Lindsey Hayes

Adv. Shakespeare

January 31, 2002

Roman coliseum . . . Formica kitchen

Armored warrior . . . Armored tank

Gregorian Chant . . . Hard Rock

White toga . . . Metallic business suit

Ancient Rome . . . Modern America

At first glance, these categories appear entirely incompatible, unable to exist together. However, in Julie Taymor’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, we find that they are compatible after all. With elaborate sets, stunning costumes, and a remarkable film score, Taymor blurs the boundaries that divide them and creates a world that accommodates both ancient Rome and modern America.

The film soundtrack was an important element in creating the juxtaposed world that Taymor desired. Taymor selected Elliot Goldenfall, a veteran composer for the stage and screen whom she had known for twenty years, to head the scoring. Their long association served them well in this endeavor — the final film score was both stunning and effective in combining ancient and modern musical elements. Goldenfall manipulated four main musical styles to score the film (symphonic, jazz, hard rock, and aria), and each style represented particular emotions.

The opening scene in the coliseum is a particularly potent display of Taymor and Goldenfall’s artistic creativity. Warriors covered in gray armor, stoic faces smeared with a bluish-gray paste, march resolutely into the coliseum. As they move into formation, Goldenfall uses the powerful sounds of symphonic music to instill a feeling of triumph. Horns blare victoriously. Footsteps are marched in a steady andante, matched with heavy drums. A strong male chorus joins the music, the singing reminiscent of modal Gregorian Chant. This victorious chant-song is exciting and stirring like that of the Carmina Burana. It obligingly fades out and swells up again to fit the action on the screen — as Titus leans over to speak an aside, the music fades to be as a background to his voice. And because his words are rather foreboding, the character of the singing becomes ominous.

Goldenfall makes modern variations to the symphonic-style music. During the warriors’ march into formation there is a hint of a modern drum set behind the traditional symphonic instruments of horns, strings, winds, and percussion. Near the end of the coliseum scene, the soldiers break into more complicated formations, and the percussion plays an even greater role. As the soldiers run through a military-like drill, with spears instead of rifles, Goldenfall inserts a series of complex syncopated rhythms. These rhythms and an increased tempo generate great excitement and create a modern feel in this ancient setting.

Variations upon a jazz theme are utilized throughout the movie to illustrate a variety of emotions. The first time jazz appears is as young Lucius sits on the steps before the emperor’s palace. The scene looks more like a modern city than an ancient capital, and a tattered newspaper drifting by does nothing to dispel that image. Goldenfall chooses to maintain and expand that image by introducing a nasal-sounding sax solo, reminiscent of a street performer playing for tips. Then, as impressive banners unfurl down the side of the palace and the boy runs to the street, the music swells to a frantic-sounding big band style complete with horns and percussion. It is loud and boisterous and entirely fitting for the images of Bassianus and Saturninus politicking through the streets in their convertibles.

The jazz theme reappears at the wedding reception of Saturninus and Tamora; however, it has mutated into an even wilder theme than before. Screaming trumpets with nasal mutes compliment lascivious activity. Dancers dance almost frantically to a quick, snappy beat. People shout and laugh in time with the driving pace of the music. At this point, the theme more than adequately represents wild abandon.

The third appearance of the theme comes as Demitrius and Chiron fight with Aaron watching. Again, the theme has changed into something different to suit the action. This time, the music has more of a "cool jazz" feel to it. The melody jumps around with a disjunct progression, leaving the listener unsure as to its direction. This style of performance is more virtuosic, and the ensemble size has shrunk. This musical style creates an overall impression of chaotic anger.

The fourth appearance of the jazz theme is brief. It occurs as the deceitful Aaron leaves with Titus’s hand. After chopping off the hand himself, he walks swiftly out of the kitchen and remarks in an aside of his cruel intentions. As he swiftly moves to his car, the music swells once again to that crazy-sounding jazz theme. However, now it has turned into something resembling a 1970’s TV-show theme. It’s still wild and crazy, yet now it’s rather campy, too.

The last variation upon the jazz theme is especially effective. After Aaron leaves with the hand, the clown drives up with a little girl. The scene is staged almost like a silent Keystone Kops movie: the car drives up crazily; the man and girl move quickly setting up chairs; there is no talk, but much action. The music obligingly turns comical, almost circus-like; the oom-pah of tuba is very humorous. However, the music begins to create a great deal of tension as the scene moves towards its climax. The pitches start climbing higher, and as they ascend they go slightly out of tune. Meanwhile, other harmonies within the music begin the change from excited to sinister. This dramatic change reaches a peak as the side door of the truck opens, revealing the heads of the sons and the hand of Titus, and the music now seems grotesque.

Hard rock music is also utilized in a variety of ways in Taymor’s Titus. It first appears as Demitrius, Chiron, and Aaron amuse themselves in a modern-styled game room. As they fervidly play pool and video games, the music overpowers the scene with harsh dissonances and a driving beat. The melodic and rhythmic ostinatos, reminiscent of rave dance music, are a perfect match for the intensity of their actions. Also, distorted guitar feedback and muffled motorcycle roars contribute to an angry and explosive feel.

The second appearance of this style appears as Lavinia scratches the names of her abusers in the dirt. It is a perfect accompaniment to the enraged emotions that she is feeling. Since her attack, she had been powerless to act, effectively silenced by her disfigurements. However, as she "finds her voice," a deep anger overpowers her. Taymor projects the image of a snarling lion onto the scene and adds its snarl behind the music.

Additionally, a hint of hard rock is utilized as young Lucius delivers the weapons to the aforementioned game room. It briefly appears as he stands at the doorway, but quickly fades. Interestingly, this brief hint of hard rock is suggestive of a cloud of smoke drifting out from a closed room once the door is opened.

The last appearance of this angry music style fittingly occurs in the dinner scene. This time, the music virtually explodes as Titus rushes towards Tamora wielding a dinner knife. Crashing dissonances highlight the brutality and anger acted out, and screeching guitars with a pulsing syncopated beat drive the scene’s action. Danger and chaos are exemplified by this angry music style. The music briefly stops as Taymor freezes the frame for Lucius’ contemptuous spit onto Saturninus and then erupts again as the action resumes. Goldenfall’s choice of hard rock is fitting for the bloody and violent action.

The last musical style utilized by Goldenfall is a particularly useful tool in heightening audience reaction. At the beginning of the dinner scene as Tamora, Saturninus, and various dignitaries enter the dining room, Goldenfall inserts a muted Italian aria, like one heard in a fine Italian restaurant. Considering the nature of the scene and the audience’s knowledge of what is to be served, the aria serves to increase audience disgust. And as the beautiful music wafts through the background of the scene and Tamora eats the flesh of her own sons, the revulsion is intensified. It is almost a relief when the scene erupts into violence.

It is not an easy task to fuse modern society with that of ancient Rome. However, under Taymor’s direction the sets, costumes, and film score accomplish just that. In particular, by combining modern and archaic music styles, Goldenfall successfully augments the effects Taymor strives for. The result is a high-powered film that takes Shakespeare’s classic to levels it has not previously been taken.