BAM Best Picture Profile: Titus (2000)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM Nominee and winner lists (Any omissions will be fixed this year). However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

NOTE: I have skipped the 1999 Best Picture in this retrospective because I covered it earlier in this post.

In the history of the BAM Awards Titus has taken on a rather important place. Prior to the year 2000 I was even looser with release dates than I am now. With this film, my renting and viewing it after a very limited release in late-December 1999; I had to create some kind of eligibility rule, especially considering how much I liked it.

Here’s my post that explains the rule in detail:

Below you will find a paragraph which was prepared for the Best Films of the Decade list:

9. Titus
This is the over-looked film of Julie Taymor’s cinematic career thus far and it was here debut. It was an emphatic statement of style and vision but it also combined with substance to reinvent Shakespeare’s most violent tale with verve and surrealistic panache. The ensemble, headed by Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange, is brilliant and not overly-stagey even dealing with such cumbersome dialogue. The film is visually stunning and engulfing.

All this is true. What’s further true is that Taymor adds a bit of surrealism to the tale not only with the hallucinogenic interludes that appear on occasion, once to try and convince us Titus is mad but also through the opening of the film. An opening which introduces us not only to the character of Lucius, played very aptly by Osheen Jones, but also to the mix of modern technology, furniture and settings that will be mixed into this film. We see a child epitomizing with action figures and ketchup the kind of over-the-top violence that will be the reality of this tale, a reality he is put into. A reality he is a mute witness to for approximately an hour of the nearly three that the film runs.

All that is well and good but some of you may be asking why this film didn’t make the final cut. It was based on a technicality. The technicality is this. Titus was released by Fox in New York and Los Angeles on December 25th, 1999 in order to qualify for that year’s Academy Awards. It was resoundingly ignored. It’s wide release to general consumption and an equally absent public audience was in January of 2000. Upon double-checking the release date on the IMDb app on an iPhone I proceeded to re-screen the film to confirm inclusion on the best of the decade list. It fit. Then before publishing a trip to the IMDb proper showed all release dates.

Based on the wide release date it was the best of the year in 2000 but due to its actual release date not on the best of the decade list. Therein lies the problem. The good films get sat on until the end of the year and those not able to attend special advance screenings are left with many a film in a no man’s land.

Recently, there had been a reticence on my part to allow films from the prior year entry into award consideration, which punished The Reader. While it seems difficult to consider Titus a film of the aughts because that is a much bigger threshold to tread over I will no longer be disqualifying end of year releases from consideration in the next year. It’s only fair. While Titus can be denied a place in this decade passed it will always be a standout of year 2000 to me.

Going back to the film more than the business and politics of release dates, which I may come back to in a separate post at some point. Since I’ve completed my formal education I’ve not successfully picked up a Shakespeare text without first viewing an adaptation. While painstaking and pedantic, the formalized, syllabus-based approach slows it down and structures it such that I can better absorb the text off the page.

However, I’ve found that viewing a representation of it on film, no matter how modernized, breaks that barrier down. This film was the first that showed me that and it was while I was still in school. That fact has re-proven itself with Coriolanus and with yet another Romeo and Juliet adaptation recently. One task I may want to partake in next year is viewing more of these modernizations, including also reading A Winter’s Tale, which I’ve started many times.

If there’s a bit of youthfulness about this choice its my connecting to one of Shakespeare’s early works, as presented in this film. Titus, like my first Best Picture selection, influenced me, but for far longer than that title did.

Technicalities and rallying cries aside Titus remains a film I’m very fond of and a testament to the power of film to introduce the uninitiated to Shakespearean works.