Establish the genre and themes of the film Essay
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How does the opening sequence of “Romeo and Juliet” try to capture audience interest and establish the genre and themes of the film? “Romeo and Juliet” has a very effective opening sequence, the first four minutes set the story of the movie, giving you an idea of what’s to come. “Romeo & Juliet” is believed to have been written around 1595 by William Shakespeare. The story is about a pair of star-crossed lovers. Two teenagers pursue their love for each other despite the fact that their families have been at odds with each other for decades.
It is directed by Baz Lurhman who immediately captures the audience’s attention whilst establishing the film’s genre and themes using different methods. Baz Lurhman uses lighting and colour to capture the audience’s interest. “Romeo and Juliet” starts with a black background and a Television coming closer to the camera with a newsreader. The black focuses the audience’s attention onto the newsreader and what she’s saying. Colour symbolism plays a key part in this film and is already demonstrated by the newsreader. The reporter wears red perhaps signaling love, danger and passion.
Behind the newsreader is a sky blue screen, giving a feeling of coldness. Also Capulet and Montague are associated with red and blue. Colour symbolism is also demonstrated a lot in the opening sequence with grey, white, black, blue and red being the most common colours used. The colours grey, white and black are used in the clips of the newspapers with the black and white perhaps used as a contrast showing good versus evil or opposing sides. The grey can be interpreted as the families merging as white mixing with black makes grey or showing that the battles between the families isn’t as straight forward as it may seem.
Another frequently used colour is red, the cross between Romeo and Juliet’s name is red maybe indicating that there is blood shed, tragedy and passion between them. Romeo and Juliet’s names are white on a dark background, which in a way could be emphasizing their innocence in a dark corrupting world. The different family names (Capulet and Montague) are coloured as red and blue. Different lighting techniques are used alternate between day and nighttime adding dramatic effects to the beginning, in the daylight the consequences of the feud can be seen e. g. people fighting, with guns etc.
Strobe lighting is used to create the effects of police lights on the family’s faces of Romeo and Juliet, which is extremely effective and realistic reflecting modern day life. The next tactic used by Baz Lurhman to attract the audience’s attention is sound. The sounds helps set the atmosphere especially the music which keeps up with the images displayed on screen, the more dramatic the shots the more dramatic the music. For example when violent pictures are being shown the music becomes louder and faster. The music is exceptionally effective as the change of pace/dynamics in the music engages the audience’s attention.
The sounds used are both diagetic and non-diagetic, the voiceover and music is diagetic and the helicopter, newsreader are non-diagetic which adds to the realism of the opening sequence. The voiceover featured in “Romeo and Juliet” is very realistic, serious and atmospheric. The man reads out a phrase from “Romeo and Juliet” summing up the story of the film, the extract is portrayed in three ways in the form of dialogue and writing. The repetition of the prologue may be for emphasis, the director would have seen this as an important extract for the audience so portrayed it in different ways as, different things appeal to different people.
Another important part of sound is when the imagery of the guns are shown a choir boy sings a high note which could be interpreted as a scream, perhaps subtlety implying the hurt that has been caused by the feud. In the opening scene Baz Lurhman sets a lot of narrative clues and themes by showing different clips. A theme of violence is apparent with a lot of imagery of guns and police. In a way Baz Lurhman may have been trying to reflect modern day American society with guns being a common object on the streets as the film is also set in modern day New York.
Another clear theme is religion; the film is Christian based (catholic), this is apparent by the statues of Mary and Jesus placed between the two families, the cross between the name’s of Romeo and Juliet as well as the person shown in the clips wearing a veil. It is noticeable that there is rivalry between the two families, both businesses on the opposite sides of the street and that there is a war/conflict going on not just involving the family indicating that both families have power and authority as they have influenced people to take their sides.
