A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 350 – Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Romeo and Juliet (1968) – February 13th, 2011

Back in my college days I worked for a video store. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating here because of how we shelved our movies. We didn’t keep them out on the floor like Blockbuster did. We kept the boxes out there and the actual cassettes behind the counter, so customers had to come up and ask us for the movies they wanted. Sometimes, when it was a movie with a unique title and only one version/volume, it was simple. But anything Shakespearean was a pain in the ass. And since we were near several colleges, we got a lot of requests for various productions of pretty much every Shakespearean play ever filmed. We all got to know which versions were most often assigned and needed and this version of Romeo and Juliet was very popular indeed. And yet, even though I took classes on Shakespeare and enjoyed watching the plays, I never saw this one. Maybe because it was always out.

Like much of our Shakespeare, this is a long-ish movie. Which, in my opinion, is a good thing. While I do love the Reduced Shakespeare Company version of the play, when done for dramatic purposes instead of comedic it’s certainly nice to let the characters have time to build the romance and tragedy. While this story has been done and redone and overdone to the point of being a cliche, when done well it can have some true tragic weight to it. Sure, it’s easy to poke fun at how emo Romeo and Juliet are, with the weeping and the whirlwind romance and all, but when you pay attention to the motivations as written, it’s a lot better than the cliche.

We all know the story, but let’s go over it anyhow. I’ve got things to say. The play is set in Verona, where two feuding families, the Capulets and the Montagues, have been bickering for some time. The Prince of Verona is pretty fed up with it all and issued bans on fighting in the city, but the Capulets and Montagues don’t seem to care and get into it all the time. In the middle of this we meet a Montague, Romeo, and find out that he’s kind of a hopeless romantic. He sees Juliet while at a Capulet party he shouldn’t have been at, falls totally in love with her at first sight, and earns the enmity of her cousin, Tybalt. Romeo and Juliet meet secretly, get married secretly, and spend their wedding night together secretly before the whole feud comes to a head and Romeo, Tybalt and a Montague named Mercutio end up dueling in the public square. Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo kills Tybalt and it all ends with Romeo banished and still the only ones who know Romeo and Juliet are married are themselves and Friar Laurence, who performed the marriage. When Juliet’s father declares that she will be wed to Paris, Juliet is understandably distraught and begs for the friar’s help. He gives her something to help her feign death, planning to let Romeo know so the two can then run off together. And then, as we all know, there’s some serious communication fail (oh if only they had twitter) and Romeo thinks Juliet’s actually dead and kills himself. When she wakes up she realizes what’s happened and kills herself too and the tragedy of it all brings the families together.

So we’re all clear on the details here, let’s look at the real plot points. Pointless and nasty feud that results in violence, young love defying said feud, feud resulting in deaths, and then Juliet’s father tries to marry her off against her will. Leaving aside this particular production’s rendition of it, that’s some dramatic stuff. And not leaving aside this production, I think it’s done well here. For one, it’s an absolutely gorgeous production. The costumes, locations, everything. It’s just lovely to look at and thoroughly sets the stage for the whole play. And then there’s the acting. Aside from the repeated and incredibly overwrought weeping, I really like the two leads. And I’m willing to allow for the weeping in some cases given the situations. I mean, if I’d gotten married in secret and my father then told me I was going to be getting married to someone else in like, two days? I’m sure I’d be a mess too. And Olivia Hussey, as Juliet, has a sort of wide-eyed wonder at the love she and Romeo have that suits the character well. Leonard Whiting (who looks so much like Zac Efron it’s creepy) plays Romeo as a romantic who finally feels truly passionate instead of just enamored. They both do an excellent job of making their parts believable, and in a play where the entire plot hinges on an love-at-first-sight romance that’s important. I also greatly enjoyed Michael York as Tybalt and Pat Heywood as the nurse.

Overall, it’s just a well put together and well acted production of a play that’s so easy to overdo or dismiss due to the cliches that have been born from it. Granted, the movie was made in 1968, but the play had been around for hundreds of years by then. So finding a way to present it and have it make an impact is impressive. There’s enough different between the play and the movie to make for good discussion and good performances to critique and make the plot and motivations clear. I greatly enjoyed it, and I can see why it would be assigned viewing for classes reading the play.

February 13, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

February 12, 2011

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

It’s been a little while since we’ve reviewed some Shakespeare. As we were combing our collection for something appropriately romantic movie for Valentine’s Day weekend, though, we realized that we have practically no traditional romances. I would have recommended The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as a great Valentine’s movie, but we’ve already reviewed that (and Amanda didn’t particularly like it.) We both generally disdain the entire genre of romantic comedy. So we turn instead to this most famous of romantic tragedies.

I have to admit that although I have owned this lush and beautifully produced adaptation of Romeo and Juliet for years, but have not watched it until today. This is not because I feared that I would not appreciate this production because I had heard many times what a great job Franco Zeffirelli had done here, but more because it requires a lot of preparation for me to embark on a tragedy like this. My first exposure to the story of Romeo and Juliet was when I was probably about seven or eight years old and there was a production of the ballet on PBS. My mother had to explain to me a lot of what was going on. In the end my assessment was that it was a very sad story. Why, I wondered, would anybody want to watch something so upsetting? In the intervening decades I still haven’t come up with an adequate response.

Shakespeare frames his tragedy within a homily about the pointlessness of feuds between families. In that regard there is a sort of moral here. Nevertheless it is undeniably a sad tale of innocent young lovers and their inevitable doom. As such it is not something relaxing that I’m likely to put in of an afternoon. It’s a movie I’m proud to own and one that deserves to be in our collection, but it’s not one I think I’m likely to watch very frequently.

A couple things stand out in this particular adaptation. First and foremost is the elaborate production and costume designs. This movie manages to combine both a realistic medieval renaissance look and a fantasy feel. For example there are the intricate and wonderfully tailored doublets – color coded so that you can tell at a glimpse who is a Montague and who a Capulet. The Capulet revels in particular are a lushly produced feast for the eyes full of gorgeous visuals. Looking at Zeffirelli’s credits on IMDB I note that he has done production design on a large number of television adaptations of classic operas. I can clearly see this operatic influence in the design for this movie.

The other standout is the cast. Much has been made in the past about the youth of the lead actors Zeffirelli chose to cast. Shakespeare’s script clearly states that Juliet is only thirteen years old and it does change your perception of these characters to see them as impetuous young rebellious kids. In general I would say that this choice raises this adaptation above many others. Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting do a great job showing us this irrational young love… for the most part. My one complaint would be that Juliet is a weepy young character prone to hysterics and Olivia’s loud crying almost never felt believable to me. Perhaps it has to do with the post-production additional recording that goes on for much of the dialog in the film. Maybe she just couldn’t weep into a microphone in a sound booth. The result was that by the fourth or fifth time that Juliet threw herself down racked by sobs I had to roll my eyes and throw my hands up. It’s a pity because in general I loved her performance. She is wonderfully expressive and able to deliver Shakespearean dialog as though it completely natural language. It’s just the crying.

Indeed I have something shameful to admit. This movie did not make me cry. This is unusual because it’s not terribly hard to coerce my tear ducts to action – but this film felt more like melodrama than tragedy. Maybe it’s that I had braced myself so much before even putting the movie in. Maybe it’s that I spent more time analysing the adaptation than empathising with the characters. Still – I am surprised. I never fail to tear up for Shakespeare in Love during the scene where they act out the closing of this play. I wish we were watching that tomorrow night, but we have other plans for Valentine’s Day itself.

February 13, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment