Friday, October 11, 2013

Romeo and Juliet (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Romeo and Juliet”
Tries to be Different

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

William Shakespeare’s most popular play during his lifetime was a tragic romance that he’d penned early in his career, “Romeo and Juliet.” Believed to have been written between 1591 and 1595, this story about two star-crossed lovers draws on earlier works such as “Pyramus and Thisbē,” Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” and “The Ephesian Tale of Anthia and Habrocomes” by Xenophon of Ephesus. However, it was the poetic language of Shakespeare’s version that made it a masterpiece.

The play has been translated to film on numerous occasions. Each one trying to be different.

George Cukor’s lavish 1936 production with Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer stuck pretty close to the script, although it included two songs drawn from other plays by Shakespeare.

In 1961 Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins adapted it into a modern musical called “West Side Story” with Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood, featuring choreographed gang warfare between the Sharks and Jets.

Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 faithful big-screen adaptation returned the story to its traditional setting of Renaissance Verona, but featured for the first time age-appropriate teens in the lead roles (Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey).

Baz Luhrmann’s anachronistic 1996 MTV-inspired “Romeo + Juliet” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes stuck to the words, but set the modernized story in a fictional “Verona Beach.”

Now we have Carlo Carlei’s “Romeo and Juliet,” a brand-new 2013 film that stars Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld. You can catch it at the Tropic Cinema.

Booth is English (he played Boy George in “Worried About the Boy”) and Steinfeld is American (she was nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role in the recent “True Grit”), but they come off as a Shakespearian couple.

No musical numbers, no modern settings, it has the proper look and feel of Shakespeare’s story.

Like Zeffirelli’s version, the film is period appropriate, set in Renaissance times and filmed in Verona, Italy.

And its stars are pretty much age appropriate. “I’m 19, despite the beard, and Hailee’s 15,” says Douglas Booth. “In the original play, Juliet was 13 and Romeo was 17, so it’s the same age difference.”

Then why are critics and other purists up in arms?

Turns out, the film -- trying to be unlike any of the previous screen adaptations -- will not rely solely on Shakespeare’s original dialogue. The controversial script was written by Julian Fellowes, creator of TV’s “Downton Abbey.”

Shakespeare scholars are accusing Fellowes of altering the Bard’s work to such an extent that “little to none” of it is used. Analyzing the film, academics from two leading institutes dedicated to study of the playwright found that Fellowes has “simplified lines, invented new ones, and reconstructed phrases.”

Aye, there’s the rub, as Shakespeare might say.

“Basically, we broke down some of the verse, and he added his own verse, so it’s a nice combination of both,” says Ed Westwick who plays the fiery Tybold. “It’s very unique. It’s not doing the same thing as the other films, although people will have to make up their own minds about that.”

 “People will want to try to compare this,” says star Douglas Booth, “and I think it has the romance of the Zeffirelli and the energy of the Baz Luhrmann.”

“Do we need another Romeo and Juliet?” asks an online movie blog. Audiences will decide that question.

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