In fair Verona, where we lay our scene; in a land of faux-immortality, from ancient grudge to new mutiny–where civil blood makes civil hands un-fucking clean–Baz Luhrmman extends his arms wide open to announce:

Welcome to Verona Beach!

Baz Lurhman’s Romeo and Juliet (1996), the poetics of a soundtrack that “laces” with the aesthetical, cultural analysis of drugs, fashion, and pro-gun supporters. A musical and visual collage of an urban-coastal wasteland where the intertextual basis of Verona beach inflicts visual, verbal, and melodic signifiers of Trump’s outlaw America, Mexican cartels, and faux hippies reminiscent of Burning Man. ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ in this tale of two households, both alike in dignity, conditioned to old-fashioned conventions. Baz Lurhmman collides the epitome of fantastical escapism and extreme verisimilitude into a tragic love story. It implores drugs into its ontological construction–infused by musical re-enforcement. To seek the completeness of such a fictional world, one must first look beyond the aesthetics of a theatre enveloped within a dystopian world. The reconceptualization of Shakespeare’s tragic love story lies deep within the soundtrack that accompanies the character’s experiences and motivations through Lurhman’s local vernacular, which is asserted into a pop-oriented conception injected into a familiar commercial culture.

Divulging into this uncertain territory that could fail into an occupational hazard of cinematic storytelling, Romeo and Juliet accomplishes its social and cultural goals by sonic storytelling–and drug enforcement techniques during some of the most thrilling and beautifully executed sequences the audience experiences. Drugs and music find a loophole of extreme intensity, a satirical take on the world of misguided youths. Perhaps the film’s interpretation of powerful intensity fits into the axis of post-modernism– a provocative one of that.

The conception of Romeo and Juliet attempts to draw a parallel line between the obsessive MTV youth and an original Shakespearean tale–or in other words, a “teen Shakespearean” rebellion. The underdogs of this story are the audience who are pushed to sympathize with the devil– represented in the form of the Montagues and the Capulets. Romeo and Juliet exhume a theatre that excited the viewer through the dialogue of tongue-in-cheek insults and illuminating sonic lunacy. The film proposes an arouse-ment of sexy violence which becomes a fetish of intensity and passion–through dialogue and art direction, Lurhmman has created an other-worldly set where time does not exist. The film’s soundtrack operates within a matrix of a seamless world–eclectic at best–frantic at worst. A guttural audio-vision, each track contains a story of its own. 

Lurhmman’s auteur style of directing, a composition of eccentric fashion, art direction, and most consistent of all, the ultimate fucking orchestration of tuneage. Music is an integral element across the work of the Aussie director– internalized in his Red Curtain Trilogy. However, unlike Strictly Ballroom (1992), or Moulin Rouge (2001), Lurhmman’s musical selection for Romeo and Juliet is purely based on an aural vitality. An injection of Botox that does not droop the aesthetics of beauty but continuously enhances the spectator’s expenditure of the narrative–acting as a second dialogue–a sonorous continuum of Elizabethan foreplay and pop-culture diegesis. Foreshadowing a future-soundtrack industry based on capital consumerism, a perfectly curated playlist set after a very ‘white boys emo’ post-grunge era – the ultimate desert island record. The desire of the hormonal 90s masses gathered in their Hawaiian shirts and angel wings distilling in tracks from Radiohead, Garbage, Butthole Surfers, The Cardigans, and more; a metamorphosis from the dark side of the moon punches you in the gut with no warning between middle or higher ground. Thus, an understanding between the structuralism of aural and visual transitions occurs, with each track holding its own symbolic value. 

The 1996 adaptation infuses contemporary consumerism alongside an unideal futuristic urban landscape, a mix of Californian love and El Mexico. The juxtaposition between a location filled with billboards promoting the sales of guns, something which would make pro-Trump supporters…well…politely put– cream their pants? Then a beach (desert) setting that exhibits an ‘All Torn Down’ theatric stage which becomes an extension of two variable ideas and identities of peace and violence. The difference between the nature of these two ideas connects through the pair of ‘star crossed lovers in a sonic style–exploiting the film’s juxtaposition from operatic to ‘Pretty Pieces of Flesh.’ Speaking of operatic aural testimonies, Lurhmman could not obtain the copyright to use one of my personal favorite epic opera tunes, Carl Orff’s ‘O’ Fortuna.’ So, what does he do? He creates his own sacred Carmina Burana (well, a musical composer anyways), naming it ‘O’ Verona.’ Touché Baz, touché. Surprisingly though, he pulls it off by using the climatic escape of sonic infusions as the first tune which the audiences hear as they are introduced to the main characters of the film…where we truly set our scene in fair Verona. 

The film constantly changes in style, congenial chaos, erupting into a symbolic fight between two families whose trajectory depends on power and reputation– disregarding the well-being of their children. Perhaps that could do with a few slabs of acid and consuming each other’s greed. Lurhmman does validate that train of thought by throwing all the animals in a costume ball. This is just one of many sequences that blow the audience’s mind–expunging in the discomfort of their own souls by indulging in sex and incestual acts–here’s looking at you, Mrs. Capulet, and Tybalt.

