Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Reality Bites and Romeo + Juliet


Only nine more letters to go – this Culture Month is moving right on along, isn’t it? Well, then, on to the Rs. Reservoir Dogs is the first contender, especially since it’s another Tarantino gem that is brilliant in its own right. There’s Risky Business, a movie that we all need to see to remember Tom Cruise back in the 80s. I also like Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Romancing the Stone (I’ve seen that so many times!), Roxanne which is one that students should see if they’re leaning Cyrano de Bergerac in English as I did, and finally our troubled teenage hero and heroine of the 1950s, James Dean and Natalie Wood, in Rebel Without A Cause. If I do my TV show list next year, I’ll list Roseanne because I still love watching The Conners. But luckily the two Rs I’ve chosen for today are ones I’ve seen tons of times and that hold a special place in my teenage past.

Reality Bites: Long live 1994 and the cynical, grunge era of young adulthood in the Generation called X. I absolutely lived this film when it came out and Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke were just the coolest people on the planet. I had the soundtrack, I knew all the lines to the movie, I thought everyone was hilarious and I thought that Ben Stiller ruining a video diary was just the worst criminal act a preppy businessman could do to an edgy, independent girl like Lelaina. (And no, you can say her name without thinking about how Sammy says it.) The thing that was great about this movie was we understood how the characters felt. We were supposed to get a job and have a career and know what to do with our lives but we didn’t want to be big corporate money grabbers. We had music and books and a college education and a cultural awareness that made us so much better than all of that. (Heck, I still feel that way.) So I think the reason why students should see this, is just to get an idea of how people their age felt not so long ago. It’s a culturally important movie, in my humble opinion, just as Singles because it is very aware and definitive of the time frame it’s set in. And again, it’s has a lot of great songs and funny quotes.

Troy Dyer: Did he dazzle you with his extensive knowledge of mineral water, or was it his in-depth analysis of, uh, uh, Marky Mark that finally reeled you in?

Romeo + Juliet: I was actually just watching a performance of the play at the Globe Theatre on Sky Arts earlier tonight and I realized I know that play so much because of this 1996 version. On Twitter this week people were saying that Shakespeare’s language is too archaic and it alienates a whole generation who can’t get engaged in literature like this. I know it’s difficult but I taught it when I was teaching in the public school and kids understood it. It’s all about presentation and giving them the tools to understand how to enjoy these plays. I mean, the greatest writer in the English language can’t just be disregarded in education. Students have to be aware of who had inspired countless other writers since the Elizabethan era. And movies such as this one give young audiences a visual that they can relate to so the timeless themes of the play doesn’t become an obstacle. While it’s probably not the best Shakespearean acting of all time, the point is that it’s edgy, fast, modern and presented in such a way that the audience can understand and love what the characters are going through. I always loved Claire Danes as an actress so I was super pleased to see that she had been chosen for this role. Leonardo DiCaprio, of course, was the best choice as Romeo in 1996 and I still remember seeing this in the theatre when girls oohed and aahed over him when the first scene shows him on the beach. What was the best part (though I didn’t understand it at the time) was that this was the first time many of those kids had been exposed to Shakespeare so they didn’t know the play. That meant that this whole funky movie with guns called “swords” and a modern soundtrack was entertaining despite the language difference. I’ve heard people complain that Shakespeare shouldn’t be modernised but that’s the beauty of his work – it’s timeless. It can be appreciated generation after generation if people are creative and give in to interpretation as literature is intended. *walks away from lecture podium* Oh yeah, and Michael from Lost plays Mercutio and he dances in drag. Best part of the whole movie!

Anchorwoman: A glooming peace this morning with it brings. The sun for sorrow will not show his head. Go hence and have more talk of these sad things. Some shall be pardoned, and some punished. For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.


  1. This version of Romeo and Juliet is one of my very very favorites, much to my Shakespeare professor's horror. But it was really such a beautiful depiction.

  2. I agree. I was so glad to learn from my college professor how okay different and modern versions of Shakespeare can be.