Baz Luhrmann’s version of Act 1 Scene 5 of Romeo and Juliet explores various themes of love, conflict and feuds. Luhrmann uses many techniques in his own style of directing, such as different types of camera work, editing and the soundtrack, similarly to Moulin Rouge which is also directed by Luhrmann, to convey the characters and atmosphere in this timeless classic. My essay will analyse these directing techniques by looking at the pros and cons in that scene, making is easier to determine which techniques express the different characters and moods in a particular way.
The various techniques Luhrmann uses in his version, like lighting and ambient colours, give the viewer a frenzied atmosphere. Throughout the scene we see tense and tranquil moments which Luhrmann uses to relate to the situations in which Romeo and Juliet are in. Right at the beginning, when Romeo enters the party, the camera movement is very slow and unsteady. We see close shots of Romeo’s face when he shows his invitation card to the man at the entrance. Here we get a clear picture of his expressions which helps the viewer keep up with his emotions or moods as they change.
Baz Luhrmann uses eye-line matching, still while the camera is tilting from one event to another, to indicate that Romeo is not in his normal state of mind because he is blinking his eyes in a disorientated manner. Later on when he mentions in a quiet tone “The drugs are quick”, reaffirms this and suggests he’s in his own world. Luhrmann is using the costumes the characters are wearing to reflect on their character and roles that they are shown to take up. At the opening of the party we see Romeo dressed up as a knight.
Romeo is symbolising the ‘knight in shining armour’ at the party to rescue Juliet, the damsel in distress, from her controlled and constrained lifestyle at the Capulet household. The audience soon begin to realise that if they were to meet, this could spark of arguments between the two houses which underlines the theme of conflict and family feuds. Also still while Romeo is entering the party, the camera slow cuts on spinning fireworks high up on the mansion wall. Luhrmann is using the swirling fireworks on the wall to symbolise Romeo’s mind-state or emotions.
The audience could get the impression here that Romeo is emotionally spinning out of control from his current love relationship. In reality most of the audience know Romeo will eventually meet Juliet and fall in love with her at first site. The fact that they cannot be together allows the audience to sympathise with Romeo because this helps them relate to themselves and are expecting to see a weaker side of him. Luhrmann shows Mercutio coming to the party hyper and uses slow motion to help the audience focus on him and things around him even more.
The guns surrounding him don’t necessarily portray him as having a violent nature but suggest that violence and danger revolves around him no matter if he likes it or not because he’s in a position and status of power. Again in here the theme of conflict is brought up. As Romeo is looking around in a dazed behaviour, he sees Tybalt but Tybalt doesn’t notice him. The medium high angle shot on Tybalt can symbolise him lowering himself and his dignity by his actions and his evil personality depicted throughout the film.
Tybalt’s devil costume highlights this aspect about him even further and already puts across a bad impression of him to the audience watching. In the first quarter of scene 5, while Mercutio is singing Kim Mazzelle’s “Young Hearts Run Free”, we see Luhrmann frequently using slow cuts to focus the audience’s attention and concentration on words spoken or visual props which could reflect on characters in the scene or the mood/s. This brings the audience’s awareness of what Mercutio is singing “young hearts run free.
To yourself be true, don’t be no fool. ” Luhrmann has cleverly used these lyrics to reflect of the love of Romeo and Juliet and their relationship to come which acts as a hint to Romeo try get passed any obstacles for love, even if it involves death. The first time Romeo and Juliet meet. Their costumes echo their positions in life and their relationship because despite being dressed as a knight he is still human and Juliet is dressed as an angel who is out of his reach.
Luhrmann uses these costumes as a sign to the audience indicating Romeo and Juliet can’t be together. There are some ambiguities about Luhrmann’s techniques throughout the film. Just after Romeo throws his mask in the fountain and turns towards the fish tank, we see a man in the toilet peeing in the background. This adds slight humour to sway the audience’s thoughts of violence and sadness seen so far. Luhrmann uses the props around Romeo and Juliet very effectively during their first meeting.
The fish tank could have a lot of possible symbolism behind it, for instance a likely symbolic meaning is the fish tank acting as a barrier indicates that their love contains a lot of struggle because it is a large obstacle in their path. Moreover the fishes being shiny and luminescent could symbolise stars as they are “star crossed lovers”, also stars are really far away and pretty, this conveys the message that she is out of a person’s reach so Romeo and Juliet’s love isn’t meant to be because Juliet is like the Angel in the skies and he has to cross great obstacles to get her.
The close shots Luhrmann uses on their faces while they are staring at each other also adds to the feeling of love and passion Romeo and Juliet are feeling for each other and conveys both of them to the audience as love stricken, this gives a romantic atmosphere and makes the audience more relaxed because they would also want them to be together and in love. The camera movement is quiet constant and just follows the movement of Romeo and Juliet as they have their eyes fixed at each other.
This gives a calm mood and atmosphere both in the film and for the audience watching. This is important because there isn’t anything shocking or loud to distract the audience from the solemnity in this significant moment. Luhrmann is keen on emphasising their emotion and thoughts when Romeo and Juliet first meet. He is using slow cuts, again while they gaze at each other through the fish tank, to focus attention and give emphasis to their faces expressions when they see each other for the first time.
