Friday, June 27, 2008

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.

~Prologue of Shakespeare's
Romeo and Juliet

As a child we had an eight-track tape of the soundtrack of Franco Zefirelli's 1968 film Romeo and Juliet. It included most of the dialog from the movie, which is how my siblings and I came to be familiar with Shakespeare's most famous tragedy. At one point we saw the film, either on television or in the theater, and I recall it making Renaissance Italy come alive for me, with all the heat and dust and violence. Watching Zeffirelli's production as an adult, I am again awed by the perfection of every scene, the authenticity of the sets and costumes- it was filmed on location in Italy- and the skill of the actors who communicate with subtlety and power every nuance of emotion. It is impossible to say which scene is most beautiful; I suppose it is the banquet scene, with the dancing, the swirling gowns, the laughter, the torchlight, and the first fateful glance.
What is a youth?
Impetuous fire.
What is a maid?
Ice and desire.

A rose will bloom,
it then will fade
So does a youth.
So does the fairest maid.
The theme song forms the background to the meeting of the lovers, whose passion seems to flare up out of their very innocence, and made all the more intense when the two discover that their parents are enemies. How glorious when Romeo runs in ecstasy through the morning light to Friar Lawrence's cell and herb garden. We are reminded how religion was such an integral part of life back then. (Herbs were a big part of life, too.) And then the wedding scene is among the most haunting of all film weddings. The pair kneel surrounded by a soft light, in an ancient church with a mosaic floor. (They did not have pews and kneelers, people just knelt on the floor.)

The death scene I could see a thousand times and still cry. It is amazing how Shakespeare's lesson on the destructive force of hatred and vengeance have meaning, not only after the decades of my life, but after the many centuries since it was written. The impact of evil, any evil, clung to by parents will effect their children, no matter how much they try to protect them. Share


Enbrethiliel said...


I remember reading the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet as a cynical teenager and thinking that nobody could possibly pull of something so sappy.

Then my English teacher screened this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet for us. I couldn't eat my words fast enough. The whole movie is so beautiful and it makes a too-familiar story seem new each time I watch it again.

Iosue Andreas said...

The Anglo-Argentinian Olivia Hussey was so beautiful in that film as Juliet, as she was in "Jesus of Nazareth" (1977) as Our Lady and Madre Teresa (2003) ad the Saint of the Gutters.

Rachel said...

Oh, this is one of my all time favourite movies. Michael York's Tybalt is brilliant, as are Romeo and Juliet.

My absolute, most heart-breaking line?

"All are punished ...":

Terry Nelson said...

I just watched it the other night - it is one of my favorites - and I agree with Joshue - Olivia Hussey is ravishing.

When watched closely, one can detect many classical paintings Franco was inspired by and designed his scenes around, and suddenly they come alive, and part of the film.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Enbrethiliel, every time I see the film it makes the story brand new for me.

Yes, Joshua, Olivia was lovely and such a superb actress!

Rachel, as a young girl, I fell in love with Michael York (Tybalt) in the film--I thought he was so much more interesting than Romeo. Although, now I do understand what Juliet saw in him.

elena maria vidal said...

Terry, I was thinking the same thing, about the classic paintings-- a strong influence from Blessed Fra Angelico, I would say!

Anonymous said...

I just ordered this---what have I been missing?! Thanks Elena!

elena maria vidal said...

You're welcome, SF, it is a masterpiece.

Ana Braga-Henebry said...

Oh, did I enjoy this post! The *best* Romeo and Juliet and the definitive one! We had the LP when I was still little and I would play it again and again! I still have the balcony scene--and others too-- memorized!
Actually, almost everything Zeffirelli did was outstanding!

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, Ana! Sounds very familiar! I had the balcony scene memorized, too!

Anonymous said...

This Zeferelli version is my favorite. And, I think it "speaks" to young people the best. I think it is worth viewing with 13-14 year olds--the story is chaste enough, but portrays young love urgent as well as sacramental. And, along the way, hooks our young on Shakespeare.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, it is a great way to introduce the young to Shakespeare. It really is worth owning a copy.

Badger Catholic said...

It can be watch online on Netflix, thanks for the tip! I've only seen the modern adaptions.