I was transfixed the first time I saw Frida. Julie Taymor’s colourful imagination and direction and her gift for creating daring and artistic visuals made the biopic about famed Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, a work of art in and of itself. There are many memorable scenes in the film, but the scene that I recall being struck by the most is one that features destruction and pain but is a thing of real beauty. The way Taymor stages and directs the scene makes the catastrophe more like a slow-moving, intense and visually-stunning theatrical vignette. The events that informed Frida's character and fed her art are shot in painstaking, magical detail.
Young Frida is on a crowded city bus fighting with her boyfriend over the writings of Hegel and Marx. She notices a young boy holding a blue bird and a man carrying a toolbox containing a cone filled with gold leaf. “Is that gold, real gold?” Frida asks. “It’s for the ceiling of the opera house,” the man tells her, and pours some gold leaf into her hand. Frida’s face lights up as she looks at the beautiful gold dust. Suddenly, the bus jerks and crashes into a tram and Frida falls backwards sending the gold leaf flying into the air, coating her hair and face in gold. She sees the wall of a building on the street coming closer as the bus careens towards it. The bus crashes into the wall. The action is shown in slow-mo, letting you absorb every frightening second. The young boy lets go of the blue bird in his hand and it flies into the air; another rider's bunch of oranges falls to the buckling floorboards of the bus; glass shatters; other riders fall to the floor and Frida is thrown forward, her body pierced by a giant steel rod, her back horribly shattered. There she lies bloodied, broken and covered in gold.
The detail shown creates a truly arresting and surreal scene. The presence of the blue bird and the gold dust are remarkably poignant. It’s an artistic rendering of a great catastrophe in Frida’s life, and it shows how keenly aware she was, no matter where she was, of colour and beauty and the elements of art. Taymor uses the blue bird and the gold dust to subtly foreshadow the way in which Frida copes with constant pain after the accident. She is never to be pain-free again and she overcomes this through imagination, colour, imagery and her art.