n e ainment
At The Movies
Jewish-Mexican wife of DIA muralist Diego Rivera painted with a shocking touch.
Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), her tor-
rid affairs and excruciating spine sur-
geries. Frida spent time in Detroit
when Rivera painted the murals at the
Detroit Institute of Arts, 1932-1933
(see accompanying story).
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles
ears before she directed her
new film Frida, about the •
artist Frida Kahlo, Julie
Taymor saw Kahlo's self-portraits at
an exhibit in Oaxaca, Mexico.
"I was shocked, drawn in and
repulsed," Taymor said of the paint-
ings, which included visceral images
of menstruation and miscarriage.
was frankly put off by her work."
A surprising revelation from
Taymor, a wunderkind designer-direc-
tor — known for her stunning stag-
ing of the Broadway musical The
Lion King — who is prone to theatri-
At the climax of her production of
the Stravinsky opera, Oedipus, red
cloth streamed from the hero's
gauged-out eyes. Shadow-puppet
locusts splattered to depict one of the
10 Plagues in her 1980 pageant, The
Haggadah. Hacked-out tongues and
severed heads rolled in her 2000 fea-
ture film debut, Titus, based on the
early Shakespeare tragedy.
But Frida's gory artwork was unap-
pealing to Taymor until she met
actress Salma Hayek, who'd struggled
for years to make a Kahlo bio movie
Salvia Hayek in Julie Taymor "Frida.
against all odds and rivals (including
Madonna and Jennifer Lopez).
"Salma walked into my Manhattan
apartment and she just takes your
breath away, even if you're a nice het-
erosexual woman," the willowy
Jewish director said during an inter-
"We sat on my couch and for two
hours she passionately described
Frida's bawdiness, her brilliance, her
raunchiness, her foul mouth, her
drinking habits, her cigarette smok-
ing, her bisexuality. It was a true
By the end of the meeting, Taymor
had agreed to direct the movie, which
is already generating Oscar buzz. The
bold, lushly photographed film chron-
icles Kahlo's life from her crippling
childhood bus accident through her
rocky marriage to womanizing artist
Frida In Detroit
Fighting anti-Semitism across the street from the DIA
Special to the Jewish News
bile Mexican muralist Diego Rivera
was living in Detroit to paint the
walls that would come to define the
major court at the Detroit Institute of
Arts (DIA), his surrealist artist wife, Frida Kahlo,
was with him and had some life-defining experiences
in the city.
Kahlo, now coming to attention through film and
books, was married twice to Rivera and was an artist
in her own right. She was a jarring conversationalist
— mixing with the local society crowd. Also while
in Detroit, she suffered a miscarriage.
4 r .
Kahlo, an outspoken communist who could trace
Jewish heritage through her atheist father, German-
born photographer Guillermo Kahlo, presented a
local force in opposition to anti-Semitism, begin-
ning at the exclusiVe residential hotel where the cou-
ple were housed.
"The two were staying at the Wardell, which
became the Park Shelton [Apartments]," says Wendy
Evans, adjunct professor of art history at Wayne
State University and a DIA docent who speaks
about the Rivera murals.
"The Wardell [across the street from the DIA]
boasted that it was 'the best home address in
Detroit,' which meant it didn't allow Jews. When
Rivera learned of the restriction, he announced that
Along the way — this being a Julie
Taymor film — Kahlo's autobio-
graphical paintings spring to life via
special effects. One of the most dis-
turbing is The Broken Column, in
which the artist's naked torso, punc-
tured by tacks, rips open to reveal a
cracked marble spine.
"Frida's artwork was an exorcism," said
Taymor, who at 49 is two years older
than Kahlo was at her death in 1954.
"She survived by transforming her emo-
tional and physical pain into art."
Nevertheless, Taymor — speaking
in strong, precise tones — insisted
her film isn't another suffering-
painter bio movie.
"Frida wasn't just this poor, aban-
doned woman who lived a life of tor-
ture in a bed," she said with Kahlo-
like cheek. "She had more than her
share of suffering, but she also had
more than her share of pleasure and
sex. Her life was a combination of
both he and his wife had Jewish blood and threat-
ened to leave unless the policy changed. He was told
that would happen.
Kahlo, who was given work space at the nearby art
school now called the College for Creative Studies,
used to join her husband at the museum for lunch
every day, says Evans, who has researched both
artists. The two would sit close to his project while
they ate and once were photographed sharing a ten-
The photo is shown in the book Diego Rivera: The
Detroit Industry Murals by Linda Bank Downs, head
of education at the National Gallery of Art in
Washington, D.C., and former curator of education
at the DIA. Downs' book includes other photos of
the famous couple — one relaxing on Belle Isle and
another with Jewish architect Albert Kahn.
"Frida loved to taunt the society people who invited
her to dinners and tea parties," Evans says. "When
Henry Ford I hosted the artists at his home, she asked
the auto magnate, known for his anti-Semitic writ-
ings, whether he was Jewish. She used off-color