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Titus

TitusThis seems to be a slow time of year for Badass Cinema. For these last few months we’ve had everybody and their uncle waving their ass around trying to get Oscar’s attention. We’ve had some real quality pictures of course like The Limey and further back Fight Club, the type of pictures that ignore Oscars and Golden Globes altogether and go straight to the more credible awards presentations such as Vern’s motherfuckin Outlaw Awards 1999. And I suppose Bruce has a new one coming out this week where he plays some kind of comedy hitman or whatever, but I gotta be honest it looks like some kind of sitcom shit to me. I might check out this Pitch Black but even that is questionable because judging by what I’ve read about it and the commercials and what not, and based on my knowledge of cinematics, I feel there may be a problem with the mise-en-scene, as far as between the auteur and what I feel is a rather aggregious, uh — well, basically, because I’m broke.

SO, I have been planning very carefully for what my next picture to see in the theater would be, trying to make a decision I wouldn’t regret for the rest of my life, in case I’m broke for the rest of my life. You never know. So anyway a while back I decided on a picture by the name of Titus. Unfortunately many of you won’t be able to see this picture yet because it’s only playing in a few select cities, but then I’m not you so what do I care. Anyway I figured this would get me my money’s worth because 1) it’s only playing at the baddest theater in my area 2) it’s about 3 hours long, which in my opinion gets you more minute of screen time per cent paid for ticket 3) it is from a writer with a very good reputation, William Shakespeare, so it probaly won’t be more of this Scream 3 type of garbage and 4) it is supposed to be Mr. Shakespeare’s bloodiest picture.

TitusWell if Shakespeare was alive he would be NOT rolling in his grave, because this is his best picture since Theater of Blood starring Vincent Price. Anthony Hopkins plays Titus Andronicus, a VERY fucked up and negative type of individual who is considered a national hero to his people but is willing to kill his own son for opposing the emperor. Titus here is kind of the center of the picture, but he is not the good guy. Because truth be told, this is not a world that is kind to good guys. There are only about two characters who could be considered good guys, and one of them gets killed early on and the other gets horribly mutilated. So I mean, even counting the dead guy it amounts to just over one and a half good guys, once you’ve added up all the body parts. The other bad guys like Jessica Lange queen of the Goths and Alan Cumming emperor of the dog people and especially Aaron the Moore are so fucking vile that they make Titus seem like a pretty sane guy by comparison, even at the end when he’s torturing people and making them into meat pies and feeding them to their loved ones while dancing around in a chef outfit.

Now I gotta mention, if I was a black american I would probaly feel a little uncomfortable with shakespeare’s screenwriting here. Why out of all these sick fuckers does the very worst one have to be the ONE black guy? I don’t know but I guess at least he can take consolation in the fact that all the whites are pricks too, and at least his son is portrayed as the symbolic hope for the future.

That said, Aaron is my favorite character in this movie because he is one bad motherfucker, and in this one specific case only by bad I mean just plain evil. The other characters in the movie are screwing each other over for revenge, or for women, or what not, but Aaron is just in it for laughs. He sets a plot in motion to get all these fuckers killing each other and when he does it he turns to the camera and calls it “an excellent piece of villainy.” Later he pulls a practical joke on Titus where he says, hey, you know how the emperor has your two sons captured in barb wire cages? Yeah, he said he’d let them go if you cut off your own hand and send it to him. I mean hey, don’t look at me, I just work here jack. And Titus, I mean this guy is pretty gullible I guess, so he does it, and seems pretty happy about it too.

Of course, Aaron was just fuckin with him. He puts the hand in a ziploc bag and laughs as he hangs it by a meathook on his rear view mirror. Later he sends a little girl and a musical truck to deliver back the hand and the severed heads of Titus’s sons in pickle jars. Gotchya!

Well, Titus can’t take a joke and so it is revenge revenge revenge. Not to mention the Queen’s sons mutilated his daughter. There is a lot of mutilation in this movie and a lot of revenge. In fact I think the amount of revenge is in direct proportion to the amount of mutilation but I’m not sure about that.

