Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Robert L. Fielding
‘Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite them, and little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum – and vengeance is sweet until what goes around comes around – the essence of the messages Shakespeare may have intended in Titus Andronicus, his earliest tragedy. Titus (162 minutes) also depicts the brutality and the futility of our ‘need’ for revenge, and our abuse of power.

Sir Anthony Hopkins (Titus) is magnificently cruel, even sinister, while displaying sensitivity – the tragedy of a man doomed to follow a trait that leads him to his downfall (cf Hamlet, Coriolanus, KingLear, Macbeth etc).

His nemesis, Tamora (Jessica Lange) is the epitome of a vengeful, scheming, nasty piece of work, who seduces the corrupt Saturnine (Alan Cumming) to act in ways that are symptomatic of a Rome in its decline – with unutterable savagery and unspeakable decadence.

The film rather puzzlingly begins with a device straight out of a workshop for film directors/writers; a small boy stages a military debacle with his toys on a kitchen table, until a bomb explodes and he is taken (with us) into the world of agoras and temples in ancient Rome.

It has been suggested that the boy is a ‘stand-in’ for us – perhaps to involve us, perhaps to remove any alienation we might feel from the action, perhaps to place us centre stage. In all respects, the device failed – the boy was nearly always somewhere, which puzzled me, I must say.

The real action, when it begins, comes thick and fast, hot on the heals of Tamora’s plea for her son to be spared by Titus. No mercy was shown him and his death marked the first in a series of acts of brutal revenge, finishing, as Shakespearean tragedy usually does, with the deaths of most of the cast.

Violence begets more violence, and with malign dictators, violence knows no bounds. Saturnine, newly crowned Emperor of Rome starts as he means to carry on – with sadistic orgy and madness.

The appearance of what looked for all the world like staff cars from 1930s Germany, carrying the Emperor on his feet shouting at everyone gave the film a sort of universal appeal – this is how dictators in all ages behave.

Using cinematography/computer graphics to great effect, Luciano Tovoli, was able to bring the hatred of a soliloquy onto the silver screen. If they had had these techniques in Shakespeare’s day, this is how he would have done it!
Robert L. Fielding