It sounded kind of smart, at least in the beginning.
“Basically, what we were doing was a cross between Shakespeare and ‘Star Wars.’” Steve Bannon’s former screenwriting partner, Julia Jones, told HuffPost.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good script, but it was a great idea,” Jones said, of the “Titus Andronicus”-inspired script she worked on with Bannon. “The Andronicii were light beings. They were transparent and they only took human form when they entered the Earth plane. So it had a lot of sort of esoteric ideas.”
Jones, whose political views are liberal, worked with Bannon off and on for over a dozen years. In Jones’ recollection, Bannon was a Republican, but not the far-right conservative he has become today — at least at the beginning of their relationship.
“Before 9/11, it seemed [the politics] wasn’t an issue,” said Jones. “He was a Republican and then I was a Democrat, and back in those days, you know, that happened.”
As she explained to HuffPost, Jones has been talking to press outlets since Steve Bannon’s rise in the Donald Trump administration to make sense of his apparent transformation into a politcal power player who says things like, “Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.”
Jones recently approved a live-reading of the duo’s rap musical about the Los Angeles riots of 1992, which was read to humorous effect by actors and comedians such as Rob Corddry for NowThis. That play wasn’t exactly a harbinger for Bannon’s brand of conservatism, but was definitely ridiculous.
“You cry against the ‘other’ — crackers, Blood, Crip, popo, Pol, the rich — it don’t matter, n***as; awe keeps you feeding each another,” is just one memorable line. Jones, who now looks back on her earlier writing with the humor of more experience, loved how the live-reading turned out.
As The New Yorker recently detailed in length, Bannon started his attempt at a career in Hollywood as a financier, initially as part of Goldman Sachs. When he decided he wanted to become a screenwriter, he hired Jones after a chance encounter at a busy restaurant in 1991.
“I was kind of trying to get out of the conversation, actually,” Jones said, sort of jokingly. She was trying to return to her own party. But the conversation of what they both did professionally came up, and Jones said she was working on a screenplay relating to the works of Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe.
“It sort of didn’t work. His response was, ‘I’m looking for a Shakespearean screenwriter.’ So how often does that happen?” she said.
The two set out to develop the “Star Wars”-meets-Shakespeare idea of adapting “Titus Andronicus” into space. Jones suggested putting pyramids on a planet, an idea that Bannon liked, and which eventually made it into the script.
Jones gave HuffPost the script with the caveat: “Just be advised, it’s probably laughable in parts.”
The original play, in which Roman general Titus returns from war and engages in a cycle of revenge with Tamora, Queen of the Goths, is considered Shakespeare’s most violent work. In Bannon and Jones’ script, the general vibe of extreme darkness is certainly kept. The script is also highly ambitious in calling for alien battle scenes that even James Cameron probably would have struggled to depict.
To get a sense of the plot, this is the opening “mechanical voice” narration:
Long ago when aliens ravaged ancient Earth, the people fled underground, hiding out in caves to escape death and slavery at the hands of the invaders.
Deep underground they discovered a vortex of energy, spiraling past the earth-plane to freedom in the stars. Aeons passed...
Over this mystical place, those who were left behind, built a city and called it Eridon, gateway to the river in the stars.
While out among the stars, men and women intermarried with the Divine Sparks of other worlds to produce a noble race, the Andronicii - half-
human, half-spirit - lifted beyond the concerns of a gravitational earth.
Sheltered from alien invasions and the corruption of Earth’s dying civilization...
The new Beings drew strength from the pure air of the stars and bred a race, strong in body and pure of heart...
A race of Star Warriors dedicated to defending Earth as the mother of flesh and form, the Blue Grail, the sacred vessel of spirit.
For it was determined by all the hierarchies of light and life, that Earth must be defended - worshiped and defended - as the last place in the universe where the beauties of the physical world can co-exist ... side-by-side with its dangers.
In this adaptation, Titus is a “Star Warrior” who is “half-human, half-light.”
Missiles point earthward from Mars. The Lincoln monument in Washington D.C. has already been “blackened.” Early on, a hologram game is played that depicts an atom bomb exploding. As a character observes this, another remarks to dramatic effect, “Ah, your holiness ... do join us. The game is death.”
Later, a child asks, “What is human kind?” The response is sarcastic chuckling as a character sardonically states, “A contradiction in terms.”
When asked whether she and Bannon thought about the feasibility of making this movie, Jones chuckled and admitted, “I don’t think we thought very realistically at all while we were writing it.”
In a story about this fabled script published in The Paris Review last November, the publication brought to attention an other-worldly sex scene that is hard to imagine could have been filmed at the time.
The relevant line in the script: “He climbs onto her and their forms dissolve, blend and blur in an erotic scene of ectoplasmic sex.”
“We just thought it was brilliant,” said Jones of their script as a whole. “I think we just assumed the studio would take care of all of that.”
As with the results of his other partnerships with Jones, this Bannon script never became a movie.
Bannon did kind of, sort of, eventually succeed in getting a “Titus Andronicus” adaptation made years later, though, as he executive produced the 1999 film “Titus.” Anthony Hopkins starred in the titular role.
Over the years, Bannon began to pivot into making explicitly political documentaries, which led to his rise within the far-right community. Jones had a writing credit on the 2004, “In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed,” but wanted to make it clear she had no input on that film, except essentially acting as Bannon’s typist.
As The Washington Post described the documentary, “That film included a coda that warned about the threat of ‘the beast’ during a montage that showed praying Muslims, terrorist camps and people falling to their deaths from the World Trade Center on 9/11.”
Jones and Bannon then parted ways professionally.
“He loves being the bad guy,” Jones explained of Bannon’s personality and his ultimate decision to publicly embrace his controversial politics. “He loves it. The more bad things people say about him, the more he likes it.”
Following the Shakespearean source material, Bannon’s Titus gets killed near the end of his script. The titular character’s dramatic last words in the adaptation are, “Elio, Elio, caraba! Elio mea! Lemnith, lemna meo Elio caraba ...”
His words are the nonsense language of Titus’ space race, with which Jones and Bannon never ascribed any definitive meaning.
“I made up those words,” Jones explained over a follow-up email. “No translation. I’m sure [it] meant Unity. It was like Latin but made-up.”