Jordin Cummings: Notes Reflection

In order to properly evaluate my annotation practices when reading a play text, I decided to do what I did for my close reading paper but with Act IV Scene I of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

In comparison to the start of the semester my note taking skills have greatly evolved. I am no longer afraid to write little notes anywhere in the book. On the other-hand, larger notes still belong on sticky pads! I have greatly expanded my knowledge of various poetic terms and elements and that has made it easier to really breakdown the text. In only 128 lines of play text I was able to identify the blank verse and iambic pentameter rhythm along with multiple structural, linguistic and semantic terms.


Annotating Play Text 

My note taking process is very methodical and almost always follows the same routine in regards to an assignment.

  • Step One: Write out the basics. What is the assignment? What are the texts? What is the question?
  • Step Two: Have you read the text? No? Read it.
  • Step Three: What are your general thoughts on the text?
  • Step Four: Close read the text in relation to the question. Annotated. Highlight things to be defined.
  • Step Five: Expand your annotated notes; what are your thoughts now? Write out definitions.

After all of that my notes are very comprehensive. I know they are successful because when I go to complete an assignment everything is clearly laid out for me. If I effectively teach the material back to someone or try to explain my discovered concept I also know I have absorbed what I took down. In comparison to my practices for a play text, my annotation skills when I watch a film are not as formulated.

To properly evaluate my annotation practices for a film I chose the 2013 Carlei Romeo & Juliet as I have never seen it before. I chose to focus on a specific section, what would be Act IV Scene I in the play text. I chose this portion of the movie because the first thing I would do when annotating a film on Shakespeare would be to read the text first so I can get a sense of where I am at in the real story. This was especially helpful as this version of Romeo and Juliet cuts the whole interaction with Paris. After reading the text I would watch the movie. Just watch; no annotating. I want to be able to just watch without searching in the same way I would read a text to get a feel for it first.

After reading the text and watching the film I would make notes on the basics of the film. What did I watch? How is it different from the text? Then I can try watching it again with more attention to detail. The unfortunate thing with annotating a film is that the film moves at a continuous pace whereas annotating does not. I find myself pausing an going back just so I can catch something and write it down. Annotating a film definitely takes a lot longer!


Annotating Film

In almost 5 minutes of film and one scene I was able to closely review and really get a feel for the directors take on this play. I found the best way to identify key elements Carlei used in his film was to pause when I saw something of interest, take note of the time, and then make a simple note to clue me into what I had found. I know this way of annotating a film works for me because if I needed to explain the film to someone I would have seen it many times in close detail. I also know this way works because if I needed to further expand my notes or write a paper on the film I would have detailed annotations with timestamps for quick reference. It would be very easy to apply terms such as Samuel Crowl’s in Shakespeare and Film to the ideas I’d found.

Although my practices of annotation have greatly evolved in regards to both film and play text, I have realized through this reflection that I definitely prefer to annotate a text!


Works Cited

Crowl, Samuel. Shakespeare and Film. Norton, 2007.

Romeo & Juliet. Directed by Carlo Carlei, performances by Hailee Steinfield and Paul Giamatti, D Films, 2013, 1:15:20-1:19:52.

Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Folger Digital Texts, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Folger Shakespeare Library, pp. 92-96,, Accessed 14 Nov. 2016.


Romeo + Juliet Film Review

By Amanda Faller


Romeo + Juliet (1996) directed by Baz Luhrmann is an enormously polarizing film. Although I can see why some truly do not like it, I hardly agree with them. Romeo + Juliet is a one of a kind film, filled with dazzling visuals and touching, good-bump inflicting moments. Luhrmann’s treatment of the source text is unique and grandiose. Immediately the viewer’s expectations of what a Shakespeare adaptation should be is shattered with the Chorus’s lines beings spoken through a T.V. news broadcast. Instead of being stifled by traditions, Luhrmann uses Hollywood techniques and interesting plot additions and interpretations to catch the viewer’s attention, and keep it.


Often I believe some viewers to take this film too seriously, as one takes Shakespeare seriously. It is hard to believe it was Luhrmann’s true intention to make an intellectual, serious film. Irony soaks this film, and you have to give into it to enjoy it fully.


