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When exploring texts such as Romeo and Juliet which was written in 1596 ago we begin to realise as a society how relevant these recurring theme tend to be regardless of the vast amount of time difference these commonly known themes such as tragic love, violence and death which have all become second nature to our generations as we have been desensitised by the media and all our surroundings.
Romeo and Juliet’s storyline has been used as inspiration to many directors as they attempt to convey their own interpretation of the original text to a broader audience by using film.
Violence is a reoccurring theme in the text and its appropriations both feuding families pride themselves in the way they have established their name and differentiated themselves from the commoners and their feuding family this is why violence takes place “both houses a like in dignity” they clash as they are to similar this is reinforced by zefereli’s appropriation if the original text, he stays true to the text by setting it in the renaissance period and using the Elizabethan language he separates the to families by using elaborate costuming. However the violence presented in Baz Lermann’s Romeo and Juliet is vastly different as in the original it portrays tragedy and doom but Lurmann creates an element of humour drawn from common stereotypes of the race of the actors he chose to portray each character, for example in the near beginning of the film when the Capulet’s meet the Montague’s at the petrol station a western theme is indicated letting the audience know that there will be some sort of violent act, a common theme of the western film genre. The Montague boys are presented as a group of Anglo young men who wear Hawaiian shirts drive a jeep and are constantly seeking trouble, as for the Capulet’s they are presented as a Hispanic group of men who idolise religion but not its teachings they drive a customized sports car a thrive off power.
Various camera angles and techniques were used to heighten the intensity such as the close up of Tybalt’s boots as he steps out of his car throwing his cigarillo to the ground in slow motion which is a common act in western films.
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413 years ago when Romeo and Juliet was first written it was very much a patriarchal society which shunned those in particular women who spoke their mind and defied their parents and or husbands, it created an enormous shock factor to Shakespeare’s audience in the Elizabethan era that his character Juliet challenged the stereotypical female of the period by defying her parents, deceiving Paris and having power over Romeo which was almost um heard of. Lurmann attempts to recreate this shock factor to a modern audience in which is also a male dominant society. Lurmann often used stereotypical and obvious themes but uses it to conceal the characters real personality for example Juliet is portrayed as an obedient and pure angel toward her family but it is apparent to the audience that she is being deceptive twisting her words to mean something other than what is understood by the other characters.
West side story is also an adaptation of the Broadway musical which inspiration was drawn from the original text of Romeo and Juliet it is directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. It uses the basic story line of Romeo and Juliet but updates it to a modern 1960’s New York musical. The 1960’s was a time of rebellion but was still very much a patriarchal society, this fitted the original context, male dominance is displayed throughout the film such as Bernardo (Tybalt) overpowering his young sister Maria (Juliet) and arranging her marriage which she did not consent to for his own benefit.
In the party scene an obvious technique is used through make-up and costuming, every characters costume portrays their status in society for example Juliet dressed as an angel in white representing her purity and innocence, Romeo dressed as a knight in shinning armour often used in fairytales used to rescue the damsel in distress, tybalt, Juliet cousin dresses as a devil, indicating to the audience that he is violent and evil. In west side story the setting is very closed of and surrounded creating a claustrophobic atmosphere intensifying the mood, camera angles are used to display status and power, higher camera angles are used to show weakness and lower camera angles are used to display power over other characters.
I feel that Baz Lurmann successfully conceals the real personalities of the characters behind the mirage of a patriarchal society but this could easily be misinterpreted and seen as extremely cliché and to obvious. The directors of west side story I feel are to stereotypical using racial differences to feed the feud and continue the storyline.
Love is a universal theme and the main focus of the tragic tale, it reveals its self as a story of two ‘star crossed lovers’ and their journey through the five days in which they met, fell in love and died as a result of their forbidden love.
In the film west side story Tony (Romeo) is convinced by his best friend Riff (Mercutio) to attend the dance at the gym which was considered neutral ground Tony then indicates that there’s “something coming”, as there Is no prologue at the beginning of this film subtle indications by the characters are used to inform the audience and give an insight as to what is ahead. When Tony arrives at the dance he and Maria (Juliet) cross paths and immediately fall in love, every scene in which they are together is interrupted by Bernardo (Tybalt) who attempt to break them up as he sees their potential relationship as wrong because they are just too different.
Baz Lurmann shows as a hopeless romantic easily getting caught up in the idea of love this is immediately recognised as he pines over Rosaline and quickly changes heart and falls for Juliet, their love is surrounded by the tragedy of their feuding families and the death of their loved ones. The friar suggests a potion that will make her appear dead for a calculated period of time to fool her parents and to save both Juliet and the friars souls from damnation, they both feel that it would be best for everyone as the to lovers could run away and live in harmony and the families could put their differences aside. Within the series of events that occur within the periods of Juliet’s deep sleep Romeo receives the wrong information and assumes Juliet is dead, he feels that with out her life is not worth living so he buy’s poison and dies at her side. Lurmann intensifies the death scene by giving indications of Juliet’s consciousness by the twitching of her fingers and her slowly opening eyes when Juliet has woken and realised what has happened she takes Romeo’s gun and kills herself this scene was one of the changes from the original as it allowed Juliet to wake as Romeo drank the poison to again intensify the situation and she killed herself with Romeo’s gun not a sword.
I feel that both films successfully interpret the original text and updating the obstacles in which a forbidden relationship goes through, it is also very dramatic and theatrical in particular with Lurmann’s film and the death scene which receives a great reaction as the audience knows what’s going to happen but tries to prevent it as they are so engaged to the extent of becoming apart of the film.
In conclusion all these films in which have been discussed have been very controversial but ultimately successful I feel that zeffereli successfully interprets the originality of the text but lacks any input, individuality and any element of surprise, west side story is interesting as a 1960’s version of Romeo and Juliet but it is an acquired taste narrowing the target audience to a particular group I am not particularly fond of this film as I find it hard to understand their colloquial language and the overall theatrical theme. I feel Lurmann has most successfully recreated the original play into a modern setting but keeping it true to the original though the language and creating an element of interest though the this juxtaposition, although the language may be hard to understand to a younger audience it is apparent as to what Is happening through the obviousness of the visual aid as Australian it may be hard o relate to the American way of life and their dependence on weaponry but it also creates a familiarity among the younger audience due to our constant exposure to the media and foreign films primarily from America this broadens the audience making it a film relatable to those of all ages in all western societies.