In feature films meaning is created through many ways other than just words. Looking at the prologues of the two Romeo & Juliet movies, by Franco Zeffirelli (1968) and Baz Luhrmann (1997), it shows just how diverse the words can become by using different audio, technical, written and symbolic codes. In Zeffirelli’s Romeo ; Juliet feature film, he has a softer, flowing approach to the prologue in all aspects compared with Luhrmann’s production where most of the film codes represent violence, panic and destruction. The audio codes for Zeffirelli are calm and tranquil.
The voice-over has a soft male’s voice reciting the prologue almost like it is a bedtime story for children. He also does not narrate the entire prologue but omits the line “Is now the two hours traffic of our stage… ” and the two lines following that. This makes it seem more movie-like than play-like and since the narrator is not definitely talking to the audience, and it seems a more story/plot (reading lines) type. The music played while he is speaking is gentle and “flutey” and also represents the medieval time in which the play is meant to be set.
It is not dramatic and does not draw the viewers’ attention; it just blends in and flows and mildly intrigues. The flow continues with the technical codes as there are only two different shots for the whole prologue, both of which are panned shots (and sometimes stationary) therefore, are no sudden changes of scene and both shots are of the city. The camera scans the medieval scene, of the city of Verona, from above (birds eye view). This angle could be used to show the great size of Verona.
Also it shows, by all the buildings and houses, that lots of people live there- lots of people meaning lots of people’s lives changed/ruined; showing the impact of what just two people can have in a large community. Because the city is big it could show how insignificant even a big city is compared to the hand of fate. The second shot is taken from inside the city, where the first scene blends into this shot as the acting commences (this also flows). All the shots are long except for the close up of the morning sun in the sky.
The sun could be symbolic for the start or beginning of the day, the start of the film and the start of Romeo and Juliet’s tragedy. Also, because Romeo and Juliet’s tragedy happens within a fine frame of 48 hours so the sun could represent time. When the sun is shown, “William Shakespeare” is written in Elizabethan cursive. This is just one of the written codes shown at the start. Some of the credits are also shown during the prologue, such as the director’s name and that of the production company.
Even though these have nothing to do with the actual story, they still fit because of the almost calligraphy-looking font which goes with the medieval era. The title Romeo & Juliet appears in the second shot (inside the city walls) just before scene one goes into action. Because there are some credits at the start, it shows there is not as much emphasis on the prologue. Symbolism can subtly emphasise things or do so in much more obvious ways. In the prologue there are a few technical, audio, and written codes that could possibly mean more than is apparent.
When the voice-over says “star crossed lovers”, the title Romeo & Juliet is shown on the screen. This could be a subtle way of saying who the lovers are. Certain camera shots, words (written or said), objects, settings and even colours can have hidden or deeper meanings. During the prologue an orange border surrounds the screen. Orange is the colour of the sun rising which could symbolise a new day, just as the close-up of the sun represented. It is a bright vibrant colour, which can represent joy, vitality and excitement.
(It is also the opposite of the closing scene where the border is blue- suggesting death, darkness, sadness bestowed upon the town, and the fact that it is night time. ) How Zeffirelli showed Verona also had symbolic meaning. He showed the city as very peaceful, with lots of soft brown, grey, sepia colours which were infiltrating behind soft clouds of mist. Showing Verona this way represents that, apart from the rivalry between the Capulets and the Montagues, the city is calm and serene. This almost implies, then, that it is these two household’s which are to blame for the death of the two innocent lovers.
It also contrasts the calmness with mayhem, which later occurs in the story. Luhrmann’s prologue is all about mayhem and is anything but calm and peaceful. This is one of the points that makes the two prologues so different. The audio is very dramatic, loud and powerful orchestral music, almost like a church choir. It grabs the viewers’ attention as this is played just before the prologue is spoken for the second time by a deep and also powerful voice (possibly the Friar) which is almost frightening. The first time the prologue is read it is done by a female newsreader on a television.
Before she speaks there is just silence besides the faint clicking on of the TV and the fuzzy static noise before it switches to her in a newsroom. How the prologue is read the first time sounds more like a professional news report than “poetry”. Also because she speaks the line “the two hours traffic of our stage” this tells us she has an audience and makes it seem more like a news report. The second time the prologue is spoken the voice-over finishes at: “Take their life”. This gives a good, dramatic effect as then it goes on to show snippits of the movie. A “rewind” type sound is used after the news reporter stops talking.
