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Representation of 1960s Culture in the 1968 Film Romeo and Juliet


The 1968 film Romeo and Juliet reflects 1960s culture through its modernized portrayal of youth and rebellion. Director Franco Zeffirelli captures the era's spirit by emphasizing the passionate and impulsive nature of the young lovers, mirroring the social and cultural upheavals of the time. The film's aesthetic and stylistic choices also resonate with the vibrant and transformative atmosphere of the 1960s.

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How does the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet reflect its culture and time period?

The 1968 Romeo and Juliet reflects the youth culture that erupted in the late 1960s. For example, in contrast to the 1936 George Cukor version of Romeo and Juliet, which used established and mature film stars in the lead roles, Zeffirelli choose two unknown teenagers to play Romeo and Juliet. Leonard Whiting, who was cast as Romeo, was seventeen, probably close to Romeo's "real" (though unstated) age in the play. Olivia Hussey, who played Juliet, was sixteen, only slightly more than two years older than Shakespeare's almost fourteen-year-old Juliet.

The age of the stars of the film also reflected the growing interest in historical accuracy in the 1960s. This was the period in which it became popular, for example, to record Renaissance music on authentic Renaissance instruments. In addition to using young actors, Zeffirelli's film, rather than being shot on Hollywood backlots, was filmed largely on location in Italy.

Finally, the film reflects the loosening sexual mores that emerged from the cultural upheaval of the late 1960s. Hollywood began in this period to bend its rigid censorship rules. For the first time since the very early 1930s, sexually explicit films were allowed to be made. To inform and protect audiences, the Motion Picture Association instituted the rating system that, with modifications, is still used today. Zeffirelli took advantage of the new freedoms by filming Romeo and Juliet's marriage night encounter as a "nude" scene. While the scene is extremely tame by modern standards, this was a shocking and controversial decision at that time that reflected a new, unbound youth culture.

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How does the 1968 film Romeo and Juliet represent sixties culture?

Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film was a huge hit with audiences upon its first release. It was also criticized in some quarters for those very features that made it so popular. The critic Leslie Halliwell called it the "with-it version for modern youngsters." For many young people at the time, one of the most striking things was the brief nudity that occurs in the film. This was a period when Hollywood was opening up and dealing more openly with sexual matters than had been permitted in the past. Films were both a reflection of and an influence upon the changes taking place, especially in American society in the 1960s, and in particular with regard to sexual freedom.

The actors chosen for the roles were also reflective of the culture and its emphasis upon youth. Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting were fifteen and seventeen, respectively, when the film was released. They were also newcomers to the screen, and these factors imparted a natural, spontaneous quality to their performances and the way they were perceived by the public. One might contrast this with the version made thirty years earlier starring Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard, who, at the time, were much older and were already famous actors and well-established as Hollywood stars. Hussey and Whiting were non-establishment figures in a time when many were rebelling.

In the scene in which Romeo and Juliet first meet, a song is interpolated by Zeffirelli which does not appear in Shakespeare's play. The liberty the director exercises in doing so no doubt upset the purists, but again, it was typical of a time when any sort of freedom or license, whether in art or in society overall, was being celebrated. The music for this scene was then made into the song, "A Time for Us," demonstrating the crossover phenomenon in which the distinction between serious and popular genres has been blurred.

The film's music, by Nino Rota, in a more general sense fits in with the cultural changes of the late 1960s, despite its being a symphonic score. The extent to which Rota's music dominates the film is unusual in comparison with other movies based on Shakespeare. It is extravagant and lush in a manner that typifies the emphasis on unalloyed passion that became central to the ethos of the sixties.

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