A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 | , , , ,

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