Critiques of Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet


Triangulating Shakespeare

I. Jorgens on Zeffirelli's RJ

A. Shakespeare emphasized fortune not justice; sympathy for all characters

1. celebration of young love--excitement, passion and lyricism

2. avoids sentimentality because of humor satire

3. death of youth as tragic complemented by death of youth in maturity; innocence, spontaneity, passion die as we get older

B. Film general traits:

1. spectacular, extravagent, full of nervous motion, energy, camera movement, rapid cutting

2. rich sets, use of locations, music, golden light, atmosphere

3. music so often seems film seem operatic, but acting and direction make it realistic

4. not popular among critics for what's perceived as irrelevant extravagence, simplification and cliche

5. accelerates already rapid sequence of events, reduced speeches, stripped away verbal artifice

6. substitutes visual for verbal oxymora

a. brawlers interrupt Romeo and Benvolio with flowers and R. throws flowers in street

C. Specific flim devices appropriate as interpretation

1. opening establishing shot

a. corresponds to detachment of prologue; tribute to olivier's opening of HV; stars olivier

b. fog shroud=mercutio's handkerchief and death shrouds and sheets; set against burning circle of sun=sunlight in marketplace and hot passions

2. two spectacle scenes of party and dance--circles; crowds; whirlwind camera movement

a. parallel rituals of love and hate; both ironic in attempts to bring love further hate; love and death are joined in this as well as in text of added song;

i. replace their constant juxtaposition in the compulseively oxmoronic language of Shakespeare

3. more interested in what he calls "poetry of human relationships" than in poetry of language, ideas and imagery

a. adds visual information about Lady Capulet's love for Tybalt and contempt for husband hatred for Romeo and cry for revenge

b. emphasizes Mercutio's love for Romeo--attention to him and jealousy

c. contrast between Mercutio's style: courting danger, mocking Tybalt vs. Tybalt's need to humiliate Mercutio

d. deemphasis on readings of verse and on words; pictorializes Shakespseare's language--young act while old talk

4. Youth movement movie of sixties; Romeo as flower-child who wants to make love not war. I first saw it with my wife the night we got out of jail with 800 others after anti war protests at Columbia

a. emphasis on faces, bodies; leaves out Romeo's murder of Paris and meeting with Apothecary

b. rites of passage: Juliet and Romeo childlike when we meet them; teenagers at ball; grow up as they lose virginity detach themselves from both parents and parent surrogates and face death

i. nurse thinks she can smooth over everything by straightening out the sheets upon which R and J have lost virginity

5. business and richness shifts after death of Mercutio to reflect general tone shift from festive comedy to tragedy

6. conclusion merges the rituals of love and death: wedding become funeral; bells ringing; chaos of brawl replaced by a dead order; unity of families--all are punished

II. Donaldson

A. play as critique of mysogynistic, patriarchal sex-gender system

1. obsessive verbal equation of erect penis and sword: "me they shall feel while I'm able to stand; my naked weapon is out; "stand if you be a man; rise and stand'

a. tilted crotch shots of approaching capulets and their swords; connect male genitality and aggression

b. Mercutio's gestures of fuck you and "here is my fiddlestick"

2. Romeo distinguished from aggressive genitality--flower child; buttocks shown in nude; except at the moment when someone throws him sword and he enters feud and we seek codpiece and rapier

3. Mysogyny: males hating women:

a. Nurse and Peter; Mercutio, "womanish tears," unseemly woman in a seeming man" 3.3.110

b. focussed especially in Merc.--desperate attempt to keep R. in male pack; Queen Mab speech turned mysog. and makes him break down

c. emphasizes tenderness and intimacy between men and sadness at loss of loving connection; severing of male bonds is paradigm of loss and anguish

d. Tybalt accuses Mercutio of consorting with Romeo and misinterpret R's love of Tybalt

4. Alternative, non mysogynistic, bisexual perspectives

a. males are as eroticized to viewer and one another as females

i. Tybalt as pretty as Romeo; Romeo's gaze cross cut to tybalt as well as Juliet;

b. we also see Romeo through Juliet's desire; her love and desire and gaze alternates with the male gaze throughout, different from conventional film; her desire of him shown in her gaze and wit, corresponding to language of text, when she anticipates his coming, especially in bedroom scene

B. use of camera work to creat contrasts between intimacy, privacy and publicity

1. lovers in a group

2. falling in love as well as the killing is done in a group but in secret

3. impossibility of integrating private emotions into public space.

C. hand imagery: attempt of fragmented self and "body" politic to reconstitute itself

1. hands filmed in frame filling closeup

a. hand gestures learned in dance, Romeo grabs her hand in secret; her face explodes on that contact like fire and powder kissing--hand is both formal and intimate

b. J's hand against her cheek; vow is tactile melory of hands' touch

c. handclasp on wall separates physically but keeps a connection that spreads over whole wall and out to landscape, but it cant go as far as Mantua at the end of the landscape

d. hand readhing out after wedding night

e. hand of Friar and Friar John sending message that wont reach

f. Romeo's hand reaches for J in tomb; they part as at the wall; she awakens through hand; hand touches lips recalling romeo's kiss and palmers

2. infancy in Olivia Hussey's performance: spontaneity; relation with nurse; startle reactions, pouting

a. child's autonomy's increase with learning to walk; separation from parents and nurse is marriage; but RJ cant bear the bumps and separations that the marriage requires

b. childish reach for Friar's potion

III. Jill Levenson

A. lines cut to one third of original; most popular and lucrative Shakespeare film; made 50M


A. image-symbols

1. imagery of explosive passion--fire and powder metaphor--expressed in explosion of voices and action; yells cap in air

2. hand

3. use of mask; catlike romeo, sneaking and climbing; mask is like name; off it comes

4. flower; Romeo's hands; garden; Friar's herbs and potions; flowers on grave

5. crucifix, religion

a. meeting in chruch; Juliet's crucifix; marriage; friar's idea of love; sacrifice of youth

6. day vs night--light vs. dark

a. masking in street vs. dancing indoors vs. fightinig in street during day

B. point of view of camera and framing

1. a play of feelings more than actions; close-ups and quick changes of expression; mood shifts shown with camera, impossible on stage

2. Juliet through window--frolicing like child through Cap's eyes, contrasted to Lady Cap; not seen change of 14 years

3. Romeo's sight of Juliet in a crowded room; selective focus; close up

4. dizziness in dance; in love and in music; Juliet's gaze at Romeo's body

5. seeing with gaxe and eyes of love and hate and emotion

6. looking up at the balcony

C. Music:

1. love death motif in song; Romeo's motif; Juliet's--like Tristan and Isolde; reinforcesd changed and finalized at ending drawing all together in the great oxymoron

D. irony and misprision

1. laughter at Mercutio's death

2. Romeo and Balthazar's speed passing Friar John's slow donkey missing message

E. Acting and casting

1. Juliet's youth--her kitten or bunny like huge eyes

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