Part of what makes it so great is the directorial cinemanship this gal did when she was directing, as far as the look of the film, etc. This is one of those movies where there is a little bit of historical inaccuracy if you pay attention, there are a few little subtle cheats on the time period, like they are using swords but they ride motorcycles. And that is why it works because even though they’re talking this elizabethan english, which in my opinion, I mean they might as well be speaking mexican, I don’t know WHAT the fuck they’re talkin about some of the time. But what this gal does is VISUALLY she captures what they’re saying, and you start nodding your head and next thing you know you’re following the plot and you’re almost convinced you can understand these dudes. And there is just great spectacles to look at, like in this huge orgy sequence, everybody’s just fuckin all over the palace, and some of them are even goin at it floating in a pool on the back of a giant inflatable naked woman.

There is also a character we see the movie through, a little boy although he looks a lot like a girl. In the opening scene he is playing with war toys, suddenly helicopters are blowing up everywhere and some gladiator looking motherfucker runs into his house and grabs him, carries him out into a coliseum where he meets my man Titus Andronicus and an army of people covered in mud making the big shakespeare speeches.

And this kid is feeling exactly as I am. What the FUCK are these motherfuckers TALKING about? You can see it on his face, and he starts following these maniacs around and you follow him and about three hours later he’s become a character in the story, and you’re feeling comfortable with the story, and it’s time for some meat pies and you think damn, that william shakespeare still knows how to write a good movie in my opinion. In fact I think this story is just as relevant today as it was back when Shakespeare wrote it if you take into consideration what it says about man’s attraction to violence, as well as the motorcycles.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Friday, February 11th, 2000 at 8:00 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

39 Responses to “Titus”

  1. Can we talk Shakespeare for a moment? I don’t get him. I mean, I’m open to old things and I love the sound of his dialogue, but recently I’ve been on a Shakespeare movie trip and they all suffered from the same problems. Basically you can sum them up with “All the shit that people tell you to not do in your stories”, but to be more specific:

    – Lots and lots of expotionary dialogue (“Show, don’t tell” was obviously invented after his death)
    – Unrealistic character behaviour (Which I’m often willing to put aside as product of its time, done for less sophisticated audiences)
    – Lots of useless subplots
    – Which are often filled with lots of useless side characters

    Something tells me that some of you might now suggest to me that I should READ Shakespeare instead of watch his movie adaptations, but while I’m only at the beginning of my journey through Shakespeare On The Big Screen, I feel that this suggestion might be like when people back in the days told me that I only don’t like FRIENDS or HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, because I watched the German dubs. But it’s not the translation, it’s the material.

    Yes, yes, yes, there is no easier way to get your IQ questioned and become the subject of ridicule than saying: “Shakespeare doesn’t work anymore”, but…y’know.

    In terms of TITUS: This one was so far the best one I saw, although even that one could have used 20 minutes less and some remodeling of the story. (Also just like Vern in this old review above, I wonder how black actors feel about being in a Shakespeare play. (Again, product of its time, but you can’t tell me that Harry Lennix thought “Wow, this is poetry” while he and others talked about how “his soul is as dark as his face”. But great performance from Lennix. Too bad that he is so underused on THE BLACKLIST, although he could totally out-Spader James Spader!)

  2. Reading Shakespeare delivers a sense of satisfaction more akin to the feeling you’d get from solving a challenging crossword puzzle than the satisfaction you get from a well-told story. With all the outdated sentences constructions, obsolete words, nonsense phrases, allusions to history and literature, behavior that makes no sense outside the context of Elizabethan morality, in-jokes about the royalty of the day, and endless, endless double entendres, just figuring out what the fuck he’s trying to say at any given point is hard enough without trying to unpack the big picture. And the people who really like Shakespeare like it that way. The fact that it’s all so hard to understand is a big part of its appeal. There’s always a new interpretation or theory to be brought to the material, so it never feels tired if you’re the type of person who enjoys constantly having to wrestle with a piece of work. Me, I appreciate the act of going over the text with a fine-toothed comb to uncover its secrets, but I only have so much time for that. For me, writing is about communication, and whether by design or through the passage of time, Shakespeare now feels more like obfuscation. But I am always impressed when a film version makes the dialogue sound natural and reveals new layers to the characters through performance. Joss Whedon’s MUCH ADO film was particularly good in this regard, although I still recommend watching it with the subtitles on.

