Thursday, April 01, 2004

On Frida Kahlo, Mexico, and Art

detail, Self-Portrait with Loose Hair, 1947, by Frida Kahlo A friend at work recently went to Mexico City, and has been giving me crib sheets for my upcoming trip. He recommended that I watch Frida, the award-winning film about Mexican artist Fridah Kahlo and her husband, muralist Diego Rivera.

So last night I rented the movie. It was shot entirely in Mexico, and was absolutely beautiful. A lot of the credit for this goes to director Julie Taymor. After listening to her director's commentary, I am a huge fan. She is amazingly articulate about how she manages to portray emotion on film, something that not all directors are able to convey. And her vision and connection to the material in the movie are apparent.

As usual, I spent a lot of time trolling through the DVD extras. The second disc included a variety of interviews with the participants in the film. One particularly fascinating one is with Chavela Vargas, a famous Mexican folk singer (in her 90s) who performed in the film and who actually knew Frida Kahlo. Through the subtitles, she almost seemed to be speaking in poetry.

Another hidden treasure was this story, relayed by Julie Taymor during an interview with Bill Moyers:

I am often interested in the story of the outsider. You know I lived in Indonesia for many years. [...] I was there for two years and I was planning to stay longer and start a theater company. I went to Bali to a remote village by a volcanic mountain on the lake. They were having a ceremony that only happens only every 10 years for the young men. I wanted to be alone.

I was listening to this music and all of a sudden out of the darkness I could see glints of mirrors and 30 or 40 old men in full warrior costume-- there was nobody in this village square. I was alone. They couldn't see me in the shadows. They came out with these spears and they started to dance. They did, I don't know, it felt like an eternity but probably a half hour dance. With these voices coming out of them. And they danced to nobody. Right after that, they and I went oh, my God. The first man came out and they were performing for God. Now God can mean whatever you want it to mean. But for me, I understood it so totally. The detail on the costumes. They didn't care if someone was paying tickets, writing reviews. They didn't care if an audience was watching. They did it from the inside to the outside. And from the outside to the in. And that profoundly moved me then.

The rest of the interview is online right here.

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