Romeo and Juliet

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‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a classical tragedy written in 1594. The play is remarkable for its fine language and powerful portrayal of character. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ has been popular with audiences for generations and has been made into several successful films. One of the people who did this was Baz Luhrman. Baz Luhrman has cleverly used a mixture of sounds, lighting, camera shots, editing and images to create a powerful, exciting and enticing opening scene to his modern day film version of Romeo and Juliet.

His opening scene is based on the original prologue produced by Shakespeare, and has been modernised and put into images and text to represent key words from the script and to create a feel of the twenty-first century. The effect of placing the film in a modern setting is clever in the sense that it proves to the audience that this piece of Shakespeare’s work is timeless. It is a play that can be set in the past, present or future, and that can still hook an audience.

This is what makes the story appeal to a wider audience. For example, if you set it in present culture, it would be easier for the audience to identify with the characters, with the atmosphere and overall with the whole film. But, the problem that faced Baz Luhrman when he was directing the new version of Romeo and Juliet was that he did not know whether there would be an audience in a modern culture for Shakespearean stories. So Luhrman did not make this film with the old-fashioned, Shakespeare ‘purist’ in mind.

Instead, by using lively, modern images (swimming pool etc. ) with a modern rock soundtrack and young good-looking popular actors, he has taken Romeo and Juliet to an audience that would normally think of Shakespeare as a chore to be studied in school. However if Baz Luhrman wanted especially to target teenagers, he would have to change a few things: it has to have vibrant on-screen action, soppy love scenes and references to sex. By incorporating these three things into the film he can kill two birds with one stone.

He will have an action-packed film that is exciting and fun to watch, and a more romantic ‘chick-flick’, as this would be appropriate for modern day teenagers. Another reason for editing the text would be to keep the length of the film down to a more suitable length than a two-hour play. So, some text and descriptive poetry had to be removed. However this does not necessarily remove any of our understanding as speech can be replaced with images which, though a different way of communicating can add to our understanding.

The old Shakespearean language can be hard to understand, but images are more universal and can be understood by mostly anyone. The Prologue was used in the play as a way for people to know what was going to happen if they should miss sections and so they could get the general gist of it. In the modern film adaptation the Prologue plays a huge part at the beginning of the film. It is played three times over. Once by the news reporter on the television, again on signs around Verona City, and again as flashing text on the screen.

In the film the prologue is used to wet peoples appetite and get them interested and exited – loud powerful music and action during the prologue does this very effectively. The images chosen are images that represent the key words, language and themes that continue throughout the play. One of the ways in which he has done this is by using connotations. Connotation means an idea or meaning suggested by, or associated with, a word or thing; and this has been used in the first shot of the film. The news presenter has been clothed in red.

Not only is this a vibrant colour that stands out but also most people instinctively associate this with the theme of blood, anger and danger, or quite the opposite, with love. This is important for the audience to notice as this item of clothing suggest a theme in itself and has already set the scene whilst giving the audience an insight of things to come. Baz Luhrman has also presented the prologue visually by hiding the original script behind the news presenter showing it to the audience. The director has also done the clever thing of making each scene contrast from the previous and the next.

This juxtaposition not only makes the film more exciting to watch, but can highlight differences in peoples feelings and actions, and how it can effect others. A point where this can be seen is after Romeo and Juliet have been married, a scene of much joy and hope is contrasted sharply with the following more violent scene. In this scene Mercutio is killed by Tybalt, a scene where there is a raging sea and no sign of hope, and it is now apparent that Romeo and Juliet’s marriage is not going to work, or that is the feeling Baz Luhrman is trying to leave the audience with.

There are many more ways in which Baz Luhrman has represented Shakespeare’s prologue. It is through shots of the city, in which the film has been set, and, images of characters from the play. Baz Luhrman has followed the lines of the chorus and told it to the audience, effectively explaining it to them fully through merely a snap shot of film. ‘Two households both alike in dignity’, this has been represented to the audience as a full view of the city, with two tall buildings standing high above the rest.

On the roof, both hold a sign, one saying ‘Montague’ and the other saying ‘Capulet’. These are both a powerful reminder to the citizens of fair Verona about the importance of the two families and the status they uphold. In-between these reminders, stands a statue of Jesus, putting the thought to the audience that only God is powerful enough to put a stop to this ancient grudge of both the houses. Mr. Luhrman has chosen Jesus for this particular image because he is a peaceful figure; it is as if he is watching over the city.

