Zeffirelli’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’…AKA the one with Zac Efron’s Doppelganger

As a teenager, I was, of course, forced to watch Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet in my English class. I remember it quite well because I had already seen the movie several times and as such, was personally annoyed each time a boy in class snickered. I may have given one of them a lecture on the subject…though of course, I can’t quite*cough* remember.

I first saw the film when I was thirteen. In fact, I’m fairly sure it was around the same time I first watched Titanic – which is fitting considering the stories are quite similar. On a story level, there is no new ground covered in this film. There have been countless Romeo and Juliet adaptations, another notable one being made in 1936 with Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard. Let’s just say, at the ages of 43 and 34, respectively, they weren’t exactly teenagers.

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Zeffirelli’s version of the film is an undisputed classic. It tells the story in an artful, beautiful way and a major part of that is because of its young stars: Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting. Olivia was only 15 when she shot the film, which is coincidentally, the age that Juliet is actually supposed to be. Whiting was 17, just a few years older. He also now can’t not be compared to actor Zac Efron. He’s basically the British Zac Efron, at least in look.

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I mean, that’s Zac Efron, right??

Since 1968, the story has been adapted in film several more times. Most recently, there was a film version made in 2013 starring Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld and helmed by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. While there was nothing wrong with the adaptation, there was nothing that really set it apart. Conversely, many people fell in love with the 1996 adaptation which starred Leo Dicaprio and Claire Danes. Despite loving its two leads, I was not a fan of Baz Luhrmann’s take on the story; though, I do give him credit for doing something different.

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1996 Adaptation

To me, the 1968 version of the film is best classic adaptation. It tells the story very simply, but it’s fresh and fun and accessible. Here are just a few reasons you should watch even if you don’t have an English teacher forcing you to…

THE MUSIC

I know, I know. I mention music in all my posts. Well, what can I say? Music is a huge part of a movie experience. Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet is no exception. The score by Nino Rota is absolutely beautiful. My favorite song below: “What is a youth?”

THE CAST

So, I’ve already spoken a bit about Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting. They were spectacular in their roles, especially Olivia. She comes off extremely genuine and I think a huge part of that was that she was brand new. Whiting was equally unpolished and real. The film also has some great character actors in supporting roles. The most notable include Michael York’s performance as Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, Pat Heywood as The Nurse, and John McEnery as Mercutio.

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THE LANGUAGE

I know this film didn’t create the words. Shakespeare did, but just like Aaron Sorkin, his words were written to be performed and they are performed so well in this film. It just makes me sad…can we please go back to talking this eloquently?

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RANDOM TIDBITS

Funny story. So, apparently, many young people were not allowed to see the film due to the one scene of brief nudity – Olivia’s breasts flash on screen for quite literally a second. She apparently wasn’t allowed to go to the premiere either because of it. I mean, I could see how detrimental it would be to see YOUR OWN BREASTS onscreen. Ha. Oh, the drama!

Also, director Franco Zeffirelli had already directed one of Shakespeare’s other plays for the big screen. He made Taming of the Shrew with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor just a year earlier.

Oh, and SUPER RANDOM TIDBIT, Olivia Hussey’s daughter is now an actress as well. Her name is India Eisley.  Her most notable role was in ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager as Shailene Woodley’s rebellious younger sister. Suffice it to say, India has a lot of her mom’s chutzpah!

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Olivia Hussey and her daughter, India Eisley

IT WAS A CRITICAL AND CULTURAL SUCCESS

The film was well received by both the critics and audiences around the world.

“…it has the passion, the sweat, the violence, the poetry, the love and the tragedy in the most immediate terms I can imagine. It is a deeply moving piece of entertainment, and that is possibly what Shakespeare would have preferred” (Roger Ebert).

But, more than that, the film has stayed alive through new young audiences. Olivia Hussey described this at a 40th anniversary screening of the film where she said she still gets letters from young teenagers who have just seen this film and it’s inspiring.

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I was lucky enough to see this movie as a young adolescent and it stayed with me. While I’ve grown up and realized maybe it’s not as romantic as I initially thought (I mean, they both die!), I still love the film and feel that it never gets old.

