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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: November ::
Re: Romeo and Juliet ROCK
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0821.  Wednesday, 13 November 1996.

(1)     From:   Cary Mazer <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Nov 1996 08:42:49 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0814  Romeo and Juliet ROCK

(2)     From:   Billy Houck <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Nov 1996 12:09:25 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0814 Romeo and Juliet ROCK

(3)     From:   John King <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Nov 1996 14:53:39 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0814 Romeo and Juliet ROCK

(4)     From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Nov 1996 15:42:06 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Romeo & Juliet do Veracruz

(5)     From:   John P. Dwyer <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Nov 1996 18:09:11 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0814 Romeo and Juliet ROCK


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cary Mazer <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Nov 1996 08:42:49 -0500
Subject: 7.0814  Romeo and Juliet ROCK
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0814  Romeo and Juliet ROCK

About the current film of R&J, Jimmy Jung wrote:

>This
>version keeps all the "thou's," "thy's" and "swords." Normally, I'm a purest
>for the text; but when Tybalt points a gun the size of Dirty Harry's at you and
>then says something about his sword, I get confused.

Gee, and I thought it was too heavy-handed and obvious when, in the middle of
the quarrel, the camera does a quick cut to a close-up of one of the guns, so
that we can see the brand-name "sword" on the barrel.  Ditto, later on in the
film, when we see another brand name, "dagger."  I guess you can't be too
obvious.

I liked the movie's time/place/culture transpositions, but LOATHED the movie;
I'm just too old for all those jumpcuts.

CMM

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Billy Houck <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Nov 1996 12:09:25 -0500
Subject: 7.0814 Romeo and Juliet ROCK
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0814 Romeo and Juliet ROCK

I AM A PRETTY PIECE OF FLESH: THE NEW ROMEO + JULIET

BY BILLY HOUCK

"William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" is hip. Very hip. But then, Shakespeare
always was hip. "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" is sexy. But "Romeo and
Juliet" always was sexy. When Shakespeare wrote it, it wasn't a new story then,
either. He adapted an epic poem into a stage play.

Shakespeare's script was just the best, most timely version of the Romeo and
Juliet story. For the last 400 years, every generation of artists has taken the
work of Shakespeare and put its own stamp on it, reinventing Shakespeare
according to the prevailing sentiments regarding what is considered "good
entertainment."

For the last three months my teenage students (especially the girls) have been
asking me about this movie. When was it opening? Did I know how cool it is?
Could they get extra credit for going to see it? I have seen otherwise
reasonable young people get into heated arguments over the relative
gorgeousness of Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.

Several teenagers have told me they read or re-read Shakespeare's play because
of the impact that this movie had on them. When I ask them why, they roll their
eyes and sigh: "Leonardo DiCaprio is a hottie, that's all."

When I point out to my students that Roger Ebert didn't like this movie, that
he went as far as to write: "Romeo, Quick! poison Yourself!" they point out,
calmly and clearly, that Roger Ebert hated this movie because he's old and
ugly.

This is their Romeo and Juliet.

Adults with short cultural memories often need to be reminded that the
Zeffirelli production with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, now considered
the classical standard, was considered risque at the time of its release. The
Zeffirelli version is brilliant. It formed a dynamic image of the romantic
tragedy in the imaginations of a generation. But that doesn't mean there can be
no other version of the play made into a movie.

There is an unfortunate tendency in our culture to treat art like it's a sport.
Since this "Romeo and Juliet" is better than that one, so we can forget about
the inferior one. It doesn't count. Art ain't football folks. It may be
commerce, but it ain't football. There's enough room in your head for more than
one version of "R +J"

Baz Luhrmann the Australian film maker who brought us "Strictly Ballroom" is
the director and co-writer of "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet." If Franco
Zeffirelli's 1968 version was influenced by renaissance painting, (check out
the lush landscapes) then Luhrmann's big visual influence is MTV. Luhrmann's
Verona  is a metropolis dominated by the huge Montague and Capulet
corporations. All young men seem to carry shiny chrome plated pistols, ready to
blast their way through life.The guns are one of the cuter "updating" devices.
These are "sword brand 9mm" pistols, so when someone says: "draw your
sword"...you get the picture. A little too precocious, but it works. The movie
is also rife with Catholic icononography and water imagery.

