Last night was about watching for the 20th (or so) time Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Altough the movie was released in November 1996, and therefore celebrates this month its 20th anniversary, it has managed to remain as ageless as the Shakespeare’s masterpiece it is based upon. Here is why Romeo + Juliet is definitely iconic :
First of all, the daring commitment to the original language : Shakespeare’s text is strictly followed all along, while the surroundings and the characters are set in a modern Verona Beach. The movie was shot in Mexico, but the vision conveyed by Baz Luhrmann makes the country almost irrelevant. And that’s the point. All that counts is the overwhelming presence of religion (Jesus and Mary are pratcially everywhere) and the gang war, which are also the main components of Shakespeare’s play. One could have thought that clashing Shakespeare’s language with Hawaiian shirts, Mercutio with a transvestite and Queen Mab with ecstasy would have made a big mess out of the orginal, but all that comes out after 20 years is the impression the movie could have been shot in 2016. Because the language makes it all stick together through time. : by choosing the reveal the modernity of Shakespeare’s words, the movie remains modern itself. An anti-wrinkle bet that is still paying off 20 years after.
Then there is the prophetic cast : a young and confidential Leonardo DiCaprio,21, as Romeo, (he will land Titanic just after this movie), facing a teenage-series-acclaimed (My So-Called Life) Claire Danes, 17, as Juliet. Is it because there did so great playing these legendary characters that they happened to make a stellar carreer, or because Baz Luhrmann already felt their huge potential when he cast them ?
Anyhow it was a star-crossed choice (:-)
No to mention the superb John Leguizamo as Tybalt, the blazing Harrold Perrineau as Mercutio (who will ever forget his cross-dressed Queen Mab monolog ?) and the also- confidential-at-the-time Paul Rudd as preppy Dave Paris ? And finally, the award-winning actress Miriam Margolyes, who gave to Juliet’s Nurse an unforgettable persona, reminding that Shakespeare’s plays were also very rich for secondary parts, provided you had great actors to play them.
Of course, at the time Romeo+ Juliet came out, Catherine Martin was not as famous as she is now, and not yet married to Baz Luhrmann (they tied the knot in 1997). But you can already see her incredible talent with costumes, which will later get her in the spotlight for Moulin Rouge (2001) and The Great Gatsby (2013). Her magic mix seems to hang in a subtle blend between the current fashion and timeless references : in Romeo + Juliet, some of the costumes are fit to go with their time (think about Romeo’s suit, so 90’s, Juliet in a white T-shirt and jeans, so CK One…), while others will last forever : Juliet as an angel at the costume party, and Romeo’s Hawaiian shirts that are currently displayed at Opening Ceremony…
But great costumes would not have made it without the magic sets : the Montaigu and Capulet mansions, the broken theater in Romeo’s opening scene, the fish tank where the couple first meet, the elevator where they first kiss, the funfair where the gangs fight… All of them were cleverly thought and mesmerizing enough to make sense for 20 years… And more.
And finally, the cherry on the cake, the soundtrack ! Who would have thought that Shakespeare’s words would be supported by the likes of Garbage, Radiohead, Kym Mazelle or Des’ree ? And the fact is it seems obvious when you watch the movie. Is it again because these artists had a timeless potential or because they were featured on that soundtrack that they are still listened to today ? Who knows, but it gives again a timeless touch to the whole movie.
You can listen to the full soundtrack here :
In order to celebrate the movie’s anniversary along with Shakespeare’s, 400th, Baz Luhrmann released lots of backstage props and details on his Twitter and Instagram account. If you are more than 20 (like me) and want to take a dip into your teens, or if you are 15 or more and want to get hacked by one of the greatest movies of our time, just go and check them out. It might drive you to see the movie right away, either for the first or thirtieth time, and to fall in love (again), forever…