Romeo + Juliet 20th Anniversary: Baz Luhrmann shares unpublished archive material
November 1st 2016 is the 20th anniversary of the release of the Baz Luhrmann directed William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. I’ve written about R+J before in the shape of a college assignment which explored the opening sequence of Mr Luhrmann’s film.
You can find that here. This article is one of the most viewed pages on my little website. Thank you if you are one of over 45000 people who have read it.
I thought it important to add to that piece by bringing together what Baz Luhrmann had to say about the film.
The film, starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Clare Danes was, and still is, a feast for the senses. The visuals of modern Verona with juxtaposition Shakespearean language and a soundtrack only many could dream of compiling.
Baz Luhrmann shares Romeo + Juliet images on Instagram
Starting with the first post about Romeo and Juliet that Baz put on Instagram, I’ll add to this post each time he updates. Mr Luhrmann shares behund the scenes information and production mood boards which add to understanding how and why the film looks and sounds like it does.
He’s answering questions about the film that I only ever wished I could have asked.
In writing the script, it was natural to our storytelling culture to collaborate beyond my writing partnership with Craig Pearce. We developed a musical script and a visual language script in parallel. For the visual language, Catherine Martin and I used to make old-fashioned collages (Note: there was no photoshop). Generally starting with a bad scribble of mine, we would cut out pictures, often photographs of friends and family collaged with other images to convey the heightened world. This is an early board for the Gas-Station. #romeoandjuliet
It was important to amplify the notion of the city of Verona, where religion and politics were bound together and expressed in the clothing that was worn, as was customary in the Elizabethan period. Here are some of the details that resulted in the collaboration between Catherine Martin, me and costume designer Kym Barrett. #romeoandjuliet
These are very precious boards. We tried to convey the idea of a mashup (back then we called it collage) of not only references to our world with images from such diverse locales as contemporary South America to the Vietnam war, but also different winks and nods to the world of the movie. You'll see in the corner Anton Monsted, who was my then assistant and whom I went on to produce music with, wearing that oh-so special Japanese-Hawaiian shirt that Kym Barrett had sourced in the backstreets of Sydney, approximately 18 months before the film. The Capulets were more influenced by South America and the Montagues more influenced by Americana (Hawaiian shirts, American Cargo Pants). We went on then to create Hawaiian fabrics that included all of the iconography and imagery from the film to produce all the shirts. Kym was particularly creative in this regard. #romeoandjuliet
Miami, where we had ensconced ourselves to develop the script and visual language, was a very good starting point for imagining our hot, tropical Verona Beach. Riffing on the mansion in “Scarface”, we landed on a mansion in Miami called Vizcaya (modeled on Tuscan Italian Renaissance and Mediterranean Revival architecture style). Vizcaya (not seen in this photograph), was Italian and ornate and became the template for the Capulet Mansion. A year later, we copied the pool at the back of Vizcaya, and it is in fact the pool where Leonardo and Claire share their first kiss. #romeoandjuliet
John Leguizamo and Dash Mihok face-off across cars. Although most of the film was shot in Mexico City, we went to Veracruz on the East Coast to shoot all of the riots and fight scenes. There was an alarming but funny incident where Dash, after the scene, ran into the wrong lane into real traffic, causing a little bit of concern amongst passers-by. But all in all it was such a tremendous day of shooting, pardon the pun. #romeoandjuliet
This was a key board, when we really started to crack the world visually. We were drawing from Latin countries, where the idea of religion and politics sat closely together. On the left of the collage you'll even see a bit of Havana, which was a place we were considering until we realized this was folly as Leo was an American. When I was trying to get the film made, Leonardo agreed for the price of two plane tickets to come with his wonderful father George DiCaprio to explore the idea in workshop form all the way down in Australia. The gifted photographer Hugh Stewart shot these images as we workshopped with Leonardo. And in fact this image ended up on the album cover. #romeoandjuliet
The inspiration for the scene between the fish-tank came when Craig and I were so desperately looking for a solution as to how to surprise the audience for the first connective moment between Romeo and Juliet. I was younger then and we might have gone out to clubs a bit more. That night after working all day we squirreled out to a place (if I recall correctly called "The Dome") in Miami. When I came out of the bathroom to wash my hands I looked up and saw a woman combing her hair with a brush through a fish-tank. It was a brilliant device to get guys and girls to connect through the sitting rooms, while protecting each room's privacy. Obviously you can see where this moment lead… #romeoandjuliet
It was Don McAlpine, the brilliant Director of Photography who came up with the extraordinary solution. I wanted the camera to track around the lovers inside of an elevator, as we do this, a half-dozen grips lift each panel as the camera whirs around. It was an extremely complicated logistical job, but indeed we got the shot. #romeoandjuliet
Again, thanks for reading my moving image analysis of the opening sequence of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, directed by Baz Luhrmann.
I’m a huge fan of Mr Luhrmann’s work and I’m currently looking at how The Get Down echoes The Red Curtain Trilogy.