How does the opening few minutes of Baz Luhrmann’s film “Romeo and Juliet” effect the audience? Describe how the use of modern medium and the director’s approach to filming and editing are used, to engage the audience in Shakespeare’s famous play.
Since the play “Romeo and Juliet” was first written it has moved through the times so that it appeals to a modern audience. Baz Luhrmann brought the play “Romeo and Juliet” into modern times in the form of a film. The film is staged in the fictional, yet contemporary, Verona Beach, a mesmerising blend of Miami and Rio. It is very effective, because it relates to a modern audience. The film is made to relate to a modern audience because of the use of guns, gangs, news reporters, dialogue and many other things to support the reading of moving images, which are analysed.
In the film Baz Luhrmann uses a variety of techniques to make it effective. He changes the shot types numerous times throughout the opening scene. Film language is based around the concept of the shot, which is the smallest element of the film. A shot is a continuos sequence of images. Framing can vary according to the main subject of the shot. Baz Luhrmann uses long shots, medium shots, medium close ups, close ups and high angle and low angle shots, all which add to the way we read the film. At the beginning of the film, as an introduction to the setting there is a long shot of a statue, against a large city with skyscrapers toped with the names “Montague” and “Capulet”. This sets the scene for the film, as it is showing where all of the action will take place, additionally it gives the audience first impressions of what the film is about. Baz Luhrmann uses very effective medium close-ups and freeze frames of the characters at the beginning; this is done to draw the audience’s attention towards them. Baz Luhrmann also uses a series of extreme close-ups that flash from Tybalts, to Benvolios eyes. This is to recreate a cowboy or western stand off effect.
This is a tension builder as it enhances the aggression and the hatred the Montagues and Capulets have for one another. It is furthermore for the audience to catch up or understand the plot so far. This is necessary because the audience is there to be entertained, excited and interested in this film and would be unable to do this if they were not following the plot. In the film high and low angle shots are used. These help the audience to read the characters. After the brawl at the petrol station has taken place there is a low angle shot of Captain Prince up in the helicopter, this shows him to be an authoritative figure with a high position in society. Following this there is a high angle shot of Tybalt and Benvolio at each other’s gunpoint this shows them to be vulnerable and at Captain Prince’s mercy. Finally to build up tension Luhrmann used close ups of the steel heels of Tybalts shoe, in addition this indicates the darkness of Tybalt, because the shoes are black and it was like a cowboy leading up to a duel. This adds to the anticipation of the audience, as they have not seen the characters face and don’t know what is about to happen.
Editing furthermore effects the audience, editing is the most crucial part of filmmaking. The editor has selected a variety of shots that have been filmed so that they all fit together adding lots of tension to the film, also the sound tracks are added during editing. The editor uses a variety of techniques to create the tension that is portrayed in the film. The prologue used zooming in, to introduce the audience to the play in a modern way so that the audience can relate to the action. At the beginning of the first scene lots of images flash up onto the screen of instants that happen further on in the play. This was done using cuts of different parts of the film and fitting them together, to show the audience what will happen later on in the play in an eye catching way that relates to the prologue. When introducing the petrol scene it was edited so that the camera zooms in on the two numberplates of the Montagues and Capulets cars swipes and shrinks off screen.
This shows he difference between the two sides, and gives the audience ideas of what is about to happen. Finally when the newspaper clips of past incidents flash up on the screen, this would have been edited, so that they draw the audiences attention to the headlines such as “Montague Vs Capulet”. This has been used to tell the audience what will happen later on in the play and it also emphasises on the prologue, displaying that it is an important factor in the film. The shots are only held on the screen for a few seconds because it makes the more effective and keeps the audience more interested because they have to watch carefully. The sequence goes at a fast pace, to catch the audiences eye, it is done in a way that we are used to and to build up anticipation and to move the story along quickly.
The lighting in the film creates atmosphere, a mixture of dark and light adds to the mood of the film like when they are talking and not fighting natural lighting is used whereas when the fight breaks out the sky goes dark. In addition fire is used to represent the anger of the brawl and to show the themes of anger and the feud between the families. It is also used to hint to the viewers what will happen later in the film. Fire is first used when the newsreel of the family trees is shown, it is used straight after and it indicates unrest and tension between the families. Fire is then used in the phoenix gas sign, this sign indicates a petrol station but the phoenix is a mythological bird that was connected with fire. So it represents fire, which represents anger between the two families, this could be a hint that something will happen, and it raises the tension.
Dialogue and voice over in the film give the audience clues about the characters and the audience information about what is happening in the play. In the prologue at the beginning of the film it is done using a news reporter on the television so that the audience can relate to the film. It is read like a modern news report so that the audience can understand and so that they are informed of what is going to happen. The voice over repeats the prologue to emphasise what is going to happen in the film and to inform the audience of the story with clips of the film being shown at the same time.
