Before Cristeta’s film about a very independent-minded female artist, I figured I’d show a mockery of a contrast with an MST3K short, called “The Home Economics Story”.
The story of this 1951 educational film, such as it is, follows four young women as they study at Iowa State University (“the high school after high school!”) in pursuit of their Mrs. degrees. The original is not exactly misogynistic, but it does, shall we say, highlight traditional gender roles. But the guys at MST3K do a reasonable send-up of it, so no harm done, I hope.
The film begins and after a minimal exposition of Frida’s school life (including a scene where she and her friends intentionally interrupt famous muralist Diego Rivera while he is attempting to have an affair with one of his nude models) it jumps right to the traffic accident that left her severely wounded and led to lifelong recurring pain and the inability to conceive. The flying gold dust (carried by a worker and intended for leafing on a cathedral or something) may well have been a Taymor invention, but it sure looked good – something Taymor never falls short on.
The accident left her in a full-body cast, with numerous broken bones, damaged legs, and a beautiful sister with eyes full of betrayal. Due to her frail condition (it apparently took her many months to heal well enough to walk) Frida was more or less forced to abandon her aspirations of becoming a physician, and she focused instead on becoming a great artist, helped along by a bedstand easel provided by her family.
When she recovers, she shows her work to Diego Rivera looking for both criticism and encouragement. Rivera loves her work…and also wouldn’t really mind adding Frida to his list of conquests. The lady, naturally, protests only long enough for the rakish Rivera to solemnly swear he will be her friend and adviser but never her lover before immediately sticking her tongue down his throat in prelude to making him break that promise. She’s kind of an enabler in that way.
Frida and Rivera eventually marry (his third marriage) despite her knowledge that he will never remain faithful to her. All she asks is that he remains “loyal”, which is apparently a fine distinction in the art of adultery.
Rivera gets a commission from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. for a great mural, so the couple head off to New York where Frida has elaborate dreams of Rivera as King Kong and herself as Fay Wray. Unfortunately, Rivera commits the indiscretion of memorializing Vladimir Ilyich “I am the walrus!” Ulyanov in his mural. The Rockefellers knew he was an open communist, but they can’t stand for a portrait of Lenin in a work they commissioned, and when Rivera refuses to remove him, they cease the commission and destroy the mural. (You know, I can’t be sympathetic to Diego here. When you’ve got a patron, you have to demur to their wishes if you want them to continue to pay for your art. Furthermore, you have to be especially careful when your art is painted on their wall. It’s not like you can take your easel and go home.)
So Frida and Diego return to Mexico, and when her sister falls out with her husband, Frida helps her out by getting her a job in Diego’s studio. Her sister repays her by sleeping with Diego. Apparently, that crosses the “loyalty” line and Frida decides to separate from him. She takes out some of her anger by cutting all of her hair off and apparently painting on the walls.
But the inevitability of the worldwide communist revolution brings Frida and Diego back together, when Diego begins to house political refugee Leon Trotsky. Shortly thereafter the married Trotsky and Frida begin an affair, causing Leon to leave Diego’s house out of sympathy for his wife. He deliberately cut off the affair. Not exactly the sort of behavior the polyamorous Rivera or Frida would understand. But just as Frida had her limits (no sisters), so did Diego (no major players in communist revolutions) and he divorces the physically deteriorating Frida so that he can spend a year getting skinny and then taunt her about it by…marrying her again.
The movie wraps up its bookend with a bedridden Frida being carried to attend her first solo exhibition in Mexico. Shortly thereafter, she dies (“I hope the exit is joyful – and I hope never to return” she wrote in her diary), which means that the film wraps up the last 14 years of her life in about a scene and a half. That last bit must have been pretty boring.
For a biopic, it’s an interesting film, and I’m astonished at the many crossed paths in her life (not just Diego Rivera but Trotsky, as well?). On top of that, Taymor, as always, does a fantastic job of putting together visually interesting sets, and she makes liberal use of Frida Kahlo’s actual paintings in the film to the film’s great benefit.