These images are flashed in front of us, cutting from one shot to the other and then back again making the scene exciting and busy, keeping the audience interested and wanting more. Baz Luhrman has chosen to view parts of the prologue as text by flashing quotes across the screen in big, capitalised, bold text, with contrasting colours of ‘white on black’. This creates a drastic look and keeps the audience in interested, mesmerised and wanting more. Baz Luhrman then continues to bring the prologue into film by taking the key words from a line of the prologue, and finding an image to match each theme.

For example, violence is represented through quick flashes of police cars, chaos, and disturbance in the streets. This is done with ‘jerky’ shots, to give the opening a busy, energetic feeling and to make the audience feel they are watching this scene as bystanders on the street, with their own two eyes, making them feel involved and giving them a rush of enthusiasm. By doing this, Baz Luhrman is involving the audience and letting them feel and identify with the themes and characters, and again has given them another reason to want more.

Images of fire’s burning, helicopters and police, clips of fighting, shots of churches, are all incorporated in-between the hectic flashes of text and city shots to keep the audience aware of the full story and to calm the scene down when the adrenaline of it gets to high and doubles as the visual representation of Shakespeare’s original prologue. The opening scene of any play is extremely important because it can play a major role in establishing key elements throughout the rest of the performance.

The purpose of Shakespeare’s prologue in his original play is to summarise the story and ideas that are to follow. He does this by simply cutting down each complex scene and acts, into a single line so that the audience can form a basic idea of these elements involved to spark their interest in the play. At the end of an opening scene the audience have usually had an insight into the typical mood and language of the play and this is exactly what Shakespeare has enabled us to do by creating his prologue to Romeo and Juliet.

It also enables the audience to have a taster, an introduction of the style of the author’s writing. The opening of any play is always the most critical time. If an opening scene cannot grasp an audience’s attention in the first ten minutes, it is unlikely that the director/writer will succeed in holding it for the duration of the performance, be it film or stage. We, as an audience can tell that Shakespeare has thought about this and taken it into consideration as it shows so clearly in the prologue to his play.

I feel that Shakespeare wanted to create something that would appeal to a wide range of people. There was a want for the audience to understand his work, and because not all people might have been able to do this, he created the prologue in order to give people an outline of the plot and to help them to grasp it. He has used his prologue to help the audience, like nowadays we would help by using subtitles. Titles, colours and choir music for dramatic effect have introduced the characters to the audience.

By a simple five-second snap shot of film, we, the audience, know instantly the atmosphere amongst them and have a very clear sight of what is going on. From havoc and mayhem the camera sharply cuts to a car. As the window rolls down to reveal one of the fathers of the two families, his facial expressions reveal all. This man is obviously worried and serious. His collar is undone as a sign of stress and darkness surround him, light only appearing on his face. A dramatic crashing of drums builds on the atmosphere and places the name of the character across our screen.

Next, his wife is introduced. She looks at the camera in worry, hope and desperation. Baz Luhrman, the director, has cleverly chosen facial expression that can reveal so much through a second of film. This is effective and gets right to the point he is trying to get across. The nest couple are stood outside, in the rain, actually getting involved in the situation going on around them. This says a lot about them, and tells us that perhaps they are more caring as they are willing to forget their status and get out of their car.

The only light appearing on the couple is the flash of blue lights from the police cars, this is a very dramatic effect. Both, fully dressed in black clothes, a suggestion of dark times, sombreness, a time of mourning seriousness. Again, the man has undone his collar as a sign of stress. The governor is not aware of the situation going on, and so has been introduced smiling. The bright lights behind him are making us aware that he has had no part in the death-ending event , is ‘pure’ and impartial. It is obvious that the music has been implacably chosen to complement the introduction of characters and images shown.

A dramatic, high pitch choir music (choral) is ongoing but as the voice over recites the prologue, it quiets down. Behind every sentence behind the music is building up to a crescendo, leading the audience into the nest part of the scene. The tone of the voice over is deep and strong, but also manly. It is commanding and is telling us it has something very important to say, the seriousness of this sets the tone of the play. From this we see flashes of prologue, each line being shown to us with a crash of drums and with the climax building of the music.

It being written on screen, reinforces the whole purpose and meaning of this opening scene. It shows us the original text and again, seeing it written down is easy to see, and so is another try at aiming it at a wider audience. The images are continuously thrown at us, from one to another, sometimes without even giving us a chance to glare, but this is all done for dramatic effect and adds a rush of adrenaline to the film and to the audience building it all up to the climax of fireworks and a final blow from the drums, leaving the audience in suspense.

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