BY FAR the best Romeo and Juliet adaptation out there, this film is a classic for The Bard himself would be proud of. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring two then-unknown teenage actors as the star-crossed lovers, this movie oozes sensuality, humor and utter despair. Set, as the play is, in Verona, Italy, Romeo Montague meets Juliet Capulet and they fall in love at first sight. One MAJOR problem is that the Montagues and the Capulets are major enemies. We all know the rest of the story…what’s special here is the way Zeffirelli captures the passion and the intensity of the romance. And by using teenagers, we focus on what their young, impulsive relationship might really have been like. After-all, no one is more impulsive than an adolescent. And, then there is the music Zeffirelli picked (probably the most famous part of the movie) and the way he shot the film with such lush colors and muted lighting. Basically, if you’ve never seen an adaption of this story, this is the one to watch. And if you have seen others, this one will surpass all!

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This is a film that honestly brings Shakespeare to life…literally and figuratively. A brilliant movie that utilizes many of the Bard’s plays for dialogue and antidotes, but most notably Romeo and Juliet, the ever-tragic saga of Italian star-crossed lovers. The tragic lover story is key to this film…the movie follow Romeo’s plot, in a lot of ways, and even takes quite a few scenes directly from the play. But, then again, that is the gimmick here. Will Shakespeare, in the film, is supposed to be suffering writer’s block…longing for a muse to get him back in the creative spirit. Just when all hope is lost, he meets Viola, the well-to-do daughter of a wealthy family. As she becomes his muse, their story, verse for verse, scene for scene, mimics what Shakespeare is writing. So, Viola’s and Will’s love is really Romeo’s and Juliet’s as well. So, when I say that this film TAKES scenes from Romeo, that is how it’s supposed to work…since the story of the film inspired the play. And, boy, does it all come together with passion. It might sound confusing, but worry not, it’s just a bit hard to explain. All will make sense. Even if you are not a fan of the Bard, or you are not familiar with Romeo (how could you not be?), the story still plays well and is ever-entertaining. Though, it does help some if you are able to catch the nuances between the film story and the play. How art not seen the play? For shame, for shame. A plague on your house.

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When you hear about gangs in New York, do you automatically think of the Sharks and the Jets? When is the last time you heard someone say that they feel or look pretty when you didn’t think of West Side Story and the infamous song I Feel Pretty… “I feel pretty…oh, so pretty, I feel pretty and witty and bright…” If you don’t know that song, you might want to watch or even re-watch this film and I promise that soon, you will humming at least one of its many catchy, timeless tunes. Trust me, this film is contagious. More than most musicals of its era, this one is filled with songs and characters that are actually memorable. True, there is some corny stuff here but it wouldn’t be a 1960s musical with some sentiment. Part of the “difference” of West Side Story comes from the music itself…a score and songs written by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Both men perfectly capture the rhythm and energy of New York, but without forgetting about the grime and grit that goes along with any urban setting. Speaking of New York, this one is actually FILMED there…on the streets themselves…not on a set, like most musicals (and even many non-musical movies) of the day. So, the Jets and the Sharks are fighting about territory we REALLY see and can REALLY feel. The story, for the few who do not know, is really a modern day re-telling of Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed who were doomed from the get-go. Whereas Shakespeare’s couple had feuding Italian families to hinder their romance, here it’s rival gangs and, more importantly, different cultures that get in the way of the young lovers’ happiness (Tony is in a White gang…The Jets…and Maria’s brother, Bernardo, is leader of the Puerto Rican gang, The Sharks). The real draw to this one, though, is the music…which is good since this is a musical, right? I promise after you hear a few bars of America, you will be singing along for weeks…“I like to be in America…OK by me in a America…”

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