| Salma Hayek in a scene from her new film Frida. (Reuters)
Los Angeles, Oct. 23 (Reuters): For nearly 20 years, almost everyone in Hollywood was afraid of Frida. Until now.
With actress Salma Hayek and director Julie Taymor behind it, a movie about the unconventional life and work of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is ready to be painted across the silver screen, starting in the United States on Friday (October 25).
There was good reason why Hollywood would be scared of showing the painter’s life. She was controversial on about every front: personal, political and artistic, and major movie studios generally shy away from controversy.
Kahlo, who died in 1954 at the age of 47, was married to the famed Mexican muralist and painter Diego Rivera and had love affairs with the mistresses of her husband, not to mention Soviet political exile Leon Trotsky. Kahlo and Rivera were Communists, never a popular topic for Hollywood to tackle. Many of her paintings were as disturbing as they were provocative, as well as hard to represent on screen until Taymor came along.
But there was equally good reason to tell her story, Hayek said in an interview with reporters. “This film had the capacity to be a period piece that was extremely modern,” said the Mexican-born actress.
Many movie goers like period pieces — stories that span time, recount epic history and feature beautiful sets and costumes. Frida has all that, and more.
The artist had an independent streak that seems more modern than antiquated. She excelled in a male-dominated society, yet remained uniquely feminine. Dr Nancy Grove, associate art professor at Long Island University, said that while Kahlo’s work was critically lauded and popular during her life, her fame waned until a second wave of feminism hit the United States in the 1980s.
Feminism in the 1980s and 1990s was marked by women who wanted to be treated equally with men yet retain their identity as women. Kahlo was much the same way some 50 years earlier. “She is not a victim,” said Grove. “She gets her own.”
Surrealist painters of the 20th century called Kahlo a surrealist and praised her work as an example of their movement, but Kahlo was fond of saying she painted her own reality.
When she was 18-years-old, Kahlo’s spinal column, ribs and pelvis were crushed in a bus accident. The result was a lifetime of surgery — often experimental — and chronic pain that made it hard to walk and often confined her to bed. Her body was broken, but not her art. Pieces such as The Broken Column (1944) and Without Hope (1945) illustrate her determination to grow as an artist despite her injuries.
“She was unconventional in every way,” Hayek said. “She painted these paintings that were very intimate at a time when, in Mexico with some of the muralism, everybody was painting the reality of the country.”
It was Taymor's job as the film’s director to use Kahlo’s work in such a way that let audiences understand how personal many of her paintings were and how she used her life as fodder for work. To understand Kahlo, audiences had to know the paintings, Taymor thought.
So, she dressed Hayek and Alfred Molina, who portrays Rivera, in a way that matched a particular painting, then Taymor blended on-screen action into the piece, or she used a painting to transition from one movie scene to the next.
Rivera’s paintings were about large subjects and political issues of the time, yet he was among the first to notice the artistic genius behind Kahlo’s small paintings.
The two married in 1929 when she was 22 and he was 21 years her senior. Rivera was a notorious womaniser, and, although it was difficult for her, Kahlo knew she could not change her husband.
“She said: ‘OK, well if that’s the way it’s going to be, then we’re both going to be free,’” Hayek said. Some of Kahlo’s affairs were with women and, in a few cases, she stole Rivera’s lovers for herself. Hayek said the nudity and sex scenes in the film were hard to do but necessary to remain true to Kahlo’s life.