To all those boys who snickered in my English class: Well first of all, you’re jerks. And secondly, I hope you’ve grown into men who can appreciate this classic film. 😉

Also, how cute are they?

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Vintage trailer below:

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The #1 Feel Good Movie of Cinema’s First Century

If I’m ever having a bad day, there is one movie that no matter why I’m down, will always cheer me up. I don’t care if you’re not into musicals. Well, actually, that’s a lie. I do care. But, putting that aside, I believe that even if you’re not typically into musicals, you can’t NOT appreciate 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain.

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I can’t remember when I saw this movie for the first time. I’ve seen it so many times at this point, I truly know it by heart. But, that’s one of the things I love most about it: you can be any age and enjoy this movie. Recently, when I saw it at the Aero, I happened to sit next to a 3 year-old girl and her father. The little girl turned to me periodically, exclaiming “This is a funny movie.” She was completely engaged and her enthusiasm made me fall in love with the film all over again.

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If you’ve never seen Singin’ in the Rain, here’s a little synopsis to catch you up. The film takes place in the late 1920’s, right before the film industry was changed forever with the advent of talkies. Gene Kelly and Jean Hagen play Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, a pair of silent film stars who just completed their latest effort, The Dueling Cavalier. Lockwood meets Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds), an aspiring actress, and falls in love with her. When The Jazz Singer hits the scene, the executives decide to make Dueling Cavalier a talkie.

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That fails altogether when they realize at a test screening that the silent acting techniques don’t work in a sound picture. Kathy has a brilliant idea – make Dueling Cavalier into a musical, The Dancing Cavalier. There’s one problem though; Lina’s voice. Kathy volunteers to dub Lina’s talking and singing, and thus The Dancing Cavalier is a success. But what does this mean for Kathy going forward? DRAAAMA.

I’ve seen the movie many times in a movie theater and it really is just one of those all around entertaining, funny, feel good experiences. While apparently Gene Kelly didn’t regard it as highly as his other musical film, On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain is the film that has taken on a life of its own. It’s just one of those movies where everything came together, from the casting to the musical numbers to the satirical plot.

I was lucky enough to see Debbie Reynolds introduce the film at The TCM Film Festival a few years ago. Little tidbit: my dad routinely brags that when he saw the film in the 1980’s, Gene Kelly walked out after the film, holding an umbrella. It should also be noted that I yell Jerk! every time he mentions this. Not my fault I wasn’t born yet…

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If you’ve never seen the film, here are just a few reasons to put Singin’ in the Rain on your must watch list.

THE MUSIC. 

Can I make this ten reasons? The music in this film is so good, I guarantee it will be playing in your head for weeks. Below is one of my favorite numbers:

THE SATIRE.

This movie is smart, entertaining satire. The way they portray not only the film industry of the 1920s, but the transition from silent pictures to sound, is both hilarious and true. If this clip doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

DONALD O’CONNOR.

Donald O’Connor was a true talent and he’s exceedingly charming in this film. Just watch Make ‘Em Laugh. I dare you not to laugh. For seriously.

 

GENE KELLY AND DEBBIE REYNOLDS.

Yeah, he’s a bit older than her. Who cares? Their chemistry in this film is fun and alight with energy. They have all the tropes: the meet-cute, the banter…you’ll swoon. Especially when Gene sings this song:

JEAN HAGEN.

Jean Hagen is severely underrated in this film. She’s a bulk of the comic relief, putting on a hilarious fake voice. In reality, she actually had a lovely singing voice and little trivia: when Debbie Reynolds’ character is supposed to be dubbing Hagen’s voice, you’re actually hearing Hagen’s real voice.

IT’S VERITABLE HAPPINESS.

We desperately need movies that lift our spirits, inspire us, and make us laugh. Singin’ in the Rain surely fits the bill. This is one film that I’ve shown to many friends, many of whom swore to me up and down that they could never love a musical. But, somehow, they ended up liking it anyway. IMHO this movie requires frequent viewings and if you have the chance to see it in a movie theater, please GO! The film is veritable happiness and to prove my point, try not to smile at the Gifs below!

