More than one during her September 29 conversation with The Curvy Film Critic’s Carla Renata, director Julie Taymor used the invented term hope-aholic to describe her friend (and muse) Gloria Steinem. The currently 86-year-old feminist icon, journalist, publisher and political activist is the subject of the Frida filmmaker’s innovative new biopic The Glorias, now streaming on digital platforms worldwide—including Amazon Prime, released October 2.
Steinem had, in fact, been scheduled to join Taymor and Renata on the Zoom panel to discuss the film together, screened on September 28 as part of our ongoing Film Independent Goes to Washington programming series. Unfortunately, Steinem was waylaid at the last moment by an urgent medical procedure, for which she is thankfully currently on the mend.
But despite “Ms.” Steinem’s absence (see what we did there?) old pals Taymor and Renata had a lot to talk about—the pair going all the way back to 2000, when Renata played the part of Shanzi in the original Los Angeles production of Taymor’s The Lion King. Watch the full panel below and keep reading for more.
Renata said that she recalled The Glorias’ Sundance premiere with great clarity—it happened to be the day Kobe Bryant died, for one thing—saying, “There were tears, there were cheers, everybody absolutely loved it.” She noted that the audience inside the 2,468-seat Eccles Theater (which, remarkably, doubles as Park City High School’s student assembly hall) was predominantly women amped up to see Steinem’s many adventures as rendered by one of the great stylistic innovators of modern film and theater.
But rather than adhering to familiar biopic rhythms, The Glorias take a quadriptych approach, intercutting depictions of Steinem as a young girl (Ryan Kirk Armstrong), teenager (Lulu Wilson), young adult (Alicia Vikander) and as an older, settled icon of the Women’s Rights Movement (Julianne Moore)—interspersed with no shortage of Expressionistic flourishes characteristic of Taymor’s work in films such as Titus (1999) and Across the Universe (1999.)
Taymor adapted The Glorias from Steinem’s 2015 memoir My Life on the Road, a chronicle of the equal rights advocate’s many travels, and the formative impact they had on her philosophy and career. Travel, in fact, is a significant part of Taymor’s professional journey as well, particularly her post-collegiate sojourn in Indonesia—which would inform much of her later work in theater and film.
“There’s no me without my four years in Indonesia,” she said, “it was really trial by fire.” Having received an arts fellowship to pursue experimental theater in Japan, Taymor elected instead to remain in Bali after a three-month trial period, forming her theater troupe there informed by Balinese dance and puppetry—developing the stage techniques that would later make The Lion King such a record-breaking success. Before that, Taymor had studied mime in Paris. “That’s why my French sucks,” she laughed, “I didn’t have to speak that much!”
Steinem’s equivalent of Bali—as seen in the film—were her travels in India, and particularly her experiences traversing the expansive subcontinent by rail. “It was a really groundbreaking, for Gloria in India and me in Indonesia,” Taymor said.
Asked if it was at all nerve-racking to make a film about such towering (and still living) public figure, Taymor said, “No—Gloria is anything but nerve-racking. She’s so, so generous.” According to Taymor, Steinem was thrilled when the filmmaker first approached her about adapting her book. “She said, ‘If anyone can do it, you can.’ She really trusted me.”
Noticing Taymor’s partner, acclaimed composer Elliot Goldenthal, crossing in the background of her Zoom proscenium, Renata flagged him down to take a seat and talk about he and Taymor’s collaboration in both life and work. “It changes every time,” he said, “every project demands a…” Taymor interrupted: “Lower your head so the people can see you,” she said, dragging him into frame.
Goldenthal continued, “Every project is a new ballgame. You can say what you want as the process goes along, but until I feel the rhythm of the editing and the feel of the location, everything I might have supposed before is nullified.” For The Glorias, he said he was inspired by the (era-appropriate) funk and soul music of the 1960s and 1970s. Taymor also asked for a running theme that could be adapted to uniquely suit each individual Gloria and their storyline.
Of her unique visual approach and storytelling style, Taymor says: “I like to tell stories on multiple levels of reality—I would say there are three in The Glorias.” The first, she says, are the dramatic narrative portions. The second level was the film’s extensive use of archival and documentary footage. “I knew from the beginning that would be very important,” she said.
“The third level of reality is the inner reality: dreams, hallucinations, inner projections,” for which she used a variety of techniques, including animation. These fantasy sequences enabled her, Taymor said, to show the Glorias of her film doing and saying things the real Gloria Steinem would never do or say.
“One of the things you and Gloria both have in common, is you come from these laser-focused women,” said Renata, drawing the comparison between Taymor’s mother, Massachusetts state politician Elizabeth Bernstein, and Steinem’s mother Ruth, a frustrated journalist.
Said Taymor, of The Glorias: “It’s as much for young women young boys, to see what their mamas, their grandmas, what their aunties did; what they pulled off and what they had to lose.”
Film Independent Goes to Washington is presented by Events DC and supported by Lead Sponsor the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Official Partner Vision Media and Media Partner The Los Angeles Times.
Film Independent promotes unique independent voices by helping filmmakers create and advance new work. To become a Member of Film Independent, just click here. To support us with a donation, click here.