Part of the charm of this film is what it can do to help build the characters beyond what is capable in a traditional adaption, such as Zeffirelli’s. For instance, Luhrmann decides to introduce Romeo using Radiohead and other rock music to infer he is a ‘bad boy’. In contrast, Juliet is first seen with Mozart playing, showing their differences and highlighting her higher-class and more delicate nature.


It is in Act 1, Scene 3 that we get to see what the filmmakers and actors are truly made of. Harold Perrineau’s depiction of Mercutio is riveting, wild and larger than life. In my opinion he steals the screen and potentially the entire movie from the leading characters. The quick jump cuts and visually rich shots are exemplified when Mercutio’s speech about love winds out of control (probably an effect of the ecstasy they were taking). Interestingly when Romeo is waxing poetic about dreams and fate, and Mercutio of love and women, it all takes place on a decrepit, abandoned stage in the middle of the beach. Perhaps this was Luhrmann’s way of saying out with the old. Romeo + Juliet works because of the surreal modern style of Luhrmann mixed with the surrealism in Shakespeare’s own writing.


Luhrmann decides to move one line from Act 5 Scene 3 to Act 1 Scene 5, where Romeo meets Juliet. Although the whole source text is spliced and cut in this film, it goes to show that Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare it self is not lasting, but the story itself in every iteration. “Thy drugs are quick” is originally in reference to the poison Romero uses to kill himself, however Luhrmann moves it to foreshadow what is to come as well as add new meaning to Romeo and Juliet’s love. Mercutio giving Romeo ecstasy for the party suggests to me that perhaps it’s the drugs guiding Romeo’s passion, and Juliet’s innocence not to know better. After all, she is dressed as an angel, and Romeo is her knight in shining armour.

The music is extremely emotive here, as well as all party-background noise being washed away by their love-trance. Finally when Romeo is separated from Juliet in his friend’s car after his realization she is a Capulet, a shadow casts upon his face, and his mind. Later we see Juliet speaking to herself at the poolside. Here, despite the shot being long and still, the water’s reflection dances across her face as she realizes she loves Romeo despite his name.


Focusing lastly on Act 5 Scene 3, where Romeo finds Juliet’s unconscious body. The screen is filled with blue and orange, complementary colours. As Romeo approaches Juliet the blue fades and he lays beside her. In contrast to other shots, each actor’s face has an extreme close up, their faces hardly fitting entirely into the shot. This helps show how intimate this moment is. Tension builds as we see Juliet waking, her fingers wiggling and eyes fluttering. Despite this not being in the original text, it adds a captivating visual that enhances the scene. Finally Romeo dies and Juliet is awake. As she takes his gun, there is a shot of her with an angle in the background as if it is sitting on her shoulder. To me, this shows that their suicides are not truly sad as they believed what they were doing was right. As well, this entire section is mostly orange-toned. This also shows the warmth and intimacy of this scene. The blue was introduced when Juliet and Romeo were still alive and had a chance when he entered the cathedral, however it was removed when Romeo believed her to be dead, and finally when Romeo died. When Juliet pulls the trigger, there is a long shot including the blue glowing lights once more, suggesting Romeo and Juliet are together again. Although blue is traditionally associated with sadness, we can see in the next scene where the Prince is addressing the crowd, that grey is used for sadness and mourning.


Finally, the film ends as it opens, with a news broadcast and the T.V. flicking off.


Romeo + Juliet is an outstanding film and should be regarded not only for its style but also for what it has done for the Shakespeare film genre and story telling accomplishments.  


A Film Review of Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy. That is no new news, and yet the statement gains a fresh connotation when it is made in light of (or indeed, when it is making light of) the 1996 Hollywood retelling: Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Taken out of its original Renaissance setting, modernization has not been kind to fair Verona. The once bustling Italian city-state now becomes a southwestern coastal American metropolis where dreamboats and freak-shows intermingle in a bizarre symbiosis (not unlike the general Hollywood area). Unfortunately, the newfound cultural setting does nothing to enhance, or even justify the use of Shakespeare’s anachronistic poetry, and any merit that may be gleaned from the modern revision is quickly diminished by the confused and uninspired performances of the title characters. This review briefly examines the first half hour of “the two hours traffic of [the] stage” (1.0.12). Personally, I would rather be stuck in traffic for two hours than endure this film.

Gregory eagerly welcomes you! Get used to men of his ilk...