  3. That reminds me to get my hands on the Whedon ADO, although only because I have the Branagh version already on my list.

  4. I greatly prefer the Whedon version. All the childish shenanigans make way more sense when it’s made explicit that every character is drunk the whole time.

  5. I just got a great idea for a shared universe of supernatural steampunk kung fu Shakespeare adaptations. First you introduce all the characters in solo adventures, like OTHELLO: ORIGINS and HAMLET: THE FIRST ACTION HERO, tied together only by the presence of Rosencraft and Guildenstern in minor roles. Obviously you’d have to change all the endings so the everyone would still be alive in the second phase when you start doing the crossovers that everybody really wants to see, like MACBETH VS CORIOLANUS or THE MIDSUMMER CHRONICLES: TWELFTH KNIGHT. But that’s all just to build up to TEMPEST RISING: PART 1 where Prospero assembles the whole team to fight Iago, Don John, and Caliban, who’s really the tragic hero of the whole saga when you think about it. Along the way you introduce the younger generation like Romeo and Juliet in secondary roles so you can spin them off after the first generation start aging out of their roles. Everybody would clamor for a Juliet solo movie but for some reason they’d never get around to making it.

  6. TITUS, of course, would end up on Netflix. Nobody’s crazy enough to make that into a movie.

  7. I enjoy reading the outlines of Shakespeare’s plays on Wikipedia but trying to read the actual stuff is almost like trying to read another language to my 21st century mind.

    I respect it but it’s obviously something way out of my league, I do love the famous opening to the Hamlet soliloquy of “to be or not to be” because even though half of it I don’t quite understand it just SOUNDS bad ass, I mean “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles, and by opposing end them” sounds like the 1600s equivalent of “hasta la vista, baby” or “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!” to me.

  8. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the whole point of the scene is Hamlet contemplating suicide but deciding “naw fuck it, I’m gonna fight” right?

  9. When it comes to Shakespeare, I very much like the Kenneth Branagh adaptations. Especially HAMLET. I think he succeeded in making Shakespeare more approachable and cinematic.

  10. I got the Brannagh Hamlet here, I just need 4 hours to watch it.

  11. Actually, Griff, it’s more like, “Life sucks, suicide would end the pain, but death might be even worse.” Hamlet’s not exactly a man of action. He’s a bit of a downer. If he knew “what dreams may come” was actually just Robin Williams flying around in some oil paintings he probably would have gone ahead with suicide.

    As for your points, CJ, those mostly strike me as some Robert McKee story structure type criticism. (Or at least the ADAPTATION parody version, I don’t know his real theories about story.) Watching Shakespeare’s plays for compelling narrative drive doesn’t seem like the best way to view them. “Show, don”t tell” is a popular mantra but there are many, many occasions when telling is better than showing. Especially for plays. And extra especially when you write dialogue as good as Shakespeare.

  12. I don´t really recommend READING plays. Reading a play is for me at least, like reading a screenplay. You´re not getting the full version of it. You need to see the production to get the fullest of experience. Reading plays I find quite boring. And it is in the plays the play come to life as the actors give life to the dialogue, the written word that drives the play forward. There is a lot to be said

    I also agree with what Jake said about critiquing Shakespeare to modern day narrative-driven discourses. It is wrong to view material like this for standards that did not exist then. It had a completely different context in which stories where judged against. Within classicism there where strict rules to adhere to, but those were centred around ancient storytelling from Greece , like Aristotles work “Poetics” in which the spoken word was the centrepiece and it should contain a specific rhytm. The spoken word was at centre. Not visual storytelling.