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Vintage trailer below:

 

Atticus Finch and #FatherDaughterGoals

In the wake of Harper Lee’s death this morning, I thought it’d be a good time to talk about a film that’s pretty up there on my list of favorites.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why is this girl talking about that book/movie I was forced to read/watch multiple times throughout my educational career? Well, that’s how I used to feel too. I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time in middle school and I remember mostly skimming the book and then looking it up on sparks notes – C’mon, we all did it at one time or another! A few years later, when I was in high school, I was assigned to read the book again. This time, I decided to actually read it and promptly, fell in love.

I had seen the movie before I had heard anything about the book. I didn’t remember too much about it, but having fallen in love with the book, I felt like the film required a second viewing. I watched it with my dad and I’m not ashamed to say that by the end, I was tearing up a little. Well, I mean if we’re being honest, I was balling. It instantly became one of my favorite movies. It had all the things I love: great acting, coming of age fun and a story that really meant something.

So, here is my plea to you if you’re not in love with it. Give it another chance. Just because it’s a staple, we seem to discount it and forget just how powerful and poignant it  still is. And, of course, sadly, many of the racial tensions it comments on are still alive and well in our country today.

Here are just a few things you’ll miss by not watching To Kill a Mockingbird:

GREGORY PECK GIVES AN OSCAR WORTHY PERFORMANCE

I love Gregory Peck and before I really became obsessed with To Kill a Mockingbird, I knew him mostly from Roman Holiday in which he is fantastic. But Mockingbird introduced me to a different Gregory Peck, a more resolute, calm, and infinitely wise one. The scenes between him and his on-screen daughter, Scout (Mary Badham) should be required viewing for…well, everyone.

Here’s a little throwback to his 1963 Oscar Speech:

 

THE FILM’S SCORE IS ONE OF THE BEST EVER WRITTEN

As I’ve said before, music can have an enormous impact on a film. If it’s the right score, the music almost acts as another character. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Elmer Bernstein’s score is inextricable from the film’s themes and characters. When I saw the film in theaters a few years ago at the TCM Film Festival, the open sequence almost made me tear up — mostly because of the music. Watch and I think you’ll agree:

 

IT’S ONE OF THE BEST COURTROOM DRAMAS EVER MADE

The courtroom scenes in this film have major tension. And the performances of Brock Peters and Collin Wilcox Paxton are a huge part of that. They’re understated and intense. Gripping and thought provoking. And the film certainly inspired all the courtroom dramas that came after.

 

IT’S ABOUT SOMETHING

This seems almost ridiculous to say because all films should be about something. But, this film in particular just comments on so many things so beautifully. It’s about growing up, it’s about the south, it’s about the depression, it’s about civil rights, it’s about humanity.

 

AND IT ACHIEVES MAJOR #FatherDaughterGoals

This movie will always hold a special place in my heart if only because I shared it with my dad. The film is about a father and his children, but I, of course, always related to Scout, being a girl. I’m lucky that my dad has a lot in common with Atticus Finch.

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If you haven’t seen it or if you have, but were too young to appreciate it, then I urge you to give it another shot. If you have any problems with it, you can take it up with me!!

Vintage trailer below…

The Red Shoes: The Quintessential Ballet Film

Last night, something rare and wonderful happened. My little brother decided to let me show him a movie of my choosing. If you knew my family and our film craziness, you’d know just how rare it really is. I decided to show him a film which inspired me when I first saw it and with that in mind, here’s a little background on how I was originally introduced to the film.

Years ago, I saw a documentary called A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies. Prolific fimmaker Martin Scorsese talks about all the films that inspired him when he was young, the films and artists that made him fall in love with movies. One of the films he talked about was Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes. It was only shown for a moment in the documentary but I knew I had to see it.

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As Roger Ebert explains in his review of the 1948 film, The Red Shoes is really an amalgam of two kinds of stories. Powell and Pressburger melded multiple genres to create something truly original and daring, especially for the time it was made in.

