Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0848. Monday, 18 November 1996.
Date: Friday, 15 Nov 1996 17:47:26 -0500
Subject: Romeo and Juliet ROCK
I would like to respond to Joseph Green, who said he would like to hear more
from people who liked the film.
When I first wrote for public television the most eye-opening experience was
being introduced to the (now largely abandoned) two-column format. On each page
of the shooting script there are two columns: on the left a description of the
visual images, a somewhat wider column; on the right, the dialogue, a somewhat
narrower column. I came to believe this format realistically portrays the
television hierarchy, a view later confirmed when I was told "characters should
speak in short sentences and never more than three sentences at a time."
Obviously, Shakespeare doesn't fit in this format, or at least I should say,
it's not a natural fit. Film and television, to be true to themselves, must
reinterpret the work. So when I go to see the plays on the screen I am willing
to accept that I will not see all the play, just those parts the director feels
are important enough to show me.
I guess I'm saying I'm willing to cut the director a break and follow his or
her version, judging it by his or her criteria. The plays have survived 400
years, they'll no doubt survive another 400. No film should be weighted with
the responsibility of being "definitive" (my greatest worry in my eager
anticipation to see Branagh's Hamlet).
Having said all that, here's what I liked:
1) The authentically frantic pacing of the opening brawl, where "Do you bite
your thumb at me?" quickly spirals out of the participant's control and they're
SCARED, but can't stop it. I think it's just what Shakespeare ordered, and I
wish more staged versions started with this much energy. Terrific!
2) The guns called "Rapier" and etc... Far from a gimmick, I think the director
was saying, What if personal weapons were a common and expected gentleman's
accessory, just as swords were in the world of Shakespeare's play? In our
modern setting (or in this case, post-modern) those weapons would of course be
guns and the details he created--check your guns at the pool hall (where fights
are no doubt common) and electronic scanners at the Capulet's party really give
an insight into ancient grudges that break forth to new mutiny. The societal
context of the play is made brilliantly clear by this device.
3) The lovers. They're young and pretty, and if they don't speak the language
quite so well as Olivier (though I hardly think they were as bad as some
insist) they are young and pretty and to a great extent that's what they play
is about. They and their love are too pure and fragile for this world, as I
belive anyone on the list over 35 understands and can relate.
4) The death. The neon crosses and candles and Juliet waking up to watch Romeo
die. Pure pathos. Unadultrated bathos. But I think true to the spirit of the
play. R&J may well be Shakespeare's most effective work, but few would suggest
it is the most dramaturgically satisfying or the work of great maturity. He
pulls out all the stops on stage, and I think the director matched him in this
I liked it, and continue to like it, because it put excitement back into
Shakespeare. It didn't touch all my favorite themes in the play (like the
betrayal of adults led by the Nurse and the Friar, or the great forcefulness of
Juliet's personality) but it did make the story feel like a foolish headlong
impassioned rush to tragedy with all the unnerving impetuousness of youth.