Celebrating 20 Years Of Baz Luhrmann's 'Romeo + Juliet'
Because for me, Baz Luhrmann's films (and this can serve as a pull quote review . By placing Romeo and Juliet into costumes when they first meet (Romeo the. The soundtrack to 's Romeo + Juliet, starring Claire Danes and In the film, director Baz Luhrmann expresses this change in dazzling this seemingly awkward mix of musical styles, by and large, works. . + Juliet, singing for a crowd of partygoers as the doomed lovers meet at a ball for the first time. Shakespeare's famous play is updated to the hip modern suburb of Verona still retaining its original dialogue. for Romeo + Juliet () Romeo + Juliet () Baz Luhrmann in Romeo + Juliet . Drama | Musical | Romance . The Montagues and Capulets are two feuding families, whose children meet and fall in love.
The overwrought, saccharine score. The signature Luhrmann set decoration of kitsch, neon-soaked bric-a-brac, like someone hosting a rave party in their grandmother's attic. The irrational amounts of candles.
Of course, it's here that he discovered the tragic love story archetype he has been mining with diminishing returns in every film since. Yet, here it all works. Here Luhrmann's signature style is married perfectly with his subject matter, with the quirks and failings that mar his other films this time actually elevating the themes of the original text.
One might be tempted to say that Shakespeare's tight plotting and characterization make it near impossible to screw up, but as anyone who has ever sat through a bad production of Shakespeare can attest, it can be done. Luhrmann's version certainly has its detractors. Luhrmann makes cuts -- controversially drastic cuts, in fact -- to the text. It's estimated that only about 40 percent of the original text survives the adaptation.
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He rearranges scenes; he swaps out lines. He uses the bard's text as a temp track that he can sample from and remix. Personally, I think the spirit of the play survives, with much of the cut material resurfacing in the visual imagery.
Romeo + Juliet: Cheat Sheet
Romeo and Juliet is, after all, a tale that is meant to be felt. It's a play about the first burnings of lustful desire. When it feels like the whole world will burn up if you cannot be together. When time itself seems to have carved out a little space for you to live inside.
When the weight of all human happiness rests on something as inconsequential as a delayed letter. For every teenager who has ever stared a hole in their phone waiting for a text reply from that someone they long for. For all the young lovers who have known the electricity of sneaking around behind their parents' disapproving backs.
For everyone who has been alone in their sorrow, feeling the universe cave into a tomb when their heart was broken. Shakespeare literalizes all of it. He not only taps into these fears, he gives them substance and weight. For all of his other cinematic belly flops, here Luhrmann's operatic hysterics soar. We get locked in the perspective of these overheated teenagers. We feel all their giddy excess and thunderous disappointments as though, like them, feeling all these emotions for the first time.
They are loud and hypocritical, just as they should be. The nurse is a loveable doof: The Montague and Capulet boys are braying thugs, and the friar, in yet another striking performance by Pete Postlethwaite, is all bluster and false hope, condemning Romeo as a horny teen one minute and agreeing to marry him off to a girl he barely knows the next. Luhrmann's aesthetics are equally on point.
His sand-blasted, decayed urban sprawl nicely captures the stately desiccation of a city wracked by generations of gang violence.Romeo + Juliet meeting scene
It becomes a space in which symbols of divine beauty and grace are emptied of meaning to become gauche decoration; where the image of the Mother Mary engraved on the handle of a gun perfectly encapsulates the play's central theme of love and war: You feel the weariness that Shakespeare loaded into his narrative, that these families have been playing out this same tired grudge for so long that it no longer even functions as back story.
It's no wonder Luhrmann makes one of the signature locations in the film -- the place that Mercutio is killed and where the narrative tilts irreversibly from comedy to tragedy -- the crumbling shell of a stage, rotting on the beach. He likewise nicely captures Romeo's early, insufferable pretentiousness. In the film, Romeo is introduced sitting alone on the beach, smoking, filling a journal with adolescent poetry. His Romeo emotes all of this drivel as though it is the pure manna of unfettered truth, but even this works perfectly with the themes of the play.
Of course Romeo would pose himself on the beach beneath a crumbling arch, smoking artfully, watching the sun burn over the horizon, all affectation and theatricality. Shakespeare is presenting the early, mooning Romeo as an angsty twit, spewing hollow Petrarchan verse.
Just as Benvolio waves him away in the play, here in the film it gets poured into a notebook thankfully no one will have to read. By placing Romeo and Juliet into costumes when they first meet Romeo the knight in plastic armour; Juliet the pure white angel we are primed to read them into roles that are almost immediately transcended. Romeo is hardly the chivalric warrior, and Juliet exhibits a profoundly more complex understanding of human rationality and desire than a pair of tiny strap-on wings would imply.
He was willing to de-clutter the screen and allow for moments of meaningful quiet. Stillness comes to be a recurring motif throughout the central romance. When we first see Juliet she is in the bath, plunged face first into the sensory tranquility of an underwater shot.
She is at peace in this isolation; the chaos of the family that longs to dress her up and parade her around momentarily reduced to a distant murmur. When she and Romeo first see each other it's a flirtatious stare through a glass fish tank, all darting eyes and teasing smiles, and played, blissfully, without chatter.
They awake from their one night together as a wedded couple into silence.
Romeo + Juliet: Cheat Sheet | Movie News | SBS Movies
Later, when they meet each other again in Juliet's tomb, on the last bed they will share together, Luhrmann lets a ghastlier quiet creep in, giving each creak and click of that lonely space sound like a cannon. As Luhrmann's version shows: For a play written by the greatest poet, speech is ironically devoid of meaning in this play.
This, famously, is the play in which Juliet questions whether a rose would smell as sweet if it were called by another name: What's in a name?
That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet. So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, Retain that dear perfection which he owes, Without that title. There are countless resources available — on the internet and otherwise — detailing such themes.
SparkNotesthe go-to reference for lazy English students, is as good a place to start as any.
More interesting to examine is the fresh perspective Luhrmann brings to the material. Where they were aware at all times that they were watching a movie, and that they should be active in their experience and not passive.
Not being put into a sort of sleep state and made to believe through a set of constructs that they are watching a real-life story through a keyhole. They are aware at all times that they are watching a movie. After the opening narration — delivered by a television news anchor — we are launched into a vivid world of bright colours, quick cuts and broad comedy. The net effect is overwhelming: The artificiality remains but the depth of feeling is real — and so it is throughout. That duality — between contrivance and truth — is integral to his adaptation, as seen in two recurring motifs: But what of the religious imagery?
Perhaps the ubiquity of these symbols is in fact the point. Garish, overused and coupled with weaponry, this is a world where religion is universally espoused yet stripped of meaning.
These icons represents the dogma and hypocrisy of a repressive society. Romeo and Juliet, then, present an opportunity to enact the Christian principles their parents advocate: Not until their deaths. Romeo is, as mentioned, first seen by the sea. Juliet is introduced immersed in water.