  13. It´s an alternative mode of telling stories. I think it is safe to say that we are less tolerant to alternative ways of story telling even though with the advent of Internet should have opened up loads of possibilities for us to approach different ways of enjoying stories. But what it has done, it seems, has entrenched us into thinking there is only one way to tell a story.

  14. Jake – thanks for sharing, that’s interesting.

  15. Mr Majestyk, I can recommend Julie Traymor’s TITUS from ’99 With Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange. It’s “only” 3 hours, but not bad.

  16. And yet, you can’t deny that it’s pretty tiresome to have Shakespeare charcters constantly describe what we just saw or why they are doing things right now, no matter how classy the dialogue sounds. Also the Taymore TITUS runs only 2 1/2 hours, unless they released a director’s cut that I didn’t know about.

  17. And not to mention, of course you can’t hold up old stories to modern standards, yet I don’t think you should still treat them as the nonplusultra of today, simply because there was a time when they were fresh and innovative, either. While I think for example that CASABLANCA is a good movie, shooting a movie or writing a script or simply saying the lines by the standards of 1942 would be a mistake and flaw your story in a way, that is unaccaptable for today. It’s not even about obeying dogmas from pseudointellectual teachers of the “art”, it’s simply because certain tricks and conventions stopped working a long time ago and most of them for a good reason.

  18. pegsman: That sounds good. Any idea where I could find a review of it?

  19. No, I don’t particularly find it tiresome to have the characters describing their actions or why they are doing them. How else would the audience know exactly what is going on or characters’ mental states? Some extra description is fine with me. Especially since I don’t understand a lot of the dialogue so I have to work to keep up.

    I assume you are mostly talking about the more prosaic stuff, not the more famous monologues and things. Like this random line I found from MACBETH:
    [DOCTOR] “Hark, she speaks. I will set down what comes from her, to satisfy my remembrance the more strongly.”

    But without a line like that the audience wouldn’t know what the doctor is writing. They didn’t have the benefit of insert shots to show exactly what he’s doing. And that is a way more poetic and interesting phrasing than I could ever come up with for, “She’s speaking. I will write down what she says.” So, yes, I even like his use of language there.

    But I agree that if he only wrote like that all the time he probably wouldn’t still be revered today. However, there is a reason that hack (By “hack” I mean the actual definition of “hack” not “someone I don’t like”) critics still use “A tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” to rip on Michael Bay movies. Because they are incapable of coming up with a better turn of phrase for that sentiment. And, more importantly, no one else has in 400 years.

    Also, as someone who enjoys things like THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, THE GOOD GERMAN and FAR FROM HEAVEN, I don’t agree that using older techniques is a bad thing, and certainly not a mistake or unacceptable. That viewpoint seems to suggest that there is a correct and incorrect way of telling stories. And movie style, storytelling, acting, etc. changes because of progress, i.e. things that are unacceptable today are that way because the older way is dated and wrong.

    I can’t agree with the idea that there is a wrong way to tell stories. I think styles and techniques change because of fads and and technology and the whims of the public, not necessarily because they are improving. I don’t, for instance, agree that the older, more theatrical style of acting is worse then a modern, realistic style. Both are great. If I want to hear the writer’s dialogue clearly enunciated, I can watch something from the 40s. If I want to hear the lines mumbled through a mouthful of marbles I can watch something from today. Win-win.

    I agree with Shoot. It seems like in general people tend to want their storytelling one particular way. Which is how Hollywood does it, and explains why they won’t be going bankrupt anytime soon. I enjoy that like everyone else, but I love it even more when artists break with the norm and do the “unacceptable”. It’s refreshing.

    There’s a quote from Soderbergh I like that basically sums up my feelings: “You’re supposed to expand your mind to fit the art, you’re not supposed to chop the art down to fit your mind.”

