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    Romeo and Juliet Film Openings

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    An exploration of the ways in which the Two Film Openings present their Characters and Themes, and set up the basis for the story of the Whole Film

    The Italian director Franco Zeffirelli directed the first film of Romeo and Juliet. Zeffirelli wished to portray the authentic pre-Elizabethan settings of the story. This film reached our cinemas in 1968. The film was a huge success, not just among highly literate adults, but for the general public. It won Oscars for Best Cinematography and Costume Design, and was also nominated for the Best Picture and Best Director awards. The film opens with a faded, long shot overview of the city Verona. In the middle of this image is a river, reminiscent of a division line, to symbolize the rivalry and the separation of the two families, the Montagues and the Capulets.

    The Capulets bite their thumbs and spit at the Montagues, which stirs up an argument, which turns into a fight. This involves everyone, not just the two groups who started the argument.

    Tybalt’s character is introduced presently. He steps out of the crowd and there is silence. The camera focuses on him for a little while, angling him from his lower body, then slowly moving up to the rest of his body. His face is slowly focused upon which is lit up. This demonstrates his significance and high status. His clothing is clearly more upper class than the other Capulets. He holds his head high and his posture is very upright. This demonstrates him as a powerful and confident person.

    The fight takes place in the town centre to show that the rivalry is citywide. The camera is unfocused at this point, to illustrate general chaos and communicate a sense of confusion. The action takes place off-centre, and many buildings are focused upon, the church is strongly emphasized. This suggests that religion is relevant to the action of the play. The sound effects are realistic including screams and shouts.

    Suddenly there are mutterings of “the prince”, and the people are silenced and end the fight. The prince is shown on a horse, higher than everybody else and the sun shines behind his head. This gives a halo effect, which works well for he is the dominant figure who is trying to stop all the fighting. Just as with Tybalt, the camera angles at his body, working its way up which also emphasizes his importance and strength. We watched the film up to the arrival of the prince.

    Baz Luhrmann directed the other film we watched. Luhrmann took a gamble when he turned Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and turned it in to a modernised version set in the 1990’s. However, Shakespeare’s original language is used. Fortunately it was a success, and won a number of awards including Nominations for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Leonardo Dicaprio (Romeo) won the Alfred Bauer prize for best actor. The newscaster informs us the fight that has happened is the 3rd civil brawl. This provides a bit of background, for we know that there have been previous brawls, and the conflict is not fresh.

    Following this are very rapid transitions of many images and shots, too quick to allow us to observe them closely, but building up the idea of rivalry and chaos. The full impact of the rivalry and conflict is still clearly conveyed. This is a contrast to Zeffirelli’s film when he provided us with one image to study and concentrate upon. Examples of these include images of the city, bold letters of Fair Verona. There are shots of newspapers and magazines, which show that the rivalry is covered by the media. There is statue of Jesus holding the Montagues and Capulets apart. This not only symbolizes rivalry, but similarly to Zeffirelli, using a church, Luhrmann introduces the notion that somehow religion comes into the play (which it does, in Romeo and Juliet’s marriage, and the friar).

    During the opening sequence it is impossible to forget we are watching a film, as Luhrmann provides a series of conspicuous transitions, distancing us from the characters. The aim of this is so we take in the full impact of conflict. The soundtrack accompanying these images is a dramatic, choral type of music, which builds up the tension. The same introductory speech about the star-crossed lovers, which was read out to accompany the opening image Zeffirelli’s film, is read out, but in a less prim and precise manner. The voice reading the prologue has got an American accent, in contrast to Zeffirelli’s film, where the man has an English accent, and all the words are spoken very distinctly.

    This rapidly cuts to a scene where the Montagues are portrayed. Similarly to Zeffirelli’s film, the division between the two rival groups, the Montagues and the Capulets, is clearly established by their dress.

    The Montagues are presented as punks and rebellious, with their coloured hair and Hawaiian style shirts. They appear very immature and childish, messing around and joking with each other. A punk-rock soundtrack accompanies their entrance.

