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Julie Taymor

Director Julie Taymor

interview by Douglas Eby

 "..a culture where there wasn't a word for art."

In a number of interviews, director and designer Julie Taymor has talked about the rich and formative experience she had during her twenties, living in Indonesia and learning about its art and theater. 

"In Bali, there was no word for 'art' because that's what people do," she has commented. "It's just part of your devotion as a human being." 

She has also talked about what art can be "about" and once said of her acclaimed Broadway production "The Lion King" that it is "such an odd fish, because you're seeing Asian styles of theater mixed with African styles. It's a commodity, but it's introducing people to what are not commodious things; these are ancient theatrical forms. What for me is very important in my work... is how basic and elemental it is."

Taymor uses a range of technology in her stage and film work, and noted in our interview about her film "Titus" that she doesn't use special effects if she doesn't need to. "I use them only to be pivotal in a story, so they are special moments. Otherwise, it's just technique for technique's sake, which I detest." 

The film, she says, "is not just about violence; it's about how we make entertainment out of violence."

In a presentation to the National Council on the Arts, she said the limitations of the theater, the lack of merely realistic effects, are creatively stimulating for her.

"When you are limited in your ability to present a realistic image you have to use your imagination more fully," she explained. "Imagination is much better than reality. You call upon all the various images you have gathered. I've never been to Africa, but when I think of it, I think of the National Geographics I've read and the movies, TV shows and animals I've seen. 

"Then I add my understanding of grass and air that I felt as a child on Martha's Vineyard. I put all that together, play with scale and come up with the 'grass heads.' If you were making a movie, would you be allowed to do that? No, because you might as well go to Africa and shoot the savannah."

Taymor has been critical of artists having too much reliance on computers and other technology for stimulating or expressing creative ideas. 

"I think it's very sad that children aren't given the basic tools to create with," she has said. "They're given such sophisticated tools now that their imaginations aren't really being tapped. Everything's way too literal. Sitting in a chair in front of an ugly box when you could be running around in an open space seems regressive to me, not something that is going to make a more creative human being."

She does use the internet as a research tool, but thinks people "have become so excited and obsessed about it. I find it extremely distracting. I know I sound very old-fashioned, but I think it'll all keep coming down to sweat and blood and sex and things passing from one mouth to another, and airspace and things that just don't change about what it is to be human."

Art is often a matter of storytelling, and, Taymor notes, although we may be very familiar with the basics of a particular story, "It's a reaffirmation of something you know. That's why it falls into the ritual mode. You look at an artist for how he interprets, not what he interprets.

"We've heard Beethoven's Ninth Symphony a million times, but that doesn't mean we don't want to hear it again. We want to hear a new artist's interpretation. So, it's the telling of the story, the communicating, the nuances. It's like, we know we die; therefore, how do we choose to live until then. 

"We're not shocked by the ending of our tales; it's nothing new. It's how you live it that's important, how you experience life."

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book:  Eileen Blumenthal, Julie Taymor. Julie Taymor: Playing with Fire

video: Behind the Scenes with Julie Taymor

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longer interview on making "Titus" : Julie Taymor

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   related Talent Development Resources pages:

more interviews     |    resumé of Douglas Eby

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