, about the famous Mexican painter’s emotional and physical struggles throughout her short life. The movie was filmed in Mexico, which can be more appealing to directors who prefer to film on location to explore the scenery and culture. Profiling her work, Golden Globe Awards explains that Taymor mapped out Frida Kahlo’s story by selecting several of her paintings that were “chapter headings” to her life and translating these paintings on screen, letting her art speak for itself.

Her 2007 film Across the Universe mirrored her experience in theater by having her direct actors who are singing more than acting throughout the film. She helped write the film that pieced together lyrics sung by The Beatles in a cohesive story. The film was set in the 1960s, and according to Indie Wire, Taymor accentuated the era’s theatricality through the music, psychedelics, and anti-war protests.

Phi Beta Kappa members may be especially interested to note that Taymor was co-writer and director for The Glorias (2020), a film about Gloria Steinem (ΦBK, Smith College), a leader and spokeswoman for the American feminist movement and co-founder of Ms. magazine. The film artistically displays the famous activist through four stages of her life with director Taymor ensuring the more accurate portrayal of her intellectually “incredible life” rather than a sexist display of catfights and bitterness with other women, explained The Guardian. The film inspires women to be supportive of one another by bonding over their goals in life.

It was recently announced that Taymor will be directing and producing an upcoming film called Gun Love, an adaptation of the novel by Jennifer Clement. Her approach to depicting this story is sparking great interest, as she continues to include a creative twist within her films. She maintains a recurring theme within each of her productions; she strives to put emphasis on theatrics and eclecticism in a way that will stimulate audiences. Gun Love has been described as one of the most anticipated films of 2021.

Kaylynne Enloe graduated from Arizona State University in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in film and media studies, focusing on film genre and the television industry. She was inducted into ASU’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, Beta of Arizona, in May 2021.