  20. CJ – Are you watching these adaptation in English? If not, that might be the issue. So much of the appeal of Shakespeare is about enjoying the language and the puzzle of figuring out what the hell anyone is saying. So if it’s a translation, then you might miss plenty of the reasons why people still enjoy his work.

    I’ve read about half of Shakespeare’s play. I usually like to read the play first and then see an adaptation. Last year I went through that Hollow Crown series. (Richard II is kind of a drag, but Henry IV Part I and Henry V are both excellent.) It does take a lot of effort, and I think it’s only by reading the plays first and then watching actors deliver the dialogue that I’m able to get a handle on the language and what’s happening.

  21. The cinematic language has evolved, but like any other type of evolution it’s not a progression from “worse” to “better”, but a series of changes to adapt to the environment (i.e. the tastes of the public).

    Anyway, I don’t see anybody pointing to CASABLANCA and saying “write/structure your movie exactly like this”. I do see people saying “watch this great old movie and learn from the things it does well”, which is just good advice.

  22. If I have them available in a way that allows it, I watch them in English (with subtitles), because those British accents are often pretty hard to understand. And that goes thrice for a version of English, that nobody speaks anymore.

    Jake, but movies like GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL or THE GOOD GERMAN are in the end still modern movies, that are written and shot in modern ways, for modern audiences, that only pay homage to the movies and techniques of yesteryear. Basically I’m a master of suspending my disbelief, but even I can’t swallow that for example the goth queen’s plan to fool Titus is to pull some Scooby Doo shit and dress up as the goddess of revenge, in the hope that he might be insane enough to believe it and nobody else witnesses what’s going on and says: “Hey, Titus, why are you talking to those cosplayers?” Not to mention endless monologues from characters who describe what they are doing right now and why although 5 minutes later the story will tell us again what they did and why.

    And isn’t the Soderbergh quote kinda what I’m talking about? Why are we still saying that nobody did it better than Shakespeare and still say that he is the perfect writer and nobody else will ever be as good as him and if something is bad or mediocre, “It ain’t Shakespeare”, when for example IMO even a weaker Coen Brothers script blows Shakespeare out of the water! We are constantly expanding our minds to fit the art (as in finding new ways to tell a story), instead of chopping down the art to fit our minds (like, y’know, write stories the way they did 500 years or even 50 years ago).

  23. This is such a weird argument CJ. Nobody is making the kinds of apples-to-oranges comparisons you’re talking about except the straw-man literature professor of your own imagination. “It ain’t Shakespeare” is just a figure of speech, you know, like “the coast is clear” or “wild goose chase” or “pure as the driven snow” or any of the dozens of English expressions for which we have Shakespeare to thank.

  24. Yeah, I agree with CrustaceanLove. I don’t think anyone ever claims Shakeseare is a perfect writer that is beyond criticism. Many of his plays are considered “lesser Shakespeare”. I think TITUS ANDRONICUS is actually one of those, though I love it. A perfect writer wouldn’t have any lesser plays.

    But I do see people say he is the greatest writer ever and that seems reasonable to me. CrustaceanLove’s comment shows one reason. I’m pretty sure no single writer has had as great an effect on the English language as Shakespeare. Unless maybe one of the writers of the Bible got all the best lines from God. And, yes the Coens are of course great and will be remembered and taught for decades, even hundreds of years. But I bet people are still saying “it’s Greek to me” and “wear your heart on your sleeve” hundreds of years after they stop using “The Dude abides.”

    And yes, I agree the Soderbergh quote suggests we should respect new and different ways people come up with to tell stories. But the reverse is also true. We should expand our minds beyond the contemporary stuff we grew up with and are accustomed to and embrace the different styles of storytelling that came before.

  25. I don´t know, but it seems to me CJ has a chip on his shoulder. More often I hear( or rather read ) him talking about “elitists” and “snobs” and he clearly has some bones to pick with some people. I have no idea where this Shakespeare rant came from, but this conflict (if there is one) is clearly his own.

