Thursday, July 02, 2015

17: Romeo + Juliet

Presumably pronounced "Romeo plus Juliet" this is an interesting setting of Shakespeare's original - all the way down to the complete use of the actual dialogue, although not necessarily all in the same order ("thy drugs are quick"). Stunning re-imagination and re-setting in what appears to be some kind of Venice/Santa Monica ghetto - with clear shades of Rio, of course, and actually filmed in Mexico, this is surely Baz Luhrmann's finest work (YES it's better than Strictly Ballroom and the ridiculously overrated windmill thing). Add in a soundtrack that's both musically interesting and strikingly bizarre ("When Doves Cry" by Prince performed a cappella by a choirboy?) and you have a pop-culture recipe to bring Shakespeare to a new generation.

Except, of course, that they talk so ridiculously quickly that you can't catch most of what they say. This is a problem in a lot of TV comedy today - too much to say, too little time between the adverts - but here they have to squeeze the whole of Shakespeare's dialogue in while keeping the thing moving along so quickly. And so unless you're familiar with the words (and let's be fair, an awful lot of people are), the best approach can be just to let the thing wash over you, pick up what you can from the intonation rather than the words themselves, and enjoy the story, which is of course as bulletproof as ever (seriously, this has to be one of the strongest overall plots in literary history).

But even with that caveat, it's a wonderful thing. The periods of no-dialogue are beautifully crafted to advance the plot - the 'looking through the fish tank' scene in particular - and the increasingly-frantic attempts by Pete Postlethwaite's priest to resolve the plot twists are very clear even to the casual viewer. The end is well-known enough that you have to just let it unfold in front of you, rather than sit there thinking 'they're really going to do that?' although the mild twist of Clare Danes waking up ever-so-slightly before Leonardo DiCaprio dies is a nice touch.

But put it all together, the music, the scenes, the directing, the script (when you can make it out) and you have a huge stage-show condensed down into a nice DVD to play on your TV. Would Shakespeare be proud? No idea, but it's darned fine entertainment.

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