Romeo and Juliet. Dead. Who’s to be blamed:
Just as I do the first thing every morning, I switched on the TV, this saturday. To my weekend surprise!!, Franco Zeffirelli‘s version of Romeo and Juliet was about to start. What else would a movie buff like me do other than making a cup of coffee and get stuck before the TV. This 1968 super hit flick is considered as the best adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragic play, Romeo and Juliet. This story of love and tragedy is best read than to be seen. But Zeffirelli’s experienced hand on period films makes this one too a magnetic screening.
It’s said that back in 1968 there was a lot of confusion in air when Zeffirelli casted two unknown teenagers as protagonists. The impulsive 17 year old Leonard Whiting as Romeo and the stunning, voluptuous and magnetic 15 year old Olivia Hassey as Juliet. I could well imagine how teenagers would have drooled over her those days. Eventually they became icons of their age, later. Carrying this larger than life characters, these naive teenagers wade through the movie along with the powerful screenplay and rest in your hearts.
Just having the right cast does not make a masterpiece. It only makes it possible. As Romeo sees (not meets..he trespasses into the party) Juliet in the party, he whispers the first sentence as She doth teaches the torches to burn bright. With the same intense passion kisses her on her hands behind the pillar. Oh! boy, there you go. With a poetic class, Zeff takes us through the rest of roller coaster ride. A plethora of emotions glide before you in a flash all involving love-at-first-sight, all-consuming love, passion, denial, love lost, sacrifice and unconditional love. While unconditional love is still a question to be answered, Olivia and Leonard makes this emotion seem very possible. Reminds me of Kannalanae song in Mani Ratnam’s Bombay.
Zeffirelli brings the typical Shakespearian Verona before us and also the true-to-life characters of Shakespeare. Friar Laurence (Milo O’Shea) character amazes me. As the priest of the church, he helps Romeo and Juliet and as the climax strikes in, he runs outside the cellar in the fear of being executed by the prince. That is a practical characterization. Michael York as the much pompous tybalt, the typical villain and a honest swordsman. Zeffirelli’s liberties over the script and dialogues of this play must have made the literary critics run from pillar to post. But then that is what people love to see. Especially the balcony scene when Romeo couldn’t stop looking at Juliet for a second and Juliet experiencing the love from her heart for the first time is unseen before. This scene clearly crosses the international standards and makes an impact. The character of nurse looks like a sandwiched character for fun in the movie. Other than this everyone seems to be in place.
Pasqualino De Santis, the cinematographer won an Oscar for this film. I am sure he deserves it. Especially those sudden steady-cam-like shots when Romeo comes running over to Juliet in the church was classy. And also the market place stunt when Romeo kills tybalt in a sword fight was fierce with mud flying all over and people making huge noises, was notable.
This movie gave the completeness of watching Romeo and Juliet. The 1996 version of Romeo + Juliet directed by australian director Baz Luhrmann (director of Moulin Rouge) was more dramatized and was a modern day gangster depiction. It could be re-named Romeo And A Shot Gun. Leonardo Di Caprio as Romeo and Claire Danes as Juliet were appealing till now. I watched this in ’96 Woodlands theatre, Chennai. Though the audience were ok, but the flashiness couldn’t be overseen and finally during the climax when Di Caprio pops in the poison, the audience started laughing and the whole emotional drama became a slapstick comedy. I still appreciate Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, for it was a combo of modern day music with a backdrop of an emotional epic. He was still able to get around the difficult anachronisms and was able to prove Romeo and Juliet lived in the modern day Florida.
Whatsoever, I was stunned by Zeffirelli’s picturization of climax. Romeo dies of poisoning himself and Juliet wakes up from her long sleep to see her beloved husband dead. She tries to kiss his mouth to get a drop of poison so she could also be dead. His mouth is warm and there is no poison left for her to die. She gets tensed as she could hear the voices of kingsmen around, finds Romeo’s short knife, punchers her heart with it and dies. A well known climax but it was still heart-breaking. Who should be blamed for this death of Romeo and Juliet ?. Is it the dogmatism of Montague and Capulet families or the rebellious Romeo and Juliet who were in love with the concept of just falling in love or the priest friar laurence who could have suggested a better idea than this to save the couples. None. Except the man, Shakespeare. Yes !!, He is to be blamed for killing this star crossed lovers.