Romeo + Juliet and Artichoke

Goth Boy Meets Emo Girl
When Baz Luhrmann's version of Romeo and Juliet came out in 1996 I spent the first ten minutes or so of the film dumbstruck. What was this thing I was watching? It was so loud and frenetic and brash, especially when compared to the quiet and restrained staged readings I had seen, that it was as though I was watching a brand new story. I watched the movie again last weekend and decided that's exactly what this film does. It takes a story that is usually presented in an alien, archaic fashion and gives it to us in a way that I believe would have thrilled the author.

I realize that could be construed as a bold, controversial statement but I think can back it up. As I may have mentioned before, when something is seen as lowbrow a common phrase used to describe it is "It's not Shakespeare." But when Shakespeare was writing and working in the theater he wasn't Shakespeare either. He wasn't a literary god whose work was stuffed down the throats of students around the world. There wasn't an entire cottage industry dedicated to dissecting, annotating and footnoting his works. He was just a guy with a gift for words who, like every other entertainer, wanted to entertain everyone, noblemen and the commoners alike, while putting food on the table and clothes on the backs of his family. And if he didn't get the entertaining right, the masses were prepared to let him have know it.

Romeo + Juliet retains Shakespeare's beautiful, lyrical language, giving us, for the most part, the actual lines from the play. But since it's a film, a visual medium, and not a play, great big chunks of the dialogue have been cut, and parts of the story are rearranged. The tension between the feuding families is enhanced by making the Montagues and the Capulets owners of giant warring businesses, with the headquarters of both companies located next to each other, allowing owners and employees alike the ability to glare at each other all day long. Because the story takes place in modern day, relatively speaking, the swords have been changed to guns, there are car chases and other elements that you would ordinarily see in an action film. All of these changes work together to make the story as fresh and accessible to a modern audience as it was when the play was originally presented in the 1600's.

The opening sequence depicts a flashy showdown between the Montague Boys and the Capulet Boys, complete with details such as silver heeled boots, explosions, scary teeth and a lot of yelling. While we might shake our heads and think the whole thing is ridiculous and cartoonish, I think the scene owes more to the flamboyance of opera and the kind of very stylized acting that isn't seen so much anymore. The acting world turned towards naturalist acting some time ago and shows no signs of turning away, with exceptions for Carnival, circuses, pantos, etcetera. The characters are bursting with energy, mostly negative energy, which works really well with the story. When that simmering energy mixes with the heat of the Verona sun passions boil over and we get uncontained love and hate; the two necessary elements for this film.

One last thought before I move on - the one thing I really noticed this time around is how obsessed the main characters are with death. I took a look at
the script and the word death shows up something like 23 times. Juliet longs to die, Romeo dreams that he dies and Juliet finds him, kissing him and restoring him. Once I was aware of the frequent mentions of death, I'm sure I paid more attention to them, until at last I became convinced that Romeo and Juliet were probably the first, but are definitely the most famous of emo kids. Had they lived, they probably wouldn't have known what to do with themselves.

Not So Rude Mechanicals
If you've got the opportunity to head to Liverpool this weekend, you definitely should. Artichoke and La Machine are teaming up to bring us something magnificent, on the scale of The Sultan's Elephant that came to London two years ago. As you may recall that event, featured an enormous little girl, a fancy elephant, a spaceship and the streets of London. While the Liverpool event is steeped in secrecy, I'm guessing it's got something to do with Firebirds, mostly because they adorn the emails and the announcements I've been getting. Besides, I really like the idea of giant, mechanical firebirds flying in the Liverpool skies.

The Artichoke/La Machine event is part of a bigger celebration called Liverpool European Capital of Culture 2008. This enormous happening includes this month's wind up of Around the City in Eighty pubs, with quite a bit to choose from all the way through the end of September. There will be magic acts, comedy, free guided tours and several festivals. There will also be something called Ales from Another Crypt and another event called Ghostly Goings On – Tales of The Grapes, which takes place in Liverpool's "most haunted pub". Those two should get you in the mood for October, which of course brings my favorite holiday, Halloween.

This Just In:
I got an email from Artichoke as I was going to press entitled " The Spider has landed..." which said that a 13 meter spider was found clinging to the side of an abandoned building Thursday morning. The arachnid has been nicknamed La Princesse and by a group of French researchers. The email goes on to say, " The scientists believe the creature may be about to hibernate, and are attempting to prevent it falling into an inert state, as they are concerned at the potentially catastrophic results of the spider laying up to 1000 eggs. Scientists have therefore removed the spider from the building and taken it to a research base established at the ACC, at Albert Dock in Liverpool.

On Friday 5th September it is expected that they will attempt to wake it, under controlled conditions, at 11:30am."

Therefore by the time you get read this the spider will already be awake. Anything could be happening! Maybe even firebirds, although now I'm thinking the chances may be rather low. If you, like me, can't possibly make it to Liverpool this weekend you can follow the story at the official website.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from Paul Muolo who is reviewing the film that finally knocked The Dark Knight out of the number one box office position. "Ben Stiller's 'Tropic Thunder' is a send-up of war movies, in particular Oliver Stone's 'Platoon.' It has enough steady laughs and plot twists to hold your attention but the two actors who steal the show (by far) are Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. It's Cruise's best performance since 'Magnolia' which earned him a best supporting actor nod. Tom ('Put Me On Oprah's Couch") didn't win that year but he deserves a nomination." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at