Oral History: Julie Taymor on Frida Kahlo Creating Beauty Out of Pain

by Elisa Leonelli September 28, 2020
Julie Taymor

Julie Taymor directed Frida (2002) about Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, played by Salma Hayek, with Alfred Molina playing Diego Rivera.  She directed Across the Universe (2007) with Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess, and The Glorias (2020) based on the biography by Gloria Steinem with Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore.

Salma Hayek in "Frida" (2002)

Salma Hayek in Frida (2002)

 

When interviewed by HFPA journalists, she said about Frida Kahlo:

"Before I became involved in this project, I thought that her paintings were shocking, beguiling, disturbing, even disgusting, and yet so personal you couldn’t not be involved in them.

I read the biography by Hayden Herrera, then I became much more attracted to Frida as an artist because her paintings reflected her life. She painted her own reality as surreal because her life was so outrageous, so complex, and interesting. She had an accident, she met Diego, she walked again, they got married, he was unfaithful, they went through hell. Those events were very compelling to me.

I was moved by the love story, by these two artists who support each other, and by this amazing woman who transcended outrageous physical and emotional pain and created beauty.

As an artist myself, I paint and I sculpt, I design costumes and sets, for me the act of painting isn’t a mystery, but it’s very hard to do the life of a painter on film because we don’t know what made Vincent Van Gogh or Frida Kahlo paint that way. So, I picked eight or nine of Frida’s paintings that I thought were great sign points, like chapter headings to her life, and it was a challenge for me to conceive of how these paintings came into her imagination, but I did it through the visuals.

These people were active Communists and they were political, but you needed to show why Diego and Frida would become enamored with the charisma of Trotsky as a political leader. So, Edward Norton wrote the scene at the dinner table when they talk about Hitler and Stalin. Siqueiros, played by Antonio Banderas, and his group did the first assassination attempt on Trotsky, but we didn’t want to get into the whole Trotsky story, it would have been like opening a can of worms.

To me, the most important thing to talk about socially was the issues of fidelity and loyalty. In our country we had a President, Bill Clinton, who was crucified for infidelity, and yet he’s still with that wife. Diego painted socialism on the government walls, but Frida’s paintings were about herself. Her love for Diego is the number one thing she writes about in her diaries and her letters, “You are my everything, you are my son, my husband.” But she left him, she walked out, she went to Paris, she had her exhibition and had other love affairs. She was deeply hurtfully in love with Diego, but he came back to her at the end when she was a cripple because he needed her."