Act 1, scene 1; Romeo & Juliet 1996 and 2013

I decided to compare Act one, scene one of Shaskepeare’s Romeo & Juliet  in the 1996 movie directed by Baz Luhrmann and Carlo Carlei’s movie in 2013.  This scene introduces the feud between the Montague and Capulet, as well as the reason for Romeo’s melancholy.    Luhrmann’s film interprets the play in a modern and comedic way, while Carlei sticks to the traditional take on the play.

Initially you know Luhrmann’s film clearly takes place in 1996, where TV’s, cars, guns and suits exists.  He uses photos in the news and intensifying music to show to vicious feud between the two families.  A mood of seriousness is immediately created but soon turns into a sarcastic comedy when the “Montague boys” are driving down the streets and yelling nonsense.  Although Luhrmann sticks closer to the dialogue compared to Carlei, I found the actor’s actions were exaggerated then immediately thought the director was trying to be funny.  This is observed throughout the movie and makes me believe Luhrmann was trying to show the comedic side of Shakespeare’s tragedy.  There is physical distinction between the Montagues and Capulets; the former being mostly Caucasian and the latter Hispanic.  The director may be implying that the feud was due to racism?  The quarrel between the two houses involved guns, rather than swords.  The animosities between the two are shown by the public gunfight, the explosion of a gas station and the panic in the whole city.

Carlei’s film takes place in the Elizabethan era, where crowds gather to see knights compete against each other and where men where silken coats with ruffs and cuffs.  This film presents Romeo & Juliet the way Shakespeare envisioned, at least in terms of costume and setting.    Montague and Capulet are both wealthy and powerful.  Carlei chose to paraphrase/convert Shakespeare’s lines in a way modern language interprets it.  In this scene, the action of ‘spitting on the ground’ is equivalent to Shakespeare’s ‘biting my thumb.’  It was first displaced by Tybalt after he lost the tournament to Mercutio as a sign of disrespect for his opponent.  And it was this same action that started the street fight between Gregory and Samson with Abraham.

I liked Luhrmann’s fight scene compared to Carlei’s.  It was a fun scene which featured the Montague boys as young and wild with their open buttoned shirts and the Capulet boys with tough Hispanic get up.  The tension between the two families were shown with multiple rapid close ups along with cowboy showdown music.  Tybalt’s steel-heeled boots and the cowboy showdown music created the atmosphere of a gun fight.  It was clear the fight was going to happen because Luhrmann showed that the Montague boys were wild and crazy teens and the Capulet boys were slick gunslingers.  Luhrmann featured the ‘biting my thumb’ lines and coupled it with a series of back and forth close up shots between the Abraham and Gregory or Sampson (not sure which one).  Carlei chose to use action to represent the gesture.  A simple bump, spit on the ground and a few looks led to the fight.  Although it was straight to the point, I felt it was unable to grasp the severity of the feud between two families.

In the scene between Romeo and his friend Benvolio, Luhrmann’s film created a deeper sadness tone to convey Romeo’s melancholy.  Luhrmann chose to include the conversation between the Montagues and Benvolio regarding Romeo’s depression.  The combination of a slow guitar, the concerning faces of both parents and the line “locks fair daylight out and makes himself artificial night” creates a deeper sense of what Romeo is going through.  There is irony when they find Romeo alone in the sunset in an abandoned pier; a pier is a place once full of fun and joy but now has been abandoned and now void of happiness.

Both films show that Romeo wants to be alone and is thinking about something/someone.  Carlei’s film shows Romeo sculpting by himself.  Romeo says the line: “sad hour seems long.”  This line is presented in Carlei’s scene when Romeo is doing, what I assume, is a hobby of his to pass the long hours.  In Luhrmann’s scene, Romeo is killing time walking along the pier, contemplating about his sadness. By having Romeo thinking out loud, we can clearly determine why he is alone.  Compared to Carlei’s scene, Romoe states why he is sad by translating Shakespeare’s line: “not having which, having, makes them short” to “I lack the thing which, if I had it, would make them short.”

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