"William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" has a hip soundtrack with Shakespeare
influenced lyrics by modern "alterantive" bands.I like to imagine an episode of
"Jeopardy" sometime in the near future: "Remember to phrase your response in
the form of a question. This was the first time a Shakespeare play was scored
with music by the Butthole Surfers."

"What was Romeo and Juliet, Alex?"

Somehow the Mozart tracks used in the film didn't make it to the cd, but if you
put the audio cd into your computer's cd drive, it plays a multimedia program
in your computer's drive.

There's even a cool Romeo and Juliet website at
http://www.romeoandjuliet.com/author/insult.html  ...you can play a trivia
game, download the Romeo and Juliet screensaver...you can get the full
electronic shakesperience.

According to Luhrmann, "although Romeo and Juliet has come to exemplify the
ultimate romantic tragedy, we have not shied away from clashing low comedy with
high tragedy" Considering the bright, sexy, hip-hoppy images, Baz  has shown
admirable restraint in his use of bare skin. Those sheets stay tucked up to the
chin just like a Rock Hudson- Doris Day picture. Well, maybe not that upright.

Still, the title of this film isn't "Baz' Romeo and Juliet" or even "West Side
Story Gets a New Soundtrack." The full title of this film is "William
Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet." Of course, you only get about 50% of the
dialogue from Shakespeare's script, although Baz did keep in the
seldom-performed scene where Mercutio gives Romeo a tab of acid before they off
to the party at Juliet's house.

Movie versions of plays are often much less wordy. This is due to the
difference in art forms. Because of the unique ability of a camera to see
things in a million special ways, movies are often much more about what we see
than what we hear said. Stage plays, on the other hand, are almost universally
about what people say to each other.

You wouldn't expect a sculpture of a nude woman to look just like a painting of
the same subject. Why would you expect a movie to be just like a play?

"William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" is a thrill. It's a trip. Billy says
check it out. You have enough room in your head.

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John King <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Nov 1996 14:53:39 -0500
Subject: 7.0814 Romeo and Juliet ROCK
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0814 Romeo and Juliet ROCK

Responding to this new movie from the point of view of someone who performs
Shakespeare is difficult.  On the one hand, I have always believed that the
most important element of any Shakespearean production is telling the story,
and Mr. Luhrmann has undeniably told the story very clearly.  With the
assistance of all those MTV-era editing and processing tricks, how could he
fail to do that?

As for the contemprary setting seeming at odds with the text, this is a problem
for any Shakespeare production with a contemporary design, a frequently used
concept for many modern presentations of the plays: some audiences have no
problem getting over it, and some simply cannot suspend their disbelief enough
to buy into it.  This is just the way it is, and if you decide on a modern
setting for your production, it is something you have to accept as a given from
the very beginning.

The real problem with this movie for me- and I hated it- was difficult to get
to.  It was underneath a lot of secondary things that I disliked:  I felt that
both DeCaprio and Danes, far from being elevated by the language, instead
dragged it down to the banal level of their acting, proving once again the old
sawhorse about these roles being to difficult for actors who are young enough
to play them;  although I did not like Danes' performance, I lamented the
editing of much of Juliet's material, to the point where the film's title could
almost have put parentheses around "and Juliet-" or left it out altogether;
the lack of any discipline in the approach to speaking the verse not only made
the poetry sound forced and trite, in some cases it undermined the very
conveyance of the meaning of the lines; and of course, they all fell into what
I feel is the trap of this play, to take it all to seriously.  "R&J"'s first
half, up to the point of Mercutio & Tybalt's deaths, plays like a comedy.  It
is light-hearted and lewd, with only a few moments- such as Queen Mab- that
carry any forboding.  The whole Rosalind section, the first meeting of the
lovers and the balcony scene must win our affections for Romeo and Juliet, and
in order to do that they must be full of the giddy, awkward excitement of
youth- not the brooding James Dean and Natalie Wood types presented here; that
rebellious spirit is better left for Mercutio and Tybalt.  In short, I felt
like I was watching a high school production of the play with an inordinately
large budget.

