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To my way of thinking, this film should be considered when people discuss
the greatest movies of all time. Every scene, practically every frame of
this movie is brilliant. Director Zeffirelli went against the ancient
practice of using older actors in the title roles, and the performances he
elicits from teenagers Whiting and Hussey is amazing. Although he trims the
dialog heavily in places (Romeo says, "But soft, what light through yonder
window breaks?"- and leaves it at that) his version captures all the passion
of Shakespeare's play magnificently.
The scenes at the Capulet's ball at which the two young lovers meet are about the greatest I've ever seen on screen. The famous balcony scene avoids cliches altogether and makes others pale by comparison. The Queen Mab speech, the fight, and the scene in the tomb are all exquisite highlights of this film. Even the dubbing for the Italian actor's voices and of the crowd noise is superior. It is amazing to me that an Italian could be so sensitively in tune with one of the English language's most sublime works.
Zeffirelli wanted to make a movie that spoke to youth and he succeeded, to put it very mildly. If school systems were smart, they'd pack up their freshmen and sophomores on buses every year, drive them to a local theatre and show them this movie. I can't think of a better investment in young people's education that could be made. It worked for me.
I saw Romeo and Juliet at the Odeon Leicester Square, the day after the
Royal Premier and from that day I was hooked on this film. I went back
three times with different sets of friends just to watch it again and
each time I enjoyed it more. Now owning it on DVD when I want to just
feel good about films I watch it!
So much has already been written about the youth of the two young unknown stars and the chemistry that they had on screen that I don't need to repeat it now. However the key to this film's great success was that it was visually stunning, Zefferelli is the master of using colour, setting and costume to great effect. He was so clever in his casting, not just with the very handsome young Leonard Whiting who at the time when I was only 18 myself I thought was gorgeous but also the innocence of an immature Hussey was perfect. A master stroke was Milo O'Shea as Friar Lawrence, never ever has there been a better role for this talented by rarely seen Irish actor.
It's pointless complaining that the text is cut, by leaving out Romeo killing Paris and also the apothecary selling Romeo the poison in no way detracts from the overall imagery and beauty of Shakespeare's text. To have made the film using the whole text would have been too difficult and perhaps Zefferelli did want to portray Romeo as a little nicer than he actually was. In truth he was a fickle young man as all teenage boys can be and also prone to an amount of passionate violence so prevalent in adolescence. But this was Italy in Tudor times when life was cheap and the willingness to reach for the sword was as it should be.Shakespeare understood human nature better than anyone and that's why all his plays show so much insight into the human spirit.
Zefferelli balanced the film perfectly, nothing was overdone. He combined the tragedy with the humour as well as the love story by casting the right actor for each role and even if some of them faded into oblivium later, for this film they were all perfect. I never want to see another version. Baz Luhrmann's pales in comparison and thats not a bad film.
Come the Oscars I waited with baited breath having convinced myself that it would get best film - I was so disappointed!. It did collect Best Costume and I think Best Cinematography, but what a travesty, especially when the film that did win that year was not even in the same league and is hardly ever remembered. It's always very difficult to succeed with Shakespeare on the big screen but this version of Romeo and Juliet had it all. Only Kenneth Brannagh's mammoth production of the uncut version of Hamlet comes anywhere near this wonderful film.
How Nino Roto's soundtrack also missed out on an Oscar I will never understand. Footnote: Luciano Pavarotti has recorded the main love theme and it's called Ai giochi addio - it is so beautiful it will make you cry as you remember the film.
I have seen multiple versions of R&J, from the 30's version, with
Leslie Howard (in his 40's I think) & Norma Shearer, to the most recent
thing with DeCaprio & Danes. None of them touched me in the way that
Zefferelli's did, & continues to do. It was one of the first DVD's I
bought, because I can watch it again & again, & still be heartbroken by
The thing that shook me most the first time I saw it was that, in spite of the Shakespearian language, I got the meaning of the characters' statements immediately. The Shakespearian language was not a barrier at all. I had previously had to spend anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes before I could begin to follow the dialogue....there was no lag time with this version. To me, it will always be the definitive film version of this classic.
Truly one of the best films ever created of Shakespeare's plays. While in today's MTV - short attention span world this film may seem boring, in 1968 this film was revolutionary (I am not prejudice since I am in the MTV generation). Until this time R&J had been played by much older actors, since it was assumed they could understand Shakespeare's language. In 1968, Franco Z. gives us actors the actual age of Shakespeare's lead characters and they can act. Add to that stunning sets, costumes and music, the result is a moving artistic creation. The performances are superb, my personal favorites being Michael York's Tybalt and Milo O'Shea's the Friar. The language can be difficult and the action plotting, but one has to have patience when devoting attention to Shakespeare's plays, acted or read. Enjoy!