Unless, of course, I’m stuck in traffic with Gregory and the men of his ilk…

On a broad scope, Lurhmann has made some distinct and deviating interpretive choices from his source material. For the setting, the “two distinguished houses” of Capulet and Montague are now represented as powerful mega-corporations that dominate the city of Verona. There is an interesting element of racism now squeezed into the drama; the Montagues are predominantly Caucasian while the Capulets seem to have a mixed Hispanic background (as evidenced by Lord Capulet’s accent, along with Tybalt and his posse).

John Woo is not impressed.

Enter Tybalt.  John Woo is not impressed.

With respect to the text, ironically, it seems as though there is indeed little respect to the text. Substantial portions of the lines are cut (as may be expected for a film adaptation), but there are numerous other liberalities taken that are more jarring. Lines may be switched from one character to another (Capulet’s line “Give me my longsword, ho” [1.1.61] is given instead to Montague, the Servant with the party invite from 1.2 is now delivered via a TV news broadcast), settings may be altogether changed (Prince’s chastisement of Capulet and Montague occurs in a private police office, away from the battleground), and extra-textual lines may be added in (Abra[ham] quotes from Macbeth in the opening scene with “bubble, bubble, toil and trouble”, Rosaline’s name is specifically introduced by a TV news broadcast and boy who writes her name in chalk at the pool hall).

We must also regard Lurhmann’s camerawork. We see every sweaty, freckled, eye-twitching detail of actors’ faces through the use of plenty of close-up shots. Actions are exaggerated with sudden and sporadic transitions between regular and fast-motion sequences. Like the frantic characters onscreen, the camera jerks back and forth wildly on tracking shots, cuts are rapid enough to induce seizures and a yellow gradient basks every moment with a vibrant, unnatural brightness that distorts the grim reality of the feudal conflict.

The costuming choices seem equally invested in draping the film in the surreal. The Montague Boys (as they are referred to) set the stage with busy-patterned, unbuttoned beach shirts, while the Capulets follow with snakeskin boots and leather jackets. Tattoos and shaved heads bear crosses and corporate logos. Mercutio arrives in drag at the Capulet party. The world Lurhmann has fashioned is one of shock value, iconography and overkill.

As for the score, it is soundly cliché. Bullets zip and ping as though Yosemite Sam were firing them, the camera cuts and heads turn with a comedic “whoosh” effect. The music ranges from gaudy and self-referential (the Montague Boys delivering their lines by rapping along to the music in their car in Act 1.1), to goofy (a Mexican-style shootout theme, also 1.1), to flamboyant and exaggerated (Mercutio’s entrance and subsequent dance routine 1.4 and 1.5).

It is the prerogative of the film director to shape his movie according to his own artistic tastes, however, in many ways this attempt seems to use its Shakespearean source material as nothing more than a thin veneer for what is otherwise intended as a sexy, summer romance flick for teenage girls. I use the words “attempt” and “intended” deliberately as they indicate an effort or endeavor but not necessarily a success.

Hey Baz! Let's do ALL the crack!

Hey Baz! Let’s do ALL the crack!

The first few moments of the movie appear promising – a television news broadcast serves as the Chorus, delivering the prologue in a modern, yet unobtrusive style. Unfortunately, the boon of revision ends there as the prologue is then unnecessarily repeated, with a flurry of quick camera cuts giving lightning-fast glimpses at the setting of this new Verona, along with dramatic flashes of things yet to come further in the script. The entire prologue essentially serves then, as a commercial for a movie the viewer is already watching – a pointless and irritating redundancy (unless the point is to irritate, in which case, well done).

The title splash screen flashes and cuts away to the representation of Act 1.1. What was originally a clever, pun-filled repartee between Sampson and Gregory is now discarded in place of a frenetic shouting match with the servants of Capulet. Shakespeare’s quiet asides between the “Montague Boys” along with the feigned and fatuous honorifics passed in the dialogue with Abraham, once served to build a growing tension between the two warring factions. Now, the tension is permanently set at maximum as though the entire cast is high on methamphetamines, screaming at friend and foe alike, delivering some of the most confused lines ever inflected in the history of English drama. Adding to the disaster are bizarre, extra-textual attempts at physical comedy (Sampson being repeated hit on the head by a lady’s purse, or his shooting the gas station sign), along with a grievously outlandish gun battle that aims for “cool” and hits upon “cringe-worthy”. This scene also causes one to wonder why the two most powerful business magistrates in the city have characters as bizarre as these Sampson, Gregory, Benvolio, Abraham and Tybalt as hired help (though perhaps we may excuse Tybalt’s narcissism under the pretense of his privileged nepotism).