  26. Yeah, I sound angrier here about Shakespeare than I really am. And it’s true that I fucking hate the certain amount of snob- and elitism that goes through our (pop-)culture. (And knowing that most of us here are into so-called “low brow entertainment” like DTV action movies, despite their obvious qualities that most self-proclaimed sophisticated viewers and audiences refuse to acknowledge, I’m sure you know how I feel.)

    The thing is, I don’t hate Shakespeare. I’m just a guy who often looks at things that people take as a given and wonder “Why?”. I’m not saying that makes me smarter than others, because it sometimes makes me overthink things a lot, although they don’t need that treatment.

    Still, I think it is weird that something like “I don’t like/get Shakespeare” is even today basically synonymous with “I am stupid”, when his stories are so flawed and outdated in the way they unfold. Even you guys seem pretty offended by my questioning of his status! I acknowledge that he is great at language, I even said earlier that his dialogue, no matter how redundant and unnecessary it sometimes is, is wonderful to listen to. But if Shakespeare would be a young and coming 21st century writer, we would rip him apart for his incoherent characters, useless subplots and “they did it because otherwise there would be no story” plots.

    Which is why I brought up the Coen Brothers. They are similar to Shakespeare in the way how they use clever dialogue, supporting characters that aren’t exactly necessary to the story, plus a huge dose of random coincidences as plot device. The difference is just that their work seems more focused and even the seemingly random side characters and “it happened for no reason” moments don’t feel out of place or tiring, because without them, the story would fall apart.

    All I’m saying is, Shakespeare is great as the guy who started things and there is nothing wrong to pull his work out once in a while and show the kids: “See? This is where Cartman got the idea from to feed Scott Tenerman his parents!” But I simply think he was at times a bad storyteller and the oxymoron of “Shakespeare above all things!” and “Here are the rules to write a good story, only that if you look closer, they go against anything Shakespeare did” is seriously confusing.

  27. CJ, it’s 2 h 42 min, so I guess you are closer. Sorry about that.

    Mr Majestyk, no idea, ask CJ…

  28. It’s pegsman by the way, not pwgsman…

  29. I like Shakespeare but I’m not a huge trekkie for his work. Unfortunately a lot of Shakespeare trekkies are like wine trekkies, smug assholes who like (or pretend to like) it so they can show off how sophisticated and classy and they are. The language makes it hard enough already to enjoy and accept his work, it definitely doesn’t need any asshole “fans” to further alienate anyone.

  30. I think the point’s well made that these were written as plays. Heaven forfend I should seem a smug asshole, but as a kid I got taken to see the Royal Shakespeare Company production of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (they were touring; it was in a sports hall). That they did it in Spaghetti Western mode blew us all away; for me it will always beat the Branagh or Whedon movies.

    That said, is there a review of THRONE OF BLOOD review around here? Now there’s a movie!

    Great to see a 17 year old review getting some love too. Nice work CJ! Anyone interested in revisiting other uncommented reviews?

  31. Are you referring to THEATRE OF BLOOD perhaps with Vincent Prices Shakespearian shenanigans?

  32. Oh God I just made an ass of myself.

  33. pwgs, uhm, pegsman: 2hrs 37 minutes in PAL speed.

  34. No worries Shoot! I see a great Vern double bill review ahead: THRONE VS. THEATRE – THE BATTLE OF THE BLOODS.

  35. Let us all from now on refer pegsman as pwgsman.

  36. And let’s be clear, no movie of TITUS ANDRONICUS is gonna get close to the brilliance of this:

    Vincent Price Theater of Blood

    Shakespeare has just the punishment to fit the recent Horse meat Scandal hitting Europe. These irregularities were reported to the UK FSA back in 2011, and s...

  37. The afro Price is wearing is my favourite in that movie. You never expected that!

  38. As a hair challenged man maybe the W in pwgsman can stand for wig? And then I want one like Price’s!

    CJ, and those are valuable five minutes…

  39. Don’t sell yourself cheap Pegsman. Accept nothing less than Richard Jaekel’s red wig from PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID!

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