This adds a more modern touch to it, and shows us that the events were in the past. During the music you hear a few gun-shots. This just shows a part of the violent society. The technical codes also show violence as well as confusion and mayhem. There are a total of 74 shots just in the prologue so you get a feel for the movie (almost like a prologue in pictures! ). Many fast shots could also symbolise panic or confusion or even the fastness of modern life. Because the shots are so fast and convey the tone of the movie, it could represent the shortness of time in which all the events, leading up to the tragedy, occurred.
This would be similar to the symbolism of the sun in the Zeffirelli film. It would also provide a good example of how the two productions differ in their approach. The birds eye view would also be the same as Zeffirelli’s but in addition would show all the violence and commotion happening in the streets below. Zeffirelli was trying to show violence not as part of the city, but as part of the two feuding families, whereas Luhramann tried to show that Verona was already a violent place and that the two families were just part of this society. There was lots of zooming in and out to focus on certain things that make the viewer think eg.
Zooming out from the statue of Christ to show the two buildings either side it- one building with Capulet written on it and the other with Montague. These buildings are very equal in size etc. which represents how the two families are equal in both status and in faith (religion). “Two houses both alike in dignity… ” Caapulet and Montague are also written, like credits, to show and identify the characters eg: “Ted MONTAGUE- Romeo’s father”, a picture of that person is displayed with the credits. The font is more modern and is also used when the prologue is being told the second time.
On a black screen the key words come up. ie. “In Fair Verona” flashes several times as shots of the city are also being shown. Another is “Take their life” which is the last thing the voice-over states. The title of the movie comes up at the very end of the prologue in white writing on a black screen. This shows that all we saw before with the snippits of violence and the dramatic music, was the history of Romeo and Juliet. The productions of Romeo and Juliet are all about symbolism since the language used is very different to the way we speak now, we as viewers need other things to relate to.
Because Luhramann’s film has been made into a modern version, a lot is needed to be changed to show that. The first thing we see on our television screen is a television screen! We immediately relate to our modern lifestyle. It also shows that what is being reported on the prologue must be important if it is on the news. Seeing a TV therefore means that whatever is said on the TV has to sound modern or else it won’t fit. Therefore the prologue is spoken like a news piece. The headline on the TV news scene shows a picture of a broken wedding ring representing something wrong in a marriage or with a lover.
On the picture it states “star cross’d lovers”, meaning that fate was the reason for the lovers’ tragedy. Another form of news is the newspaper. This is shown a lot with the words of the prologue written as headlines. This makes the tragedy more real and more modern. The newspapers were called “Verona Today” etc. which was just one of the objects the name of the city appeared on. It was on buildings, cabs and police cars. These portrayed that the setting is important and that the people in it are obviously used to all the violence, as plastered all over the front pages of newspapers etc.
Showing lots of police indicates that it is a city problem and not just confined to the two families. A very symbolic object is the statue of Jesus situated between the Capulet and the Montague buildings. It looks as if he is looking down on them with grief. They look up to him. Jesus is between the two families like something they both agree on. Also, even though the film has been modernised, it shows that religion is still very much a part of people’s lives, and perhaps more openly so for Italians! The movie revolves a lot around religion.
Nurse was always praying for Juliet and the Friar, who played a main role and was a person to whom many people went for advice etc. It shows that through all their violence and hatred they still loved God. Religious crosses are used for the letter t and for the “ands”. Fire and smoke is shown. This represents destruction, haziness, panic, hell-like or evil and fury. The prologue shows all the main characters except Romeo and Juliet. They don’t need to be shown as we already know who they are and that the story is about them.
They are not part of the violence and hatred so they shouldn’t be shown with everyone else who is. Feature films use more than words to convey meanings and the two Romeo & Juliet films, by Franco Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann, support this idea. Using different film codes a story can be altered greatly or very little at all but it is never quite the same. With the identical prologue (excluding bits that were cut out- which shows how things can be changed by what you leave in and what you take out), one film showed us medieval tranquillity and peace while the other showed modern chaos and mayhem.