A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Romeo and Juliet (Franco Zeffirelli, 1968)

This is prime Zeffirelli, when he was attracting attention for not only movies but also operas with lavish sets and traditional costumes. His style has fallen out of favor now: Both moviegoers and opera lovers now want a fresh point of view on the classics. His 1998 production of La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera was replaced in 2011 by the minimalist Willy Decker production whose action took place on a large clock face. And in 1996, Baz Luhrmann's movie Romeo + Juliet set the story of the star-crossed lovers in the fictional, gang warfare-riddled town of Verona Beach. But Zeffirelli's 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet remains fresh, largely because it is one of the few Shakespeare plays that lend themselves to movies: It has as much passionate romance and lively action as a moviegoer could want, and if you throw in a little discreet nudity, as Zeffirelli did, what's not to like? Well, it could be a little more respectful to Shakespeare's verse, large chunks of which are cut for the sake of lively, breathtaking swordfights. Gone, for example, is Juliet's rapturous soliloquy in Act III, Scene II:
Come, gentle night, come, loving black-brow'd night,
Give me my Romeo, and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
And when Juliet is preparing to drink the potion that will simulate death, we get none of her terrors of being sealed in the Capulet tomb. Zeffirelli's version is a safe compromise between the too-reverent George Cukor production for MGM in 1936, and Luhrmann's souped up modern version, but Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey are preferable to the aging Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard, and they handle the verse better than Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes did in Luhrmann's film. One thing the Zeffirelli film also has going for it is Nino Rota's score, which grew over-familiar when it became a best-selling LP but is still evocative today. And there are some good actors in the cast, including Michael York's Tybalt, Pat Heywood's Nurse, and Milo O'Shea's Friar Lawrence, not to mention Laurence Olivier's uncredited narrator. (Olivier also supplied the voice for the Italian actor playing Montague.) But I still want to see Renato Castellani's 1954 film version again -- it's been so long since I saw it that I had forgotten it was in color, and I may in fact have only seen it on a black-and-white TV -- before pronouncing Zeffirelli's film the best movie version.