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Beauty in the Movies: Romeo and Juliet

Since St. Valentines Day is almost upon us I thought it would be appropriate to feature a romantic movie—and why not go with what is considered maybe the greatest love story of all time—Romeo and Juliet.

I’ll assume everyone knows the story, a family feud, the star-crossed lovers, their unfortunate end, it’s been told many times in many forms, but the power of both the love and tragedy continues to resonate hundreds of years after the play was written. The story of the tragic young lovers existed before Shakespeare wrote it down, but he added supporting characters, amped up the drama and spun the tale using his brilliant language leaving us with a story that will likely live on forever.

While I’m also a fan of 1996 Baz Luhrmann version, nothing compares to Zeffirelli’s beautiful 1968 telling of Shakespeare’s classic. Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting are both passionate and gorgeous, not to mention incredibly convincing.

The thing that sets this film apart from the many other film versions of Romeo and Juliet is that the leads were actually played by actors close to the ages of the doomed characters (Hussey was just 15 and Whiting 17). Teenagers are overly dramatic and emotional especially when they’re in love, and this version captures that teenage sense of self-centered, lustful infatuation. The actors in the 1936 version were absurdly aged 35 and 43 when they filled the roles of the love-sick teenagers. The 1954 version did a bit better with the actor who played Romeo being 26 and Juliet age 20, but Zeffirelli’s choice to cast actors who were nearly the same age as they were written makes their instant and obsessive love vastly more devastating and believable.

This film was the Twilight of its day—the young actors were propelled to stardom and made Shakespeare cool again. In fact the media attention was so intense that Olivia Hussey became burdened with agoraphobia from the sudden fame. Though Hussey and Whiting received a great deal of praise, all the performances are incredible. Milo O’Shea (Friar Laurence), Pat Heywood (The Nurse), Michael York (Tybalt), and John McEnery (Mercutio) round out the cast and do exceptional jobs in their roles.

This film won the Oscar for best costume design and best cinematography, and it’s easy to see why. I’ve been obsessed with the costumes from this movie since I was a kid, they’re so intricate and interesting sometimes they steal the scenes from the actors.

If you haven’t seen this film or you haven’t watched it since high school when your teacher fast-forwarded through the brief nudity, you should definitely watch it again. Everything about it is beautiful, Zeffirelli took a story that had been told thousands of times and rather than modernize it he chose to bring it back to its original setting and make it feel real.

So this Valentines Day if you feel like crying your eyes out (alone or with a partner), looking at beautiful scenery, and re-living one of the greatest love stories of all time, put this film at the top of your list.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

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Beauty in the Movies: Moonstruck

This week we spend Beauty in the Movies under a full moon in Brooklyn surrounded by lovable characters in the film Moonstruck, which will keep you laughing as you contemplate the deepest parts of life and love.

Loretta Castorini (Cher) is a 37-year-old Italian-American widow living in her family’s brownstone in Brooklyn Heights. When her boyfriend Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello) proposes marriage before he leaves for Italy to visit his dying mother, she accepts. Johnny then tasks her with inviting his estranged brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage with his original teeth) to their wedding. When Loretta visits Ronny at his bakery she finds a tortured man with a wooden hand, who blames his brother for his troubles. After cooking him a steak and analyzing his problems, Loretta finds herself aggressively in love with her future brother-in-law.

Meanwhile, Loretta’s parents are engaged in dramas of their own. Her mother, Rose (Olympia Dukakis), is sure her husband, Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia), is cheating. Rose’s suspicions send her on a quest for answers from any man she can find, including an NYU professor (John Mahoney) who chases his female students.

Cher won an academy award for her acting in this film, but she is just one of many wonderful performances given in Moonstruck. There are amazing supporting characters including Loretta’s aunt (Julie Bovasso), uncle (Louis Guss), and grandfather (Italian actor Feodor Chaliapin Jr.) all of whom convey an incredible amount of personality in the short time they’re on screen.

Opera plays a large part in the film, Puccini’s La bohème specifically. The story doesn’t mirror the opera, but the lives of these characters weave themselves into their own larger-than-life opera as the story progresses towards the climactic finale. The writing is fantastic, the dialogue has a rhythm found primarily in New York Italian families, but it works so easily that it doesn’t feel strained or stereotypical, which is quite a feat.

Moonstruck is about three things—love, family, and death, maybe food too, but mostly it’s about those three essential parts of life. This film gives us the, sometimes much-needed, affirmation that we will all die someday—which is why it’s so important to live. Loretta is about to marry a man she doesn’t love because it’s practical, but life intervenes in her plans and she is powerless to stop it. Often in life what is the most logical choice isn’t what feels right to us, and that’s what makes humans such interesting creatures.

This film handles topics that could easily fall into cliché (marriage, cheating, romance) but it does so in a way that feels real and even surprising. While it might be a romantic comedy, it’s also about knowing who you are and what you want, not just finding your perfect someone. Often, films about love are lacking in anything but romance, but love comes in many forms and is only one part of the larger story of a person’s life. Moonstruck gives us the bigger view, love and death exist everywhere and they’re constantly interacting to give life new meaning—what really matters is that you can accept both when they come into your life, and of course, don’t forget to look up at that beautiful moon every once in a while.





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