directed by Baz Luhrmann
Exactly how would old Billy Shakespeare feel about his great love story getting the coked up, hurricane force abridgment treatment, courtesy of Baz Luhrmann? Snobs and purists can say what they want, but my guess is that he’d feel pretty damn good about it. Yes, Baz hacked Shakespeare’s magnificent prose down to mere tatters, and yes, he plows through the plot like a tweaked out trucker on an overnight bender, but he manages, through the chaos, to somehow tap into and exalt the spirit of one of the greatest plays in history. For it is, at its core, the whirlwind romance, the young and reckless love, the fleeting and whitehot power of youth and emotion and hormonal peaks. It’s rock and roll centuries before the term existed. Shakespeare’s talent for utilizing language is nearly unparalleled, and like Mr. S, Luhrmann understands what needs to be distilled from such rich fodder. Leo (yes, the Leo) and Claire Danes are a match made in heaven as the star crossed lovers, and John Leguizamo delivers hands down the best performance (even better than his excellent turn in Summer of Sam) of his life as Tybalt. For all of you that have been either dead or in a time warp for the last fifteen years, Luhrmann took Shakespeare’s masterpiece and rebooted it, making it present day, in Verona Beach, Ca, cutting the original dialogue to bits and changing the swords to guns (while still calling them swords). I have two final assertions to support my claim that Luhrmann’s filmic adaptation is tremendous:
- That Luhrmann captured the frenzied, fickle, powerful and dangerous energy of youth, love and idealism that Shakespeare made eternal in his original work.
- That if Luhrmann could somehow turn a new generation on to one of language’s greatest playwrights, then his bare bones adaptation is ennobled is some way.
You can hate all day, but it won’t change a thing. In fair Verona where we lay our scene, Baz Luhrmann crafted a piece of pulp classic gold that will be a thing to be treasured for a long time to come.
Note: It is quite possible that, due to the timing of this film’s release in relation to my life’s timeline, I was able to feel the power of this film more acutely than, say, if it came out five years earlier. I do not think, however, that if the very same film were to come out today, that I should regard it with any less affection, admiration or nostalgic fondness. As Maurice Sendack said when speaking about Spike Jonze, “He wasn’t afraid to make it his own.” Sometimes, too much reverence can be the slayer of inspiration.