Frida

| December 9, 2002

Most people who are familiar with Frida Kahlo’s work will have their own ideas about why she is an important historical figure. Some will focus on her art, others on her politics, and still others cite her savvy self-promotion as one main reason to celebrate her. Whatever you may think or know about Frida Kahlo one thing remains certain; she was extraordinary and eccentric in every aspect of her life.
A review of the film, Frida, on Univision started off as friendly, citing the wonderful acting of Salma Hayek as a main reason the film seemed so grounded. It quickly deteriorated to a near yelling match between two people when one of the women was disturbed that film was done in English. When I was watching them debate this idea I found it ridiculous. I couldn’t imagine how this could matter. I mean, who cares?!
When the film began and Salma Hayek, who looked so much like Frida Kahlo, that when she came on the screen and spoke in English, I understood the argument. It was disturbing. I didn’t like it one bit. The English was a serious mistake. I will not go so far as to say Frida Kahlo would have been upset and hated the film for this reason, as the reviewer stated. I feel Frida Kahlo would have found the entire idea of a film about her life comical. But dead people don’t speak so no one can really know.
All the criticism I had heard of the film such as the film being made in English, too much emphasis on Diego Rivera and his work, and making Frida Kahlo seem as though she were a painter who had no idea of her worth are utterly ridiculous. The people who argue these things missed the main point of this film; to understand Frida Kahlo as a person.
Her paintings are primarily self portraits dealing with her own life filled with extreme pain and joy, and I needed to understand her a bit more to better understand her art. I find her paintings overwhelming and more giant than Diego Rivera’s ever could be. Sure the canvas was smaller but the meaning and the impact were so much greater, I could never get a handle on what they were dealing with. This movie explained some of this to me. I feel I understand her better now. This is because Julie Taymor, the director, understands her subject. She really got to the heart of Frida Kahlo and held it out and in the open for her audience to devour. Whether you like Frida’s work or not, it is there and it is unapologetic. She painted what she felt, and Taymor was quick to make this very clear to her audience.
Taymor uses stop action and a variety of other cinematic tricks to showcase the artist’s work. These were only a few of the variety of interesting techniques used in this film and I think they not only worked brilliantly for a film, it really showed how much Taymor understood about Kahlo’s work, which is clearly tremendous.
There was a lot about Diego Rivera, and many say too much, but I disagree. I feel to understand the Kahlo/Rivera connection is to understand Kahlo’s paintings and her life. Not that she was ruled by the womanizing, egomaniac but rather that theirs was a lifelong commitment to friendship and camaraderie. It is a crucial relationship that spanned over 25 years, from the time Frida was a young girl until her premature death at 47. I think her closing statement of, ” I hope the dying is joyful and I hope never to return” is another telling idea to help explain her paintings. She painted as she lived with all the joy and laughter and pain and ugliness that accompany life. She didn’t deny herself anything and I believe Taymor captures this spirit. Life didn’t just happen to Frida Kahlo, it happens to us all and while hers was extraordinary, it was ordinary as well. This is why her paintings speak to us all, just as Taymor’s tribute to her does.

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