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Random Thoughts About Pretty Clothes

You know you’ve seen a film too many times when you start analyzing every eyebrow twitch and fold of fabric. So it is with me and Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet. By rough calculation, I’ve watched some scenes more than 50 times – 18 years of teaching x an average of 3 freshman sections each year = I’ve pretty much memorized the whole dang thang.

The film was nominated for the Best Picture and Best Director Academy Awards in 1969. Though ousted by Oliver! in both categories, it did win Oscars for Best Costume Design and Best Cinematography. Filmed in and around Rome, the movie’s cinematography nod was pretty much a certainty.

Costume designer Danilo Donati’s award was earned with thoughtful choices that I’ve long admired, but my freshmen often miss on their first viewing. Today, let’s take a look at some of those choices.

Everyone knows, of course, that the Capulets are draped in red, while the Montagues play the blues.

When Juliet gets married, though, she wears not white, but…

Tybalt’s snappy cap on the day of his death shows Donati’s clever use of fashion to support characterization.

Baz Luhrmann had his Tybalt rock a similar look at the Capulet costume party (sparkle Satan, anyone?), but I prefer Donati’s subtlety.

I even like Mercutio’s use of a handkerchief as a prop throughout the entire fight/death scene, a device to mask his chest wound until we realize the depth of Tybalt’s blow.

Finally, Romeo and Juliet are laid to rest in the same clothes they wore to their wedding. Their parents couldn’t have know that these were the same outfits, but the echo of that happiness on this funeral day, a day “the sun, for sorrow, will not show his head,” is heavy for the audience.

Thinking about Donati’s work, I wanted to see the man accept his Oscar. After a bit of digging, my eyes were assaulted by this clip from the 1969 Academy Awards. Yes, Jane Fonda is hosting. Yes, Donati wasn’t there to accept the award (bummer, I know), so Fonda handed it to the costumed models/dancers. And, yes, Juliet starts to seriously get jiggy with it at the 40-second mark.

Need to see the full segment of the costume design category, including competitors from Planet of the Apes jamming to the Academy Award’s funk band? Of course you do.

Teach on, everyone!

All photographs are property of Paramount Pictures and used only for educational (and celebratory!) purposes.

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