Original classification rating: M.
This clip chosen to be PG
A TV news reporter describes a bitter rivalry in the city of Verona Beach. Engaged in the deadly feud are Romeo’s Montague family and the Capulet family of Juliet.
The opening of Romeo + Juliet is a bold statement of intent. This is not 'straight’ Shakespeare. The play’s prologue is read by a TV news reporter and the rapidly edited images that follow are used to identify key members of the Montague and Capulet families. The arresting introduction gives audiences a visually seductive snapshot of what’s to follow.
This clip shows the prologue to Romeo + Juliet, director Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s play. Luhrmann uses the prologue to locate the action in the contemporary fictional city of Verona Beach, USA, and to introduce the feuding families – the Montagues and Capulets. A television news broadcaster, reading Shakespeare’s original text, foretells the events that will lead to the tragic deaths of the young lovers. The action builds in a dramatically edited montage that includes images of violence and grief, intertitles and an operatic score that reaches a crescendo with the title.
Educational value points
- While retaining Shakespeare’s original text, Luhrmann appeals to a young audience by setting his film version of Romeo + Juliet in a contemporary city, with corporate warring families as the protagonists. The cinematography, rapidly edited montage sequence and modern soundtrack produce the cinematic feel of a music video or movie trailer. Phrases from the prologue appear onscreen as written text as they are spoken, helping the viewer to understand Shakespeare’s language.
- The prologue of Romeo + Juliet draws the audience into the world of the story by outlining the setting, the characters and the plot to come. These kinds of prologues are often in the form of a sonnet (a rhyming poem of 14 lines) and are read by a chorus or narrator. In this adaptation, a television newsreader and the narrator of a movie-trailer-style sequence replace the chorus. The movie trailer supports the foreshadowing in the prologue by showing future images from the film.
- The visual signs, images and text used in this clip support Shakespeare’s language to convey the ‘ancient grudge’ between the Montagues and Capulets. Potent images of office towers bearing the families’ names represent their economic dominance and their rivalry. The recurring images of a statue of Christ signal a moral tale of love, violence and death. The intertitles and news headlines emphasise the violent phrases ‘new mutiny’ and the spilling of ‘civil blood’.
- This clip illustrates Luhrmann’s integration of contemporary film styles with Shakespeare’s poetic language. The first shot of the pinpointed television screen is a cue to the viewer that this will be a modern interpretation. The zoom shots and camera angles of the narrated trailer sequence provide visual sweeps of the metropolis of Verona Beach and intimate close-ups of death and loss.
- The clip introduces the warring families that are central to the tragedy. In Shakespeare’s play the families are wealthy merchants, and similarly in Luhrmann’s adaptation Ted Montague (Brian Dennehy) and Fulgencio Capulet (Paul Sorvino) are rival heads of corporate conglomerates. Headshots of the protagonists, except Romeo and Juliet, are intercut with images of the aftermath of a violent street war, suggestive of a major crime scene.
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