2 Audio commentary - with Director Julie Taymor, and Selected Scenes with Composer Elliot Goldenthal
4 Interviews - A Conversation with Salma Hayek, AFI Q&A With Julie Taymor, Bill Moyers Interview with Julie Taymor, Chavela Vargas Interview
Fact file - Frida Kahlo Facts
Buena Vista/Buena Vista .
R4 . COLOR . 118 mins .
MA15+ . PAL
The time has come, once again, for an artist’s life to leave the canvas and fly onto the silver screen. This time its Frida Kahlo’s turn, one of the most celebrated and powerful female artists of the 20th century. For eight years, Salma Hayek put her life into this project, making it her mission to bring her childhood hero’s life to the screen. After a few false starts with the film, Hayek, along with director Julie Taymor, successfully captured the essence of Kahlo’s life, and brought to the screen an all-star cast, fantastic visual elements and a well-rounded big-name crew to create one of the most historically accurate bio-pics ever created.
The Kahlo look-a-like - no one else coulda done it!
Each of Kahlo’s key trials and tribulations are successfully placed in sequence in this film, capturing her spirit and personality. The highly-refined screenplay by Clancy Sigal and Diane Lake, with a final draft by Edward Norton, ties in 30 years of Kahlo’s life with reasonable success. Mind you, a solid understanding of Kahlo’s life and work is beneficial as many minor aspects are skimmed over or just brushed on, such as the more complex, problematic relationship between Diego and Frida. With thanks to year 11 art, this reviewer entered into this with a solid knowledge of Kahlo’s life, and a study of her work reveals a lot about her personality, character, life and symbolism, giving a wider understanding of Kahlo, her art and her life, something that this film assumes.
The most visually stunning segments of the film are where Taymor, along with DP Rodrigo Prieto, successfully combine Kahlo’s stunning artworks with real footage, like a picture coming to life. Performances from all the cast members are amazing, led by a sincere and powerful Hayek.
As Hayek discusses, this film wouldn’t be anywhere near as impressive without the imaginative input from director Taymor, who brought so much life and enthusiasm to the project without compromising Hayek’s own goals. Along with these two strong female leads in the project comes an equally talented cast, including Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera and cameos from Ashley Judd, Edward Norton, Geoffrey Rush and Antonio Banderas.
"I had two big accidents in my life Diego, the trolley and you. You are by far the worst."
This next part is a summary of Kahlo’s life and the basis of the film, so be advised that if you would prefer not to know more just skip through to the end of this section of the review...
Frida Kahlo was born on July 6 1907 to a Mexican Catholic mother and a German atheist father. When she was only five years old she suffered from the effects of polio, which caused her great pain throughout her maturing years. The film picks up in 1922, when Kahlo is 16, and quickly introduces her to a muralist, Diego Rivera. When Kahlo was 18, she was involved in a trolley car accident, where she was skewered through from the back through the vagina, leaving her with a large scar and a whole lot of pain, as well as a fractured pelvis, dislocated shoulder and a spine fractured in three places. After spending weeks in a body cast, Kahlo started to paint from her bed, with a mirror placed above her lying position and a canvas straddled over her legs. With opinion being that she would never walk again, Kahlo stunned everyone around her when she took her first steps and started to live a full life.
Her first port of call was to see Rivera to show him examples of her work, to see if she had a future as an artist, and this is where the relationship between the two began to blossom. This “toad”, as it were said, was twice Kahlo’s age, but the two shared common beliefs on their Communism and life. However, Rivera’s inability to commit caused Kahlo an incredible amount of emotional pain when the two married. Their love blossomed, however this infidelity scarred Kahlo, but her strong and determined personality led, never faulting, and she stuck by her husband with power. After he received a grant to paint a mural in the Rockefeller Centre in New York, the couple moved to the Big Apple where Kahlo explored her own bisexuality while her husband painted away. Kahlo’s love of the Mexican life, however, caused her to paint immensely surreal self portraits, some of her best work, such as The Suicide of Dorothy Hale. During her travelling time, Kahlo suffered several miscarriages, all leaving her emotionally drained, and these events are captured in several of Kahlo’s pieces.
Geoffrey Rush as controversial Trotsky
Upon returning to Mexico, the pair separated after Rivera’s hands wandered to the body of Cristina, Frida’s sister. During this difficult time, Kahlo’s strongly detailed autobiographical works raked in little money, and she was not recognised as having the same talent as her male peers. Regardless, Kahlo and Rivera separated in 1939, only to remarry one year later due to their strong connections and feelings for each other. The above quote captures Kahlo’s feelings about her husband, and this can be seen in one of Kahlo’s most known pieces, The Two Fridas.
Rivera and Kahlo’s Communist background was shot forward when the pair housed the exiled Leon Trotsky and his wife in Mexico, where Kahlo continued to explore her sexuality with this political figure. Kahlo’s dream since she became an artist was to have an exhibition in her own country, a dream fulfilled after a brief stint in Paris. Bedridden after her gangrenous toes were removed, Kahlo attended this exhibition as her last within the (relative) comfort of her own bed. In June 1954, Kahlo passed away after several failed suicide attempts, but her legacy still lives on today, nearly 50 years after her death, in the form of her self-expressive, powerful and richly detailed artworks, capturing the essence of her strong personality, life-long pain and beliefs.
Nominated for six Academy Awards and numerous other accolades, Frida has captured audiences all around the world with an authentic, realistic and faithful representation of this great artist’s life.
So where to start? Well let’s keep it simple, and sum up this transfer in one word - “fantastic”. This transfer shows how vibrant and stunning a DVD can look, with no visual nasties, with Disc 1 identical to the earlier rental version.
Kahlo's "The Broken Column" jumps to life...
