Tuesday, June 05, 2012

"Private Romeo" layers the famous Shakespeare play onto the final debate on DADT

Private Romeo”, directed by Alan Brown, from Wolfe, is an interesting, if a bit artificial experiment, in layering Shakespeare’s famous tragedy (“Romeo and Juliet”) about forbidden love and feuding families, into a gay scenario, layering it into the controversy over gays in the military, and also structuring the film into both “reading” and actual translation of the play to a (Southern) military prep school barracks setting.

As the film opens, the cadets are reading the play aloud in English class in a rather drab classroom. But soon, the tensions in the school unravel, as the language of the play is used to tell the story through the eyes of eight cadets.  At the center are Sam Singleton, or “Romeo” (Seth Numrich) and Glenn Mangan, or “Juliet” (or “Jules”, Matt Doyle).

The film presents an interesting view of unit cohesion and expression of affections within a unit.  Although “Romeo and Juliet” are passionate when alone, their relationship seems to have emerged seamlessly out of the fraternal conditions of military life. The other guys aren’t much phased by homoeroticism, as they are more concerned about rivalries and jealousies, as in the original play.

Seven of the eight main characters are white, and just one is mixed African-American.  There is a tendency for them all (and certainly the two lovers) to look a bit alike and fit a certain young male stereotype: lean, muscular, and usually with hairy limbs. The haircuts are neat but not “Basic” buzzcuts; they seem to be upperclassmen.  They’re left with a student commandant for a few days while some of the more “advanced” cadets are out on bivouac, probably to reduce the cast to a manageable size.

The plot gets creative in trying to track the original play; the first “death” is on a basketball court, and the “tragedy” may turn out OK after all.

Alan Brown discusses his film for Huffington here.  It’s interesting that the film was shot during the final debate on ending “don’t ask don’t tell” and during the spate over anti-gay bullying.

The official site for the movie is here.

The DVD (released June 5) has a featurette on the shooting of the film, along with commentary. 

When I substitute taught, "Romeo and Juliet" was read sometimes, and I recall an English teacher's explaining to high school students why it was acceptable in Elizabethean times but not today for young women (and sometimes men) to consort and marry so young. 

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