Finally, though, what I found really made me dislike this film, was the
impression that it was motivated more from ego than from any desire to
interpret this tale for our times.  The portrayal of Romeo, in particular, was
full of ego, more about looking cool than being real or honest.  DeCaprio sits
firmly at the surface, and stays there throughout.   In the end, it seemed as
if Shakespeare was almost a peripheral figure in this movie: sure, he wrote the
words, but all he's good for beyond that is a few chuckles from insiders about
things like the Old Globe reference and the Post Haste delivery service.  And
the true tragedy here, is that the makers of this film, in thinking they had to
make this kind of flashy, stylish, all-on-the-surface version of the play in
order to appeal to young people, have done a great disservice both to those
young people and to Shakespeare; because the response I have heard from most of
the teenagers I know that have seen it is that it is "stupid."  Underneath all
the bells-and-whistles in still something that they are conditioned to think is
boring, and if they do like it and decide to look at the play, they discover
that it has eight times as much talking and no filterless cigarettes that look
cool so they lose interest (OK, perhaps I am being a bit too harshly cynical,
here). If, instead of trying to lure kids to Shakespeare with this kind of
false representation of what it really is, the filmmakers had given them more
credit and presented more Shakespeare and less MTV editing, they might have had
something more important than just a whirlwind box-office hit and a bit of
scholarly controversy.

John King
Platypus Theatre
Mesa, Arizona

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Nov 1996 15:42:06 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Romeo & Juliet do Veracruz

Being in a university town (Champaign-Urbana, Illinois) I can confirm that the
younger crowd loves this new version.  By sheer coincidence, it seems to be the
one play that all of them have read in High School -- a wise choice, in my
opinion.

The camera work is a headache and a half for older folks like myself, but the
overall effect -- the modonna imagery, the Christ figure with the family
corporate logos to either side, the positively baroque costume ball -- is
entertaining.  I had to cast off my own concepts for the show prior to entry,
however, just as I had to with Sir Ian McKellan's brilliant take on Richard
III.

This will surely please the million, but may well be Hostess Cream Puffs for
the cognoscenti.  The references to MTV-style film work are too frequent for a
lot of us who enjoy our Bard staged, verbatim, and without pistols named
"Dagger", no matter how cool and sleek they may look.

Andy White
Urbana, Illinois

(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John P. Dwyer <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Nov 1996 18:09:11 +0000
Subject: 7.0814 Romeo and Juliet ROCK
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0814 Romeo and Juliet ROCK

You said:    But you gotta respect the attempt to make R&J a "here and now"
story. . . .

I respond:  No I don't.  The whole theme of profane (which the director
partially got right) "love" vs. sacred  (which the chintzy iconography got
absolutely wrong) love is debauched.  The sacramentality of sexuality that is
from the grace-giving bounty as boundless as the sea and as constant as the
sun's commitment to warm the summer rose's petals to blow is ruined by the
cheap dropping-of-acid-before-the-masquerade that seems to induce the
pool-flopping debalconized bubble-popping.  The shot of gin or whatever before
"Friar Lawrence" says mass, the Mother Mary embossing the handle of a 9 mm.,
the neon-blue light crosses are crass and stupid.

I had to teach this play for years with the audio-visual aid of a film in which
Juliet was an ugly 40-ish that made Romeo's encomiums laughable. This 1996
version is ludicrous.  The school board would close my shop if I asked my
senior high students to see it.  I tell them that any version of a Shakespeare
play that comes to town makes a demand on anyone who claims cultural integrity
to see it.  This is no exception.  Some of them did and came to class with
favorable reviews.  However, they thought the language (I guess somewhere in
the neighborhood of 30% of the play's words) made it acceptable.  They were
most puzzled when I gave them my opinion that it is a horrible, crude,
altogether repugnant misreading.

I must confess that the trailer-park at the sanitary landfill with the mistimed
Express Mail truck delivery did make me laugh.  But Romeo's cry of despair
(Juliet, etc.) need not shake down the thunder from the starless sky.  Our
senior high students need a reading totally committed to sexual sanctity.  An
iconography of semi-translucent, interiorly-lit statues debases sex and
religion and justifies the suicides.  Ughh.

  John Dwyer
 

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