The video is presented in Frida’s original theatrical aspect of 1.85:1, and is anamorphically enhanced. From the very opening scene you know that you are in for a treat of beautiful eye candy. Colour correction was applied throughout the film to enhance and exacerbate the mood and feeling of various scenes. Each and every colour is mastered with vibrancy and precision that just leaps off the screen with life and vivacity. Blacks are incredibly deep, offering no sign of low level noise, and shadow detail is, to put it no other way, defining, and gives such a bold and distinct look. Skin tones are peachy and lifelike, another sign pointing out the luminosity and effervescence of the transfer.
At times some slight telecine wobble can be seen, but this is just faintly evident on some static and lengthy scenes. Some slight aliasing and digital noise reduction can be seen on the edges of an object here or there, which jaggedly cuts up the beauty of the image. Posterisation effects are kept to an absolute minimum and some slight blocking effects can be seen on the walls of some of the opening scenes, but these are so faint and insignificant that it is just this reviewer’s pedantic nature that mentions these. Film artefacts are few and far between, with two large white spots being the noticeable specks in the opening few seconds of the film.
There's a bit of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas in everyone...
At some moments throughout the film, some slight edge enhancement can be seen, which gives the image a very sharp and layered look. The clarity of the image is fine and detailed, with every intricate feature mastered with accuracy. At times, some slightly soft scenes fly past, but as discussed during the commentary, it’s an artistic effect rather than a mastering fault. A few cases of slight moire slip through too, but keep your eyes peeled if you want to see it.
The video transfer is subtitled with English, German and Italian options, as well as English for the Hearing Impaired. The English titles are clear, but edited severely during some scenes which can get distracting. But hey, these few small issues may stop this transfer from being perfect, but it’s only a small stone’s throw away.
Five audio tracks have been included, with three Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes offering language options of English, Italian and German. The remaining two tracks are English 2.0 commentary options, but we’ll discuss those later.
Let Technicolour rule!
Being a dialogue-driven film, the speech is of the utmost importance, and comes clearly from the centre speaker. No synch issues were spotted, and the fidelity of the audio is spot on. However, being shot in English as opposed to the native Spanish of the characters, some accents are thick and heavy and may require the use of subtitles if you’re not in the most alert frame of mind.
Surround channels are used effectively to carry Elliot Goldenthal’s Academy Award-winning score, with loads of discrete effects building up a broad 5.1 soundstage. The front end gets an equal workout during these moments, with effects and ambience flooding the soundstage. So while dialogue is a bit sketchy here and there, in all this track does give a fantastic 5.1 rendition.
Frida’s 16:9 enhanced animated menus are clear and simple, but effective with their bold impression. From the main menu, the final option is the extra features page where we can see our short list of bonuses.
First up is a 38 minute Conversation with Salma Hayek, which is a welcome addition to Hayek’s pet project. This is an informative 4:3 conversation, however given its length you’d expect a lot more. Some on-screen questions may have been nice too, letting the audience know what she is on about.
Next up is the first of two audio commentaries, by director Julie Taymor. This commentary is great, as she explains trivial, technical and important details throughout the film scene by scene with enthusiasm and purpose. A few silent moments slink past, but generally Taymor has plenty to say. The second of the commentaries is by Taymor’s real-life partner Elliot Goldenthal, the composer for Frida. This scene specific commentary is informative with regards to the music of Frida.
This where the bulk of the treasure lies, with a large collection of highly informative interviews and featurettes. Up first are four more interviews, AFI Q&A With Julie Taymor (30:03), Bill Moyers Interview with Julie Taymor (19:18), Chavela Vargas Interview (15:43) and The Voice of Lila Downs (5:21). Running for just over an hour, these interview featurettes are a great addition to the quality of the information provided on disc one, expanding upon the general making of the film, voicing Taymor’s opinions and reactions to the production, and a look at the musical side interviewing one of Frida’s lovers Chavela Vergas as well as Lila Downs, one of the live performers from the film. These interviews provide great insight into specific aspects of the film, and are a real treat rather than the cash-for-comments promo-style clips on other DVDs.
The doorway to Frida's life
Accompanying these superb interviews is a large collection of featurettes. The Vision of Frida: with Rodrigo Prieto and Julie Taymor (6:08), The Design of Frida: with Felipe Fernandez (2:27) and Bringing Frida Kahlo's Life and Art to Film: A Walk Through the Reel Locations (5:20) take a look at the production of the film from the director of photography, production designer and the overall look and feel of the film and bringing Frida Kahlo’s detailed vividly works to life. The Music of Frida: with Elliot Goldenthal and Salma Hayek (4:55) and Salma's Recording Session (2:37) have more of a look at the music in Frida, examining at the style of the music as well as the recording of La Bruja by Salma Hayek, one recording that really surprised Taymor and Goldenthal.
"Amoeba Proteus" Visual FX Piece (9:27) and "The Brothers Quay" Visual FX Piece (1:32) continue the stint of featurettes looking at some visual effects of the film, the first at digitally creating Frida Kahlo’s artworks as living pictures and the second at stop motion animation for creating the Day of the Dead sequence after the bus accident. These features are exceptional and worthy additions to this collection of the making of Frida. Tying up the collection of featurettes is the Portrait of an Artist (14:09), which looks at the cast of the film and how they have been included to portray the life of this great artist. Summing up the entire collection is a set of seven Frida Kahlo Facts presented as text-only screens, giving a bit of a run down on the history of Frida Kahlo’s life.
The features provided on this DVD are simply phenomenal, giving great insight into the film’s production and history. Presented on a technologically and emotionally strong two disc DVD set, Frida simply jumps off the screen with animation, passion and power which has rarely been rivalled in cinema in recent years. For lovers of fine art, this is one theatrical experience not to be missed, and what better medium to enjoy it on than a gorgeous DVD presentation?