Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Liz Taylor: Requiem for a Queen

By Murali Gopy

I was 10 when I saw ‘Cleopatra’. It was one of the first movies I saw at home. Television was so new a contraption to me that I used to go and scout the corner of the screen to check whether someone had been left out of the frame. While watching ‘Cleopatra’, I remember doing this many times; I thought the ridiculously diminutive box was vainly trying to reproduce an immortal movie, which was drawn on as big a canvas as the cinemascope! I realize now that I did this search in the fervent hope of seeing more of Elizabeth Taylor. I was hooked by her beauty, enamored by her grace. And I swear I was 10.

Liz Taylor, who was then 50 years old, became my first official crush. A heartbreaking fixation that was to last… and… last!

Liz gave Cleopatra what only genius actors impart to the characters they play: she lent the Egyptian queen the splendid complexities of her mind and the embers of her soul. When Liz played Cleo, the Queen broke free of the chains of history and fiction. She rose above Edward Gibbon’s version of her; she flew over the Shakespearean texts; she flipped aside the shooting scripts of Jospeh L Mankiewicz. Cleopatra Philopator and Elizabeth Taylor merged with each other and became irrevocably one!

Even as Elizabeth Taylor changed Cleopatra, Cleopatra claimed Taylor too! It would not be an exaggeration to say that Liz’s life after this spectacular movie resembled the legendary queen’s. Liz picked and abandoned lovers at will. She married seven men eight times! Though she married eight men, she loved only one, and she married him twice! Society did not make Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor made her society.
Liz was the queen of all she surveyed. She liked to command the world and the world obliged her in absolute adulation. She was a mighty seductress. She seemed to look at Man-kind with a seductive smile, enigmatic eye and maternal authority. In front of her, men became boys and boys became men.

Icons of machismo flitted around her like tykes, but the honour of holding her hand went to the peculiar ones. Michael Todd was perhaps her Julius Caesar, but Richard Burton was definitely her Mark Antony. She made friends with Michael Jackson, for she loved the boy in him.

Life waged many battles with Liz, and she braved each one of them with a Cleopatra-n heart. “Too much has happened in my life for me not to be fatalistic,” she once said. Yet, no asp could ever dare to be near Elizabeth Taylor, for she wore fatalism as armour and not as an ornament.

As I write this, Elizabeth Taylor is dead and gone. And I feel I have still not outlived the crush. “Did she really have to die?” the 10-year-old me asks the 38-year old me. I am reminded of the concluding scene of ‘Cleopatra’:

The roman asks Cleopatra’s servant: “Was this well done of your lady?”
And the servant replies: “Extremely well… as befitting the last of so many noble rulers!”
Elizabeth Taylor, you are the ultimate charmer. Accept my rose wreath.

source: MSN India/India Syndicate