Benvolio, the "Voice of Reason." Heaven help us all...

Benvolio, the “Voice of Reason.” Heaven help us all…

Now, enter Leonardo DiCaprio, assuming the role of Romeo – though more accurately, serving as the eye-candy for all female viewers in the audience; because a sexy lead can compel an audience to stay for a full duration of a film that lacks any other redeeming qualities. His opening reveal casts him as a silhouetted figure on a beach, dressed in a casual black suit that, rather than signifying his melancholy, serves more to set him apart as an attractive figure by comparison to the gaudy fashions of all the other characters. We see his face, flawless and perfectly obscured by a golden sunset from behind.

The real reason girls came to the theater.

The real reason all the girls came to the theater.

Sadly, those baby blues and wavy golden locks are the only charming things about this Romeo. The moment DiCaprio delivers his first line of dialogue it will likely make the objective viewer cry “Aye me,” as well, and cause them to wish instead for more cocaine-induced antics with the strung-out Sampson and Gregory. In his discourse with Benvolio, covering material from Act 1.2, it causes on to question if DiCaprio can even act, let alone do adequate justice to Shakespeare’s language. Emphases on important words are skimmed over, unimportant words are stressed, and iambic rhythm is altogether forgotten. The rushed pace of verbiage along with DiCaprio’s wry smile and aloof behavior all betray the melancholy that is meant to loom over him. Indeed, Shakespeare’s intended Romeo was already a trying character to like but DiCaprio’s delivery borders on insufferable.

Sure, he's dashing... Until he starts to speak.

Sure, he’s dashing… Until he starts to speak.

This unconvincing display from DiCaprio’s Romeo is matched equally by the bored and homely Juliet of Claire Danes. In the scene immediately following Romeo’s debut we are introduced (as per Act 1.3) to Juliet, alas, not before enduring her shrieking, frenetic mother calling her name (again, an extra-textual decision). By comparison to the way the camera casts Romeo as rival to Adonis, Juliet is presented as rather plain or average. Her stark white gown, in contrast to the sharp black suit of Romeo, may have a symbolic reference, though functionally, it frames Juliet in a sort of blemished purity. Her freckles and moles are shot in close-up for all to see, her hair unkempt. I’m sure the underlying message here is that “she’s beautiful on the inside,” but there is nothing on screen that visually suggests that her beauty might “teach the torches to burn bright” (1.5.42), especially when her dialogue is delivered with the same unconvincing ennui as her Romeo.

It's okay, Juliet. I'd want to drown myself too.

It’s okay, Juliet. I feel like drowning myself too.

Lurhmann has attempted in this film to combine rich, historic poetry and a well-known, sordid love story with a modernized twist. Sadly, he has, I submit, failed on every count. There is nothing wrong with a uniquely outlandish setting, but here it is too unbelievable. His directorial vision has derailed the spirit of the original script and his casting choices leave much to be desired. In a sea of buffoonery and poor acting, the title characters take center stage – a demigod “man of wax” falls madly in love with an “average Jane” and together they deliver such underwhelming lines that Shakespeare himself is liable to turn in his grave. All these elements combine to create a whole that could arguably be rationalized as nothing more than a film designed to realize the pubescent sexual fantasies of teenage girls whilst attempting to add enough machismo to fool a few sorry males into the theater.

N'Sync covers the Village People! ...Or is it the other way around?

N’Sync covers the Village People! …Or is it the other way around?

Oh, wait, they're pulling an "Abbey Road".

Wait, I was wrong.  It’s the Beatles’ “Abbey Road”.  Is that Pete Best??


Film watched at on June 5, 2016.


Text referenced from “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare. Ed. Daniel Fischlin, Oxford University Press, 2013.


Images sourced from Google Images, s.v. “Lurhmann Romeo and Juliet”.


Q: What's the difference between Sampson and Blue Stahli?

Q: What’s the difference between Sampson and Blue Stahli?

A: One of them knows how to manically scream with a sense of rhythm.

A: One of them knows how to maniacally scream with a sense of rhythm.