Romeo and Juliet (1968)
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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.
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.
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.
I cry every time I see it - all the way through. Mr. Zeffrelli, you are the best.
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.
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.
From the opening scenes at Capulet's ball, you'll be transported from this time and place to Renaissance Verona. It's a real period piece and worth watching for the sets and costumes alone. Stunning cinematography with sweeping colorful panoramas...the period ball, the dueling and crowd scenes, the morbid tomb...
The young actors, Leonard Whiting at 17 and Olivia Hussey at 15, are the age Shakespeare intended and magnificently portray the "star crossed lovers" with very believable chemistry. Olivia's Juliet has the right mix of youthful innocence and passionate intensity. With her masses of long black tresses, no wonder Romeo declares "she doth teach the torches to burn bright". The balcony scene, brilliantly filmed, rings true and the wedding night (actually morning after) is touchingly and tastefully done, even with its hint of nudity for the teenage stars.
The movie has a superb supporting cast, including John McEnry as Romeo's hot tempered and humorous friend, Mercutio, and Michael York as Juliet's rather despicable cousin, Tybalt. Personally, I find Mercutio's death the most moving in all Shakespeare. Although the feuding Montague and Capulet parents are supposed to be the villains of the piece, Lord Capulet actually seems quite sympathetic in his moving portrayal of grief in the loss of his daughter.
No spoiler warning here. This quintessential tale of doomed love is familiar to everyone. However, these stars give such compelling performances that you'll be longing for a different ending, riveted to your seat praying the messages will get through properly this time. Whiting and Hussey deliver such grief and passion in the final tomb scene, you'll experience this tragedy as never before.
Apart from omitting Romeo's killing of Paris (my sole complaint), the movie is true to the major events of the play. And it's hard to fault the dialogue. Despite occasional omissions and minor alterations, it was written by the English language's foremost expert. My son, normally an enthusiast of Shakespeare's tragedies, claims with some justification, that this particular play is a silly, unbelievable tale, though told with absolute brilliance. Even if you're not normally a Shakespeare buff, don't miss this amazing movie. Seeing his timeless "tale of woe" brought to life so compellingly and in such a magnificent manner might just turn you into one.
When I first saw the movie in 1968 I was overwhelmed by it, particularly the guileless acting of the two leads, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting. Appreciation for the artistry of the movie has not been diminished by more recent viewings, but rather increased. Each viewing allows for serendipitous glimpses of the many exquisite details, all finely woven into a timeless classic.
If aspiring to make a stupendous film about love, it does of course help to choose a story standing so high above others of its kind that it has become a byword for romance. As one should be able to (but cannot) take for granted with a dialogue already supplied by the greatest playwright ever, it has been only occasionally and gently edited for vocabulary. Zeffirelli made however some very judicious cuts to bring his film down to a suitable length. Gone therefore are most of Romeo's professions of love for Rosaline, his duel with Paris and the little detective story near the end whereby the love story is finally explained to all. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I would say Zeffirelli improved Shakespeare's story with the removal of these distractions.
I found every single actor well-cast and brilliant, the nurse possibly the best. The only fault I found was that Friar Lawrence's incongruous Irish accent grated a little. The lovers were suitably beautiful, which again one might hope one could take for granted with such a topic, but cannot. It is extraordinary that Zeffirelli was the first film director to have the sense to cast teenagers in the leading roles, as Shakespeare obviously intended. Both story and dialogue are otherwise patently absurd. Not only Romeo and Juliet, but also their companions impart perfectly the innocence, passion, swagger, spontaneity, charm and eros of Renaissance youth.
The mild but exquisite eroticism of the bedroom scene was essential; there can be no moment when beautiful nudity is more strongly called for than in the sole such scene of a film celebrating young physically-inspired love. I only wish Zeffirelli could have gone further despite our puritanical society. It is a particular shame as he had the sense and good taste to pay homage to the beauty of both sexes.
The period-perfect Italian settings and ravishing costumes are so authentic and beautiful that many of the scenes look exactly like Renaissance paintings, in other words some of the most beautiful images ever made. For me, however, the crème de la crème is the one of these visual feasts where we are simultaneously treated to a youth's singing of the superbly apt theme song, What is a Youth?, itself the most beautiful song I know of.
Edmund Marlowe, author of Alexander's Choice, a modern tragedy of forbidden love, www.amazon.com/dp/1481222112
For study purposes, note this film leaves out a few significant events that are in Shakespeare's script, such as Paris's death. No matter--the essence is caught and captured beautifully. Some nice performances from all the leads too.
I saw this when it was originally released in the US, while I was a high school aged teen. It is difficult to describe the depth of its impact on me, mostly because it was such a perfect film. Zeffirelli's genius abounds, in so many different ways, but aside from the genius of the film script (involving more than just him), by far, the primary thing that separates it from the long list of other "attempts" to film this story, was the casting of two actors in their early-to-mid teens (the proper age for the two protagonists), instead of using twenty (or in some film variants, thirty) year old actors in those roles, as had been done in so many previous efforts. Having actors in other films who were sometimes twice the appropriate age for those roles, attempting to pull off those performances, simply never rang true.