This would have been done in editing at the end of the film. The voice over is done seriously to capture the tragedy that is going to follow. From the Montague boys language the audience learn that they are childish and immature as they use sexual innuendoes towards the nuns. Before the Capulets arrive they speak boastfully and loudly, whereas when they arrive they speak very quickly and appear very unsure of themselves, to show that they feel intimidated by the Capulets. Benvolio is shown as the peacemaker from his dialogue as in all of the hysteria he talks calmly and suggests reasonable decisions. On the other hand the Capulets talk through their teeth and are very confident with what they have to say. This portrays that they are the stronger of the two gangs, it furthermore suggests to the audience anger and resentment towards the Montagues.
The music used in “Romeo and Juliet” is modern; it is music that appeals to young people, because bands like “Radiohead” are included. The first music piece in the play is when the voice over is repeating the prologue; it is choral, tragic music, which tells the audience that there could be a sad ending. Then at the beginning of the scene rap music is used with the lyrics “The Boys”. This helps the audience to decide what the characters are like. The music then stops when the Capulets come in, and cowboy, western music is played. This adds an effect of intrigue, and tells the audience that there is going to be a duel. Finally when the characters have been introduced and the fighting starts the pace of the music speeds up, and gives excitement to the action that is happening.
At the start of the first scene when the Capulets arrive at the garage it is silent like the calm before the storm. This gives the audience the impression that something is not right and that a serious incident is about to take place. When Tybalt throws his match to the ground there is silence apart from the crushing of the match when he stands on it. This gives the audience the impression that he is tough. When it is quiet at the beginning of the scene you can hear the wind, then the loud battle starts. The wind was used for excitement and suspense. When one of the Montague boys shoots at the ‘add more fuel to your fire’ sign repeatedly reinforcing the fire and anger theme, there are large bangs making the audience pay attention. It also tells the audience that there is probably going to be an incident with fire. Just before the climax of the 3rd civil brawl the petrol station catches fire and flames are shown.
Visual effects play a large part in the audiences understanding of the film. Baz Luhrmann uses written codes at the beginning of the film to help the viewers understand the changes that he has made to modernise the film, for example the swords in the play are replaced with guns to modernise the film. Luhrmann explains this to the audience by showing the lettering on Benvolios gun. Religious symbols are used frequently to suggest to the audience that the feud may be about religion. Luhrmann uses the statue of Jesus to reinforce the theme of separation between the two families as he shows the statue placed between the two skyscrapers of the Montague and Capulet. The religious symbol of the cross is used also shows the theme of religion on the front of the lettering of the prologue which, is visually shown after it is read by the newsreader. The waistcoat that Tybalt is wearing underneath his jacket has a picture of Jesus on it.
Additionally Luhrmann visualises the prologue to make it easier to understand and to make sure that the viewers really know what is going on, he also supports the prologue with visual images. Luhrmann also uses written codes to reinforce themes in the film; he does this on newspaper headlines, for example “Ancient Grudge.” Luhrmann uses the written codes in the form of the names of the newspapers, this tells the audience where the film is set, as one newspaper is called ‘Verona Today’. Also the sign ‘Adding fuel to your fire’ symbolises to the audience that Tybalt is the spark that causes all of the fighting, because he is the one that caused the fire with his cigar.
In the film, the Montagues are portrayed as skaters or punks whereas the Capulets are portrayed as Spanish looking people. This appeals to the modern audience because it relates to the gangs on the streets today. There is a strong use of colour in the film on the Montagues shirts, this suggests to the audience strong emotions. The use of two gangs shows the contrast between light and dark, the Montagues are portrayed to the audience as the light, good side, whereas the Capulets are shown to be dark and evil, this is shown by the clothes that are worn by the two gangs. The Montagues were bright vibrant colours and drive a bright yellow car; on the other hand the Capulets wear dark colours and drive a metallic blue, sleek looking car. This shows the audience the contrast between the two gangs. The film is set in a modern setting like New York because New York is known for its rival gangs.
It is also set in a petrol station because it gives the effect of danger and it’s a neutral territory for both gangs. The audience gets the impression that the feud is over religion or money because of the architecture. Tall buildings named after the Montagues and Capulets are shown and religious statues and casinos. The body language and facial expressions of the characters add to the effect the play has on the audience. Tybalt throughout the scene is portrayed to the audience as calm. You can see him talking through his teeth, suggesting that he is trying to hold back the anger that is building up. Costumes, hairstyles and makeup furthermore help the audience to see what the characters are like. The Montagues are wearing bright colours with fair hair showing that they are fun loving and young lads. Whereas the Capulets are darkly dressed with dark hair, suggesting that they always start the fights. Finally one of the Montagues has a black eye which shows the audience that there have been past fights.
The opening few minutes of Baz Luhrmanns play has a positive affect on the audience. The film is modern, so the audience can relate to it, because the soundtracks and the idea of skate punk Vs Spanish clean cut appeals to the young people of today.
Also people can identify with the film and the way it was directed helps the audience to understand what is happening and draw conclusions on the characters, before the film has introduced them properly.