Romeo is very fixed on Juliet and her beauty, Luhrmann shows this when Romeo tries kissing her bumps into fish tank to show that he is in awe of her beauty and this accentuates his very love stricken sentiment for her that he forgot about the fish tank being there all together and doesn’t see it as a obstacle between their love. Baz Luhrmann expresses the use the colours red and gold to symbolise Capulet’s wealth and power. The flamboyant props, such as the red, long curtains and the golden statues at the staircases, and the setting of a lavish mansion really add to the chaotic atmosphere.
Luhrmann has changed the masked ball into a fancy dress which is effective because he uses the character’s costumes to reflect their characters and identities. Capulet is clothed as Caesar which underlines his power and wealth. Tybalt is dressed as a devil to show his evil and dark nature. Lady Capulet is dressed as Cleopatra to show her beauty and also her seductive personality to lure men. After Romeo and Juliet get taken apart from their first meeting. Tybalt is quick to realise Romeo without his mask.
The camera quickly zooms into Tybalt’s face to show and emphasise his anger and quick temper. This shows to the audience that Tybalt always acts without thinking and doesn’t realise the consequences of his actions reflecting on his character again. The cigar/cigarette in Tybalt’s hands might be a symbol of his anger erupting and he throws it away showing he has lost his temper as soon as he put eyes on Romeo. Luhrmann uses many techniques to change of assert an atmosphere at any given point.
Seeing two men dressed as skeletons next or behind Tybalt quickly changes the viewer’s perception of him and alters the mood to something more sinister and evil. The fact that they follow him could symbolise to the audience that death follows him or work with/for him to get his way. Just as he meets Capulet he takes of his suit to show to Capulet that he’s ready for a duel or a fight, this again brings up the theme of conflict and family feuds. Luhrmann’s quick movement of the camera shows to the audience that events are unfolding quickly and soon something is about to happen.
The camera watching from far could imply it’s something dangerous and wants to keep its distance from whatever Tybalt will or is thinking of doing. A good way Baz Luhrmann conveys Capulet’s power is when Capulet is holding Tybalt as if he’s in control of him and would not tolerate rebellion against him. Baz Luhrmann uses a low angle shot when showing Capulet scolding Tybalt and having Capulet above the camera signifies he is an important and powerful person because it is as if the audience is looking up at someone superior.
Capulet being upstairs where there is no one could symbolise a higher place like heaven where powerful people watch you from there. Tybalt getting enraged over Romeo suggests that he is disrupting that solemnity and peace that you are meant to have in heaven. This shows Capulet’s position and status as someone with authority and has power over everything, which could be why is dressed as Caesar. Capulet affirms his authority over Tybalt by looking him straight in the eyes to make sure he realises that he is serious and doesn’t to be double crossed by someone he sees inferior.
This conveys Capulet’s character as someone who has good control over a situation because he can be serious when he finds appropriate and knows he needs to be welcoming throughout the party to keep his guests pleased. In this particular moment Luhrmann uses both high and low angles to convey the different positions or statuses that Romeo and Juliet are in. Romeo is down looking up at the princess or ‘gazing at the stars’ which he cannot get, this is already a tragedy because he was meant to be the ‘knight in shining armour’ there to get the princess. Juliet is like the cursed beauty that has to marry someone who her parents want.
Lady Capulet who leads Paris, Juliet’s intended marriage and Juliet upstairs. The costume Paris is wearing, an astronaut’s suit, symbolises him as also out of this world and someone who is meant to be up there with Juliet. This introduces a new theme of Fate which goes against Romeo and Juliet’s love all throughout the film. Luhrmann uses medium shot eye-line matching while Romeo and Juliet have eventually found out who their real identities are and realise the reality dawning on them. This is seen as the beginning and the end of the whole relationship.
This event helps the viewers feel more sympathetic towards Romeo and Juliet because so far both Romeo and Juliet’s characters are seen as pure and loving. While Juliet is dancing with Paris after being taken away from Romeo by the nurse, she is constantly looking at Romeo and he is also admiring her. This is shown by the eye-line matching. The eye-line matching is done in fast cuts which continually indicate their desire for each other because they don’t want to lose sight of each other. This shows their love-stricken feelings and emphasises their love to the viewer.
The soundtrack in the background is Des’ree singing ‘I’m kissing you’ while Romeo and Juliet are repeatedly looking at each other, the mood in here is romantic and every time the viewer hears those lyrics, the audience notices that R&J are looking at each implying that is what they’re thinking of. Throughout this incident of R&J finding out each other’s identities. Luhrmann uses slow cuts and the camera movement is also slow. This technique intensifies the moment and gives impact to the audience’s reactions because by now we’ve established that the audience have sympathy for R&J.
Overall, this film has successfully used various types of method to convey different character, themes and moods by using a great number of directing techniques with Baz Luhrmann’s own style. Luhrmann has used all of the Act 1 Scene 5’s aspects to create tension and suspense for the audience in different ways. On the whole, Baz Luhrmann’s version of Act 1 Scene 5 has shown and proven that the film has more to it than it seems and viewers need to read between the lines to understand the full meaning and message of the film.