Distribs take peek at Taymor’s wild ‘Titus’

International distribs here got their first peek at “Titus,” in which director Julie Taymor incorporates ’40s big bands, Fellini-esque hookers, motorcycles and sportscars, the lavish look of Imperial Rome and the austere Fascist architecture of Mussolini’s Italy in an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s blood-drenched tragedy “Titus Andronicus.”

The audience was SRO Sunday afternoon for three screenings of about 20 minutes from the pic. Though such teasers are rare at Cannes, they are obviously intended to whet the appetite of distribs. Though most conceded it’s impossible to assess a film based on snippets, the striking visuals and Taymor’s reputation — she helmed the revolutionary stage version of “The Lion King” — definitely started buzz on the pic.

The heavyweight acquisitions presence at the screenings included representatives from Miramax, Fine Line, October, Para-mount Classics, Fox and Disney, with the reel generating an overwhelmingly positive response. International sales are being handled by Overseas Filmgroup. The finished feature is expected to premiere at the Venice Film Festival this fall.

At a press confab after the screening, Taymor said, “People have said ‘Titus’ was Shakespeare’s first play and I think it has the perfect angry-young-man energy to make a movie. I was interested in blending and colliding times. We wanted to create our own time but make it a time that contemporary audiences could recognize.”

On hand with Taymor to promote the film in Cannes were cast members Jessica Lange, Harry Lennix, Angus Macfadyen and Matthew Rhys and producer Concita Heirloom. Though there were breathless reports of on-set friction during filming — topliner Anthony Hopkins at one point announced he would never act again — the subject was shrugged off.

The innovate designs that distinguished Taymor’s “The Lion King” and her original Off Broadway production of “Titus An-dronicus” are much in evidence in the pic, which mixes stylized armory, elaborate masks and headdresses with leather, fur and tattoos. Production design on the film is by Dante Ferretti, with costumes by two-time Oscar winner Milena Canonero.

Produced by Clear Blue Sky Prods. and Urania Pictures, “Titus” (which also stars Alan Cumming, Colm Feore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Laura Fraser and James Frain) was filmed at Rome’s Cinecitta studios and in Croatia.