“One story could be a Hollywood musical: A young ballerina falls in love with the composer of the ballet that makes her an overnight star. The other story is darker and more guarded. It involves the impresario who runs the ballet company, who demands loyalty and obedience, who is enraged when the young people get married” (Ebert 2005).

Moira Shearer turned down the role for a year before giving in. She was just starting out as a ballet dancer and didn’t want her reputation to be tarnished by the film. However, she ended up giving in and although the process of making the film was apparently arduous, the film has gone on to be considered a revered classic of British cinema.

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Personally, I tend to be drawn to dialogue and storytelling over the visual nature of a film. But, I have to say The Red Shoes is all about the visual. What stuck with me after I saw it were images and the glorious color that just doesn’t exist anymore. There was fluidity and beauty is every shot. Now, I understand, that much of the credit for that goes to the prolific cinematographer of the film, Jack Cardiff.

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It is said that this film inspired a generation of young girls to become ballerinas. I can see why to some extent, but I also feel that, had I seen this as a young girl, it would deter me from dancing professionally. While it doesn’t take as harsh a view as Darren Aronovsky’s 2010 film, Black Swan, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the sacrifices it takes to make it as a ballerina. The film purports to say that you can have love or art, but not both. Never both.

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Another aspect of the film which interested me as a teenager was the character of Lermontov played by Anton Walbrook. He was interesting because he wasn’t simple. There was obviously jealousy and resentment and possessiveness of Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) but it wasn’t clear why. It wasn’t romantic. I interpreted it as almost as a jealousy of Victoria being able to have everything she wanted: both love and a great artistic career. Maybe it was something he wanted to have earlier in life, but couldn’t. It isn’t clear.

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For me, a great film inspires conversation. Whether it be about the story or the cinematography or the acting or the dancing is not important. Someone created something which made you think. I think there is something for everyone to appreciate in this film. It certainly has stuck with me over the years. We’re just lucky that Scorsese championed the restoration of this film so that it can still be seen in all its beauty 68 years after it was made.

Vintage trailer below:

Added tidbit: Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s editor throughout his long career, was actually married to Michael Powell. Scorsese met him through a publicist and introduced the pair. Sadly, they were only married a few years before Powell’s death in 1990.

Brief Encounter, the best romance film you’ve never heard of

Alright, so maybe I’m being glib or pompous to say that you’ve never heard of this film. However, in my experience, unless you’re a film historian or classic film junkie, you haven’t. First things first; the title of this 1945 film is Brief Encounter, not to be confused with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I don’t know why I find myself correcting people on that so often, but just to be clear; they are two very different films.

I first became introduced to this film in my late teens. My dad told me that when he first saw it, in his early 20s, he didn’t appreciate it. However, he thought that given that I was female (how sexist can you get?) that I might be different. So, we watched it and thus began one of the most powerful movie watching experiences I’ve ever had. The movie was so well done and so poignant (even today!) that I found myself thinking about the movie long after it was over.

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The film stars Celia Johnson as a British housewife and mother who happens to have a chance meeting with a Doctor played by Trevor Howard while at a train station one day.

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Both of them have spouses who are not at all evil. They have children. They have lives. And yet, they can’t help their feelings for one another. Celia Johnson’s voiceover lets us in to her private thoughts and feelings. In film, when there is an affair, there tends to be stereotypes. The people cheating are often vilified. This film sets to explore the reasons behind their actions in an adult way.

The film was directed by David Lean, whose credits include such epics as Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia. Brief Encounter is not an epic, but he makes it feel like one. It’s a small story about two people. The film is quiet, but powerful. Much of that comes from the script which was adapted from Noel Coward’s one act play, Still Life.

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I love this movie so much because it’s understated, intimate and sincere. You feel like you’re going through everything with them. The score of the film, Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, along with the beautiful, haunting black & white cinematography lift this film to epic status.

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This is not a happy movie. In fact, it’s particularly depressing. But, it feels real and takes you on an emotional journey. Also, it gave us some of the best lines in film…ever (IMHO).

Also, little known fact: Billy Wilder, the famed writer and director, saw the film and got caught up thinking about the guy who owns the apartment, so caught up that he made a film about it with Jack Lemmon called The Apartment.

Vintage trailer below.