RIP Franco Zeffirelli

His 1968 Romeo and Juliet is maybe the first Shakespeare film I watched (9th grade English class) and I appreciate its having dusted some cobwebs off film adaptations of the Bard. There were great and IMO superior Shakespeare films in the previous couple decades (e.g. Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar and Welles’s Chimes at Midnight) but there was a youthful quality to R&J that might have made it accessible to the “kidz” just as Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version did in its time.

My first exposure to Hamlet came in the 1991 Mel Gibson version which Zeffirelli directed. I liked it at the time, but upon re-watching it years later, I found the cuts to the text were just too drastic. Branagh’s 1996 uncut version had the effect of making shorter versions feel like “Hamlet’s greatest hits” rather than the whole play.

I can’t speak to his illustrious career as an opera director, as I never saw any of his stagings.

Anyway, so passes a notable talent in theater and film. I confess I didn’t realize he was that old.


His Romeo and Juliet is probably my favorite Shakespeare in film that I’ve watched and certainly my favorite Romeo and Juliet. It manages to be 100% truthful to the source while still feeling alive and fresh.

I’ve watched it about ten times or so. Time for a rewatch, it seems.

His Romeo and Juliet was cool because he used very young actors to play the roles. It works.

Just like Gordon I first saw it in 9th grade. There’s a scene on the morning after the secret wedding when Juliet turns in bed to the camera and her breasts are briefly yet fully exposed. We were told by our teacher before the screening that if any of us whooped it up during this scene we would summarily be put to death, being 9th grade boys and all. We were grateful she warned us so we could pay close attention!

Thank you Bard. Thank you Franco.

I remember my 7th grade English teacher trying in vain to cover the screen with a sheet of paper, and then clapping a hand over the screen when it shone right through.

I was afraid it would all come back to Olivia Hussey’s boobs!

As if that’s a bad thing!

My fav cinematic version of the tragedy too.

On a side note, the lead male looked a helluva lot like Zac Efron. It’s eerie.