This was the first time we actually saw the teenage love Shakespeare intended. Years and years before Leonardo Di Caprio and Clare Danes, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Houssey gave life to the tragic story told in this ancestral tale, revamping it without betraying it, making it accessible to a 60s audience without updating it. Leonard and Olivia were so beautiful that Shakespeare became trendy again and I don't mean any disrespect by it, I'm simply stating a fact. The real, stunning, dusty locations, the costumes, the faces, the music made the whole thing a totally new Shakespearen experience. Remember than the biggest screen adaptation of this play had been with the forty something Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer in those roles. Here everything reeked of youth underlining the tragedy in the most cinematic way. Another important point is to confirm that in 2007 the film still feels young and fresh. Recommended
There were not many directors like Zeffirelli around during those
golden years -sixties and seventies -of the Italian cinema.Because he
was not part of the champagne socialists,because he made movies
completely devoid of social concerns,he was generally dismissed by the
European critics (and his fellow colleagues) as non-hip and
reactionary. When you see these movies today,you realize how much they
have worn well,and how much his detractors were wrong:Zeffirelli has
never tried to change the world,but he has given beautiful movies which
have stood the test of time quite well,perhaps because they are
timeless.Even an epic and absorbing -and diametrically opposite to
Zeffirelli's cinema - political work like Bertolucci's "Novecento"
(1976) displays cheesy gauchism so trendy before the eighties in Europa
This is the second of the three Zeffirelli screen adaptations of Shakespeare -as a matter of interest,the others are "taming of the shrew"(1967 with E Taylor and R Burton) and "Hamlet" (1990 with M.Gibson and G.Close)-and it 's probably the best:Zeffirelli's genius was to cast actors (about) the age of the heroes as the leads.And Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey,both very beautiful,make up for their lack of experience with their youth,their innocence and the intensity of their looks.They are far better than Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes in the drag queens cum west side story Luhrmann's 1996 version.Besides they get strong support from dark-haired Mickael York as Tybalt and John MCEnnery as Mercutio.The colors are,as always in a Zephirelli movie (see taming,and his made-for-TV Jesus)dazzling.Two scenes stand out:the ball and the lovers death in the Capulet tomb.
Filmed on location in Verona,we never have the feeling that we are watching filmed stage production,not a small feat.This is the definitive screen version of the Elizabethan classic.Sir Laurence Olivier is the narrator.
Easily the best Shakespeare film in history, mainly because it stays so true to what Shakespeare wrote and was undoubtedly his vision, yet is undeniably fresh and relevant and affecting, despite its Renaissance setting. It feels more modern and current than the soulless bluster of Baz Luhrmann's effort. Whosoever says Whiting and Hussey are anything short of fantastic as Romeo and Juliet needs to reconsider how they want Shakespeare acted. Do you want dramatic bluster and fist waving (which Hamlet specifically cautions against) or true raw emotion and feeling? These actors, mostly because they were so inexperienced, couldn't be more natural and true to their characters every step of the way. You truly believe that they are in love and it's a legitimate love, no just "crazy teens." And the rest of the cast - Jesus H. Christ! They're all fantastic. The Friar and Nurse were obscenely perfect, becoming among the most endearing characters ever filmed, and of course John McEnery is the best, most pathos-laden Mercutio ever, all stage, screen, TV, etc. renditions included. Michael York is a fabulous Tybalt, menacing, arrogant, headstrong, cruel, but ultimately sympathetic. Tybalt is after all just a petulant child - he's no evil tyrant, just a misguided bully, who certainly doesn't deserve to die. I love that his killing of Mercutio is accidental and that he seems to show remorse for it. Even the Prince is really damn good, with his last lines leaving an absolutely chilling impression on the audience. All are punish-ed! A must see.
Exquisite. The beauty, the innocence, the undeniable - all consuming fire
of first love portrayed to the hilt. Juliet's delicate grace was
breathtaking. I was totally convinced by this young acting team that they
were as in love as is humanly possible. One can smell and taste 14-15th
century Italy while following the locations. The performers, everyone, are
as genuinely sincere in their humor and passions as one could possible
imagine, bringing to life Shakespere's words like I've never seen before.
I cry every time I see it - all the way through. Mr. Zeffrelli, you are the best.
This is a gorgeous film, and the best adaptation of Shakespeare's famous tear-jerker. All the performances are spot-on. Even though the film was released in 1968, it still rings true. It was filmed on location in Italy, and the sets/costumes really amazing. Zefferelli's (sp?)direction is probably his best. John McHenry, Leonard Whiting as and Olivia Hussey are wonderful. I believe Michael York of Austin Powers' fame made his screen debut in the role of Tybalt. This movie is a must-see for aspiring actors. The cast is more even than the Di Caprio/Luhrman/Danes more recent (and more well-known) histrionic, violent version. (The ridiculous accents in that picture really put me off.) I don't know if it's available on DVD.
Zefferelli is a sporadic master. Here he is in his prime. See how he
understands how to direct groups, how to continue a motion from one frame to
the next, how to use color to punctuate.
What has happened here is that he has hit on a formula that works toward the problem of moving Shakespeare (a verbal, intellectual event) into film (a matter of motion and image).
It works because the play can be cast largely in terms of crowds, sometimes mobs. Never have I seen this done so well.
Much of the verbal poetry is cut, and image poetry replaced in sufficient measure to satisfy. Mercutio is rightly seen as the heart of the play, balanced by the Nurse. Both are terrific.
Oh how I wish we could combine the cinematic skills of young Zefferelli with the Shakespearian insights of Branagh and the imagination of Greenaway to do, say a Lear. Bliss in the imagining.
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