    The Capulets on the other hand appear very menacing and sinister. They are viewed feet upwards, showing their shoes, which have metal spurs up to their gun holsters, and black suits. Western styled music accompanies their entrance, giving the idea that they are similar to cowboys. The Capulets appear to be a mixture of cowboys and gangsters. The Montagues and Capulets have swapped roles in this film, but the difference between them still gets displayed well. Luhrmann does not force us to use our mind in any way, he even puts badges on the Capulets and the Montagues, to reinforce the theme of the rivalry between them.

    Zeffirelli portrays the important characters through the lighting and focus of the camera. Luhrmann however goes to the trouble of introducing the main characters by giving tableaux introductions.

    Tybalt’s character is introduced with the tableau, title sequence quoting “Prince of Cats”. This instantly makes us think he has a high status, the word prince referring to power. He has a sneering facial expression, and a twiddle with his gun, trying to make out he is a gunslinger, although we later on learn that this is not the case. His posture is straight and he holds his head high, portraying confidence. Although there is the obvious difference in period and costume, the character of Tybalt is presented in a similar fashion in both the film extracts. In Luhrmann’s film he too is filmed feet upwards, portraying his as a figure of power and strength.

    The character of Benvolio is also presented in a similar fashion in both films, although naturally due to the difference in period, they bear little resemblance. He is a lot quieter than the others, and hides in the car until he if forced to come out and participate in the fight. This shows he is less willing to fight.

    In the Zeffirelli film, Benvolio gets stabbed in the face. However, in Luhrmann’s film he gets shot in the face, which is an example of the modernised techniques of Luhrmann. Luhrmann makes the fight take place at a petrol station, as opposed to a market place.This is because petrol is associated with fuel, and it is a well-known fact that petrol is highly flammable. Luhrmann gives a number of close shots on a sign reading “add more fuel to your fire”. This makes it very predictable that a fire is going to break out, and because the camera concentrates upon the cigarettes that the Capulets are smoking, it’s a sure bet that they are the ones who will be responsible for the fire.

    The fighting scene is purposefully very unrealistic. There is an upbeat soundtrack playing along to it, including the sound effects of guns. During the fight the effects of slow motion are applied which creates impact, and interest for the viewers. An example of this is when Tybalt takes a giant leap, his motion slowed down. This suggests that he is going to do something dangerous, and it keeps our concentration as viewers. Although he previously acted as if he was a gun expert, doing fancy movements with his gun, we soon this is not the case. He squint’s his eyes as he shoots, which suggest two things, he is ignorant about handling a gun, and he is scared about the outcome. So although he is portrayed as ruthless, he must have a moral conscience.

    One of the most significant actions is when the petrol barrel is shot at, and Tybalt drops his cigarette. The predicted outcome occurs, and the whole area is set alight. The fire is a symbolism for hatred, and the fact that the whole area is alight shows how quickly hatred can spread, and just how lethal it can be.

    Following this scene, there is an overview of ambulances and police helicopters. Which we were previously shown before the action had occurred.

    The main difference between the two films is the time periods they are set in. Zeffirelli keeps to the pre-Elizabethan period, the time in which Shakespeare set the story. Zeffirelli preferred to stick to authentic settings. Luhrmann, in contrast, sets his story the late twentieth century. He has created an original and interesting film.

    When Luhrmann was making the film Romeo and Juliet, he had to bear in mind Zeffirelli’s film was out. Luhrmann was aware that if he stuck to the authentic settings of the story, his film would be very similar to Zeffirelli’s, and would not be very popular. Although Zeffirelli states in the opening that Romeo and Juliet is a story, he aims for realism. Luhrmann’s film is somewhat artificial. Zeffirelli’s film is in sequential order, whilst Luhrmann gives flashbacks and future images, which creates a lot of confusion. The presentation of the characters’ personalities is quite similar in both the films, Tybalt as a powerful, confident person, and Benvolio as a timid, nervous person. The theme of conflict is used and conveyed in different yet very effective styles in both the films.

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    Romeo and Juliet Film Openings. (2017, Nov 07). Retrieved from

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