Editing is an essential part of the opening sequence to attract the audience’s attention. The director Baz Lurhman edits the opening shots of the movie so the audience are introduced to the plot and characters (apart from Romeo and Juliet) before the film even begins. Jump shots are used at a very fast pace to reflect the speed of events in the play. There are variable scene lengths used to focus the audiences attention e. g. some scenes are long like when introducing characters compared to the shorter scenes when fast clips are shown of violence. Shots are interchanged very quickly e. g.
shots of the statues which are then relegated to the background in a way the director is setting themes in context for the audience. Scenes of pure text and visuals are also used to reinforce messages through different perspectives e. g. dialogue, newspaper or action etc. as different people take in information in different ways. In a way it is the directors way of getting people to keep up with what is happening in the film. Baz Lurhman also uses mis-en-scene to help capture the audience’s attention and establish genres and themes of the film. Shots are often straight and centered to emphasise things clearly e. g.
the statue of Jesus in closed into but is shown dwarfed by skyscrapers maybe showing a theme of religion versus business. This is a trend throughout the opening scene helping to classify major themes in the film such as police versus crime and Capulets versus Montagues. The use of news and media in the starting scene highlights how big a scale the feud has. The news and media are used to set the scene and to tell the audience what has happened so far in the film. Newspaper headlines are thrown into view of the camera with text from the original play, this may interest people in different ways gaining attention from them.
Another tactic used with the media to gain the audience’s attention is right at the start of the film. The newsreader’s voice begins minimalist and muted but getting louder to focus the audience on language. Whenever text is used in the beginning it is always put in it’s own frame to emphasise importance. Frames of later scenes in the film, which are violent and disturbing, are juxtaposed with shots of e. g. a choirboy in a church singing maybe signifying that innocence is evil, corruption and danger. The majority of shots are filmed at night perhaps Baz Lurhman was being symbolic emphasizing darkness.
Fireworks are also caught in one frame symbolizing passion, fury and anger in the plot. When the director is introducing the characters, there is one freeze frame for each character all in time with the music to focus the audience’s attention. Introducing each of the characters and unwinding their lives in the opening scene is helpful to gain the audience’s attention and to keep them interested. The audience is given clues to the current family situation e. g. the skyscrapers at opposite ends of the street with the family names written on them- “Capulet and Montague” hinting at opposing sides.
Also when the voice over is talking about “two foes” the images of the parents come across the screen. It is shown in the newspapers that the two families are the centre of media attention, leading the audience to understand what extraordinary and special lives they must live. It is also interesting the way Romeo and Juliet are portrayed in the newspaper picture, it is the only real time that you see them properly in the opening scene and they are shown as children. This may be a tactic used by Baz Lurhman to emphasise to the audience how innocent and victimized Romeo and Juliet both are.
The only other real time you see Romeo in the opening scene is him hiding and shying away from the outside world, again emphasizing him as a victim of his families feud. The parents of Romeo and Juliet when introduced, all seem to be in the middle of the action yet not included perhaps indicating that the feud has got so out of hand not even the Capulets or Montagues can control the situation. When all the characters are introduced they all seem very solemn and not portraying any emotion. But this isn’t the case for Dave Paris.
When he is introduced he is happy, well dressed and purposely made different by Baz Lurhman to make him stand out to look like the hero of the film. Mercutio is also made different when introduced, he is a different race from everyone else indicating his uniqueness as he is showing true emotion at the same time. He is shown on a dry, isolated landscape demonstrating his distant from the involvement of the feud taking place in the city. Another key character in the introduction is the police officer; he is shown involved in the middle of the action, but is wearing a uniform signifying authority and discipline.
There is also colour symbolism involved in the characters, Romeo’s mother has red hair, which may be an indication of her personality as people with red hair are said to be more passionate and quick tempered. This is also the case with clothing, the father’s of Romeo and Juliet show no emotion and are dressed normally, but with the mother’s of Romeo and Juliet although they show no emotion on their face but it is portrayed through their clothing. The mother’s clothing tends to be more flamboyant and colourful indicating to the audience distress.
Baz Lurhman effectively captures the audience’s attention throughout the opening scene using all these different methods. At one point in the opening scene you are shown an aerial view of the city and I feel that this is an essential scene. After the aerial view of the city is shown a violent, busy, intimidating clip of modern street life within the city is shown demonstrating that the city is complex and dangerous. Even though “Romeo and Juliet” is four hundred years old, it still relates to modern society.