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Visualize guns firing, convertible cars speeding down the freeway and families (that are more like gangs) feuding. These two families loath each other’s very existence. The very cause of the guns firing is the pure hatred built up inside of the members like a caged tiger eyeing its escape. The scene built in your head is probably that of the Fast and the Furious. In reality what I am describing is a scene from the classic Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeaere’s play are represented in many different ways, each producer altering the script to add their own flair. While the play is typically placed in 13th century Italy, Baz Luhrmann took a very unusual, yet correct, approach to his 1996 production of Romeo and Juliet.
I say correct because Shakespeare’s plays never truly have a set script and were written in a way for the reader to interpret them how they feel fit. “There never was a final Romeo and Juliet, a single authoritative or authorial version of the play. There were only versions, from the start” (Hodgdon 203). Modernizing the classic, Luhrmann set the play in the 1990’s. Weaponry such as swords were replaced by guns manufactured by the company “Sword” as well as transportation changed from horses to convertible cars. While these details of time were altered, the character’s lines stayed in their original Elizabethan English form. While this may appear odd for the setting, Shakespeare’s plays were intended to be performed in typical clothes of the time. Therefore, when his men acted they wore clothes that a typical individual would have worn. Baz Luhrmann used this idea and created his own version that had the character in typical clothes of the 1990’s. The vital information was kept intact for the play and even though the props were greatly altered the film is most definitely a correct form of Romeo and Juliet.
One may look at the Baz Luhrmann version and think that it is a polar opposite to film that Franco Zeffirelli directed in 1968. Although Zeffirelli’s film took place in the 1400’s there are multiple changes from the play to his production. His changes are far more subtle than Luhrmann’s so the typical viewer may not notice them at all. But in reality, there were major cuts made from the play. Actually, Zeffirelli may have altered the script more substantially than Baz Lurhmann. Zeffirelli’s production has multiple instances where whole scenes are altered with the complete removals of large portions of lines. For example, Lord Paris never dies in his movie. Zeffirelli completely deleted the fight between Romeo and Paris in act 5 scene 3 instead he skipped to Romeo entering the tomb of the Capulet’s. Also in the play, it is let known that Lady Montague dies of a broken heart which is never acknowledged. In fact, Lady Montague is seen later on in the film during the funerals of Romeo and Juliet.
When looking at the big picture, these scenes do not change the overall outcome of the play which justifies their exclusion. Another scene that was altered resulted in the removal of a character entirely. Apothecary, the infamous character that sells the poison to Romeo against his will because he needs the money is completely cut. Instead Romeo takes off on his horse to Verona with the potion already in his possession. Where he got the potion is not disclosed to the audience. The flow of the film was kept intact by removing this scene. Instead of slowing the rising drama by making Romeo and a new character have a conversation; Zeffirelli opted to rush act 5 scene 2 which kept his audience interested. The editing of this scene did not stop there, and Act 5 scene 2 is actually far different from the original scripts. As seen in the film, Friar John simply takes too long on his journey to Mantua allowing Balthazar to pass him and tell Romeo the false news. There is no mention of a quarantine slowing his progress, which had been the explanation given by Shakespeare’s play script. Recall Mercutio’s death. If you simply watched Zeffirelli’s production you would see nothing peculiar with the scene. Mercutio dies in Romeo’s arms and questions Romeo’s intentions when coming between him and Tybalt. This never occurred in the book. Franco Zeffirelli chose to have Mercutio die in the presence of Romeo while the script had Mercutio and Benvolio leaving then Benvolio rushed over to Romeo to inform him of the unfortunate news. Why change the scene? Most likely this adaptation was used to simplify the scene and to add emotion. The presence of Romeo personalizes Mercutio’s death, adding drama for the audience.
The most common change in both films is the deletion or reduction of lines. By reducing the length of the character’s lines, viewers sustain their interest and do not have as much trouble deciphering what the characters are actually saying. “The point is that the acting text of a play always was different from the written textâ€¦ Shakespeare habitually began with more than he needed” (Hodgdon 203-4). By cutting down the script, the story becomes more understandable to the audience. This method is quite often in both the Luhrmann and Zeffirelli versions of Romeo and Juliet. In the final scene of the play, Juliet commits suicide to be with Romeo in heaven. Prior to her killing herself, she has a lengthy sequence of lines that Zeffirelli reduced to the simple line, “Love give me strength.” Juliet’s Reduction is the most noticeable of the line cuts where others are very minor adjustments for the audience’s understanding.
One aspect of movies that is very influential in the performance is music and sound effects. The tone of individual scenes is set by the music. Early in Zeffirelli’s version the music was slow and very calm because the level of action was low. This set a calming atmosphere for Romeo to talk about his problems with love and Rosaline. As fights break out and the drama surrounding Romeo and Juliet’s forbidden love, the music gradually takes on a frantic pace which emphasizes the growing issues of the story. Gloomy music that could make the whole crowd cry is used as the film’s credits begin rolling. This allows the viewer to understand the pain that each member of the Capulet and Montague family is feeling as Prince is addressing them. Notice though, that in that final scene while Prince is still talking, there is silence. The sudden absence of music puts a great deal of stress over what Prince is saying which signifies his word’s importance. Silence was used to grab the attention of the spectator because music had been used constantly and the silent background was abnormal. Music was a vital part of the presentation keying important lines and setting the mood. Baz Luhrmann also utilized music in his modern production of Romeo and Juliet in 1996. Used in similar ways,the addition of music illustrated the mood throughout each scene.
Music as well as director editing make productions of Romeo and Juliet very diverse. They take on the personality of the director but overall maintain the most important details of the classic. There is no wrong way to interpret Romeo and Juliet because it was written to be interpreted in many different ways.
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