Romeo and Juliet Adaptations

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I believe that the (1961)‘West Side Story’ film version of Romeo and Juliet is superior to the later version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ directed in 1968 by Franco Zeffirelli. Jerome Robbins, the director of ‘West Side Story’, having a different aim/ representation of Romeo and Juliet has used various effective techniques to produce his film – which I consider to be more successful. Robbins chose it to be a transformation of Romeo and Juliet & not the original play from Shakespeare, but that’s not the only reason, if it is one, to acknowledge it as superior to Zeffirelli’s film. Each director has used divergent ideas in their techniques, so different yet only to provoke from their audiences the same response. Therefore to determine which film is superior, you would have to consider those techniques. These range from visual techniques, such as theme, symbolism and colour, to auditory techniques which are just as significant as the filming techniques (types of camera shots and location of filming). Finally the most crucial factor shall be discussed – the audience response. It is the evaluation of the director’s success in achieving his purpose and the main reason why I have determined ‘West Side Story’ to be superior. To elucidate my arguments I will be using three scenes from each film for easier comparison. Gathering a conclusion from any three scenes would be quite biased, therefore I have chosen the main scenes of Shakespeare’s story. These major scenes cannot be omitted, even in the film, because without them the story wouldn’t be able to advance. This makes sure that those scenes & comparison points were of equally high importance in both films (despite each director having a different theme or idea). The first scene would be the fated meeting of Romeo and Juliet (dance scene). The second would be ‘Mercutio’s death’ and the third is the ‘Crypt scene’. The techniques used in these three scenes of both films will be noted and compared to each other. Location of filming was important to support the theme, mood and genre; West Side Story was a transformation of Romeo and Juliet adapted in the 1950’s context of America, therefore it was set and filmed in New York. Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet was completely based on Shakespeare’s original play; hence it was filmed in Italy. Both films could be classified as tragedy, romance and comedy as well. WWS however was also a musical. The representation of Romeo and Juliet directly affects the rest of the scenes. As Zeffirelli had chosen to do a dominant representation of Romeo and Juliet, his locations were strict. The ‘Fated meeting’ was played at the Capulet’s party, ‘Mercutio’s death’ was played out in the town square – in Shakespeare’s play it was indicated that it was in some public place – and the ‘Crypt scene’ was played truly in the tomb of the Capulets. WWS definitely couldn’t have used the same type of locations for America in the 1950’s. The dance, where Maria and Tony meet, is held in some public hall and was not organised by the ‘Capulets’. ‘Mercutio’s death’ was played at night in some secluded area with high fences. There was no crypt, but that did not mean there was no crypt scene. The scene was located somewhere on the streets, where it made better sense to have security guards prowling and meeting ‘Paris’, since ‘Juliet’ does not die in this film. Both films had advanced filming techniques, such as the use of establishing shots to portray the neighbourhood (in WSS) and the city, long shots to show the relationship between objects and people and close shots (though they were rare) to show precise actions. In WWS, close shots were used mainly on Maria and Tony to show their reactions on meeting. Their dazed facial expression was the focal point as they first sight each other in the ‘dance scene’. ‘Mercutio’s death’ was filmed in mostly medium shots, even when the wound was inflicted and the ‘Crypt scene’ didn’t have many close shots...
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