Second only to the casting, was the absolutely perfect "tone" of the entire film. Filmed in Verona, where the play was obviously set, plus the cinematography, and then the unbelievably perfect score, all facilitated its translation from its original stage-based home, to what is a true film masterpiece.
It is the actors' (appropriately) youthful innocence, and that perfect tone, that make this depiction of the tragedy stand out, from other efforts. It is also what makes it so "rewatchable". You can't help falling in love with them again, in each viewing, as you watch them (so innocently) fall in love with each other. And, when that seminal moment plays out against the backdrop of the soulful rendition of "What is Youth", the "hook is set", and despite the inevitable train wreck that is coming, it's just impossible to walk away, because you are (yet again) simply too invested in these two teens' tragic journey.
To be fair about the age comment, I should say that I'm not blind to other film interpretations, which have utilized age-appropriate actors, e.g. Luhrmann's take on R&J. But the varied attempts (like his) to take the play, and place it in some bizarrely modern setting, have never really worked for me. It just feels "awkward" (like a square peg in a round hole). The only time that I have been comfortable with some R&J inspired story is when someone simply takes the basic theme, and retools it entirely, e.g. the classic, and equally tragic "West Side Story" being a perfect example.
In short, this is simply one of the most moving, and beautiful films that you could ever hope to see, regardless of whether you are, or are not, into Shakespearean classics. And it would be difficult to imagine anyone ever doing a better job of translating this play into film. (For insight into Zeffirelli's scripting choices, I would highly recommend reading film-222's IMDb review. See: http://www.imdb.com/user/ur5222822/).
This is one of the best filmed and most pleasant adaptations of Shakespeare's play about a young love is poisoned by a generations long feud between two noble families . Lush Production Design by Lorenzo Mongiardino and being well-performed, two protagonists are adequate for the roles, as at the play they were fifteen and fourteen years old respectively . The first major film production of this play to actually cast leading actors who were close to the ages of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Julietn. Franco Zeffirelli needed to get special permission to show teenaged Olivia Hussey topless in one scene. Leonard Whiting, who was from Great Britian, was 17 at the time and did not need permission . This is considered to be the best version based on known play by William Shakespeare , though is handicapped because the overlong of this romantic flick . This sumptuously version has the virtue of good and appealing casting, such as John McEnery as Mercutio, Michael York as Tybalt ,Bruce Robinson as Benvolio, Milo O'Shea as Friar Laurence , first cinema film of Pat Heywoodas The Nurse and Robert Stephens as The Prince of Verona . And Laurence Olivier , he agreed to play the uncredited role of the narrator because he was so impressed with Zeffirelli's work for the National Theatre of Great Britain, of which Olivier was director at the time and he did it all for the love of William Shakespeare and didn't accept any payment. Exquisitely cinematography by Pasqualino De Santis, a magnificent Italian cameraman , being shot on evocative location in Verona . Hauntingly wonderful musical score by the classic composer Nino Rota , including unforgettable melody . Splendidly directed by Franco Zeffirelli , he initially planned the film as a television production , then Paramount became involved and increased the budget. Anyone interested in tragic love tales and timeless stories will want to watch this cinematic version on Shakespeare tragedy.
Other versions about this know story are the followings : the vintage classic, Romeo and Juliet(36)by George Cukor with Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard; Renato Castenalli rendition with Laurence Harvey , Susan Shentall , Flora Robson Bill Travers and Enzo Fiermonte , Mervyn Johns ; a dance adaptation(1966) by Paul Czinner with Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn; famous rendition(1968) by Franco Zeffirelli with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey; and modern version(1996) by Baz Luhrmann with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes . Being recently shot the followings : Romeo y Julieta (2013)by Carlo Carlei with Hailee Steinfeld , Douglas Booth , Damian Lewis , Laura Morante ,Tomas Arana , Kodi Smit-McPhee , Natascha McElhone , Stellan Skarsgård and Romeo and Juliet (2014) by Don Roy King with Orlando Bloom as Romeo and Condola Rashad as Juliet .
The theme song still stands as one of my favorite pieces of music - I will stop and listen when it so infrequently comes on the radio. Take the opportunity to rent this movie or see if you can catch it on television - it does show up now and then. A treat for all the senses.
Film critic Roger Ebert has written: "I believe Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet is the most exciting film of Shakespeare ever made". I don't know about that sentiment, but it certainly is the best version of the story ever filmed. I mean, you can say some great things about the Leonardo DiCaprio version, and some might appreciate "Tromeo and Juliet", but this really captures the story...
This makes a great breakout role for Olivia Hussey (who never got as big as she should have). But also, who plays the monk? I absolutely loved his character, and it is a role that I think goes largely unnoticed in most variations.