I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone," Frida Kahlo once said, and "because I am the person I know best."
Her life is the subject of director Julie Taymor's latest film, Frida which was recently screened at the DGA Theatre in New York.
A Q&A with Taymor moderated by actor/director Griffin Dunne followed the screening.
When asked how she became involved in the project, Taylor said, "I received the screenplay (a draft written by Rodrigo Garcia) about two years ago. Initially, I was not interested in doing a film about an artist. It's not that there haven't been good films about artists before, but it's hard to get in to their creative process." But she quickly became interested in Kahlo's personal story, particularly her tumultuous relationship with the famous muralist Diego Rivera.
Actress Salma Hayek already had been attached to play the lead. After meeting with her, Taymor was moved by Hayek's passion for Kahlo's life. While the director could not praise Hayek's portrayal enough that evening, Taymor admitted that she was still surprised at the level of Hayek's performance.
"I had never seen anything like that in Salma's work," Taymor said. "She had more to give than others were willing to take."
Asked about the film's surrealistic sequences in which Kahlo's paintings come to life, Taymor described how she conceived these scenes early on in the process. "Frida painted her life, so I thought I could, in this 30-year saga, somehow mesh the painting with the story of her life."
The film's beauty and attention to detail was achieved despite the film's small budget, Taymor explained. "When you don't have a lot of money, it doesn't really matter because you are forced to use your imagination." She used the film's pivotal trolley accident scene to illustrate her point.
"There was no way I could shoot that from the outside, even if I wanted to. But that was a very good thing in the sense that it all had to be inside the bus; it had to be from Frida's point of view."
She also spoke of how important her collaborators were to the process, "I worked with many talented people whose hearts were in it to the nth degree," specifically mentioning director of photography Rodrigo Prieto, composer Elliot Goldenthal, and Edward Norton who completed the last draft of the screenplay.
In a follow-up interview with DGA Magazine, Taymor said she worked closely with Norton for several months, making extensive changes and additions and developing the script, that was finally given the go-ahead by Miramax. Norton was the only screenwriter Taymor worked with; yet, neither Garcia (who wrote the draft she originally read) nor Norton received credit in WGA arbitration.
In response to a question as to why more of Kahlo's political life was not highlighted, Taymor said: "There is already a lot of material covering that part of her life. I wanted to show a different side of her, the personal story of Frida."