Sunday, February 8, 2009

Eleni Pilla: "Negotiating Romeo and Juliet"

Eleni Pilla
Northern Arizona University

Negotiating Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet on the Big-Screen in Sound: George Cukor’s Romeo and Juliet (1936)


Ian MacInnes said...

I haven't seen the film, and I may not. It sounds perfectly dreadful! I find Cukor's own comments extremely interesting, though. On the one hand, he implies that he only realized later how bad his decisions were. On the other hand, he seems to imply that he was helpless before what he thought were the demands of Hollywood. I'd be interested to hear what Cukor thought the theme of the film was. Based on what you've revealed, it can't have been youth, or passion, or rebellion. What did he really want?

Eleni Pilla said...

Cukor stated that Shakespeare's play and the film deal with issues to do with youth. He also used Coleridge's criticism of the play in his discussion of the film. However, by casting mature actors and omitting references to youth, his actions indicate otherwise. Having studied the different articles in A Motion Picture Edition, and Cukor's "Making Romeo and Juliet" and "Directing Romeo and Juliet," I strongly believe that Cukor's artistic vision consisted of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet becoming wedded to Hollywood glamour and spectacle. By allowing spectacle and grandeur to reign supreme, the tragic aspects of Shakespeare's play are downplayed. Interviews of the director years after the filmic production also reinforce the idea that when producing the film he was primarily aiming to impress, something which he later regretted. He remarked very positively on Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet because that communicated youth, passion and rebellion. His own version lacked these characteristics. Cukor's film is worth watching and studying. I have never included it in any of the Shakespeare on Screen modules I have taught, but students are always interested in it when I refer to it because it is very different from the other screen versions of Romeo and Juliet.It would be very interesting to compare this to the Baz Luhrmann Romeo+Juliet, especially in light of the historical contexts in which the two were produced and marketed.

Rozalina Georgiou, Cardiff University said...

Thoroughly researched and well-informed, your paper makes a valiant attempt to provide an all-round discussion of a number of complexities that arise when any piece of "canonical" literature like Shakespeare is transferred by means of adaptation into another medium.
Following the argument you made, it does seem that the failure of Cukor's attempt was due to his "short-sightedness", i.e. his inability to take into account the dissymmetry between his resolve to sprinkle a bit of Hollywood glamour over Romeo & Juliet by using all means at hand, and the historicoeconomic conditions of his time. I was intrigued by the point you raised in your comment about comparing this version to Baz Luhrmann’s film. Although at first glance the two versions could not appear more different (a time span of exactly 60 years did intercede between the productions), both have been accused of overemphasizing spectacle at the expense of either the reality of society (Cukor) or poetic language (Luhrmann) when, interestingly enough, both make claims of originality over their interpretations. A comparison between the two, if you are willing to undertake it in a future paper, might offer valuable insight into the politics of production and reception, and the nature of adaptation itself.

Eleni Pilla said...

Thank you for your comments and suggestions. A comparison between the Luhrmann and the Cukor versions of Romeo and Juliet would enrich our understanding of the complex dynamics of the production and reception of Romeo and Juliet adapted for the big screen. There are some striking similarities between the two films which could be brought into a fruitful dialogue:
- casting of box office stars
- emphasis on spectacle especially through setting
- preoccupation with youth
- meeting of Shakespeare and Hollywood
- film genre and Romeo and Juliet as tragedy

This is certainly a project I plan to pursue in the near future.