Radiohead certainly plays a role in influencing the rupturing senses of Baz Lurhmman. Romeo, the poet, meets Thom Yorke, the poet. Physically and emotionally drained, the introduction of Romeo to the audience is in sync with a brooding, Ian Curtis lyrical syllables–with a wealthy boy look, as ‘Talk Show Host’ plays on in the background. The harrowing senses of tension interacted in the lyrics “nothing, nothing, nothing” or even “holding a gun with a pack of sandwiches,” but still, nothing–repeated over and over directs the atmosphere of our young Romeo. An uncertainty of ‘O brawling love, O loving hate, O anything of nothing first created!’ over a composition made up of an electric guitar and dialogue entails certain blindness in that part of your soul that makes you think you have feelings? Thom Yorke can always cross the listener’s soul over to the domination of good and evil–a Prozac nation of aural anti-depressants, one’s that make you feel better by further fucking you up.

Setting up the tone and ambiance of introducing Da Boys! Da Boys!; we welcome the Montague Boys to the setting of our scene, a Quentin like gas-station, where the music must be parallel to the defining mood it is trying to re-enforce. The dramatic and wild aesthetic of our first glimpse into the immaturity of a testosterone pump-your-own-gas–where cigarettes are banned, and guns are encouraged. The stroke-of-genius track, ‘I Am A Pretty Piece Of Flesh,’ raises in decibel as the Montague Boys car pulls up next to a minibus of virgin-eyed nuns. The film’s aural element, Jolly Rancher’s mix of colors and fast-witted dialogue, exhumes a machine already producing voice and desire of what this film could be–and will be. This is one of the many tracks used in the movie to use repetition as an internal resonance that becomes an integral curve engraved in the 9mm Swords of intensity that the wild jungle urges for. It is a place where Romeo is excluded from, not by banishment yet. Still, his own personal covets–as opposed to land he wanders about containing muses, untidy hair, and ground where the only battle that pursues the person is their own.

Are they Pretty Pieces of Flesh? Sure, enough, they exhibit the confidence to imagine an idyllic setting where the boys huddle in the rubble of intuiting sex acts with nuns. Fun stuff till the Capulets show up to ruin their neighborhood friend’s fun times. “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” Confessional won’t work in this scenario because claiming that you are a Pretty Piece of Flesh is just a bold cannibalistic biting of flesh–biting your thumb at Capulets, sir. The track commissioned explicitly for this scene, and thank fuck for it is what aural masturbatory fantasies are made of. 

The unofficial love song of the film that encapsulates the baseline of Romeo and Juliet’s love is ‘Kissing You’ by Desiree. The theme is repeated multiple times during intimate moments between lovers, including the first time their eyes meet across an aquarium-glimmer of hope–and fish. Re-examining the music’s melancholy effect on a sonic scale, a more profound infatuation with the listener than the characters themselves. The first time we hear it is at the Capulet’s masquerade ball. We then listen to it again when Romeo sneaks into Juliet’s room after murdering Tybalt is a stark juxtaposition that triggers a sense of hope that becomes displaced in an instance (agency). A symbolic death of God–or in this case–the end of a man essentially becoming “nothing” in a world of Montagues and Capulets. The banishment of Romeo as the pair consummate their love suggests that although “pride can stand a thousand trials,” the loss of one’s soulmate enables the soul to cry–ironically ‘Kissing You’ becomes the theme that assists the lovers’ ultimate suicide.

Druggy-Disco-Vibes time: Mercutio’s pill-popping exhibition is followed by a powerful sequence of ecstasy and music– these violent delights do have violent ends. But in a world filled with the body’s experience of orgasmic nostalgic reflections, the only escape from such preservation is by falling in love–as we see in the first introduction of Romeo and Juliet. Love at first fucking sight–thanks to that little white pill. Romeo begins to get rapt at a feverish pace–a lousy trip ending in “true love”–in an MTV visual stimuli fashion. The social constructions of drugs and music in a Shakespearian adaption set up a heightening vision for Baz Lurhmman and his “The Red Curtain Trilogy” interpretation for a modern audience–well, thy drugs are quick… Gate-crashing the Capulet masquerade sends the audience into a risqué-x-labeled cabaret sequence. Instead of Absinthe, we get a heart-shaped stamped small pill-popping two of these would most likely not result in making calls in the morning. Drug-induced Romeo, alongside best-friend Mercutio (and cousin and friends)–become grounded in a particular melody of the grotesque and absurd pastiche of Club 64 Masquerade electronic sound’s ‘Young Heart’s, Run Free–reminding the audience of Rosaline’s five seconds of fame through altered lyrics. What did happen to Rosaline, by the way?

Keeping up with the disco-feel of melodies, ‘Lovefool’ by The Cardigans was literally heard EVERYWHERE during the mid-90s. Two movies I automatically associate the “nice but upbeat” tune is Cruel Intentions (1999) dir. Roger Kumble, and Romeo and Juliet. The conduits of enhancing a pretty problematic narrative are based on a sixteen-year-old and thirteen-year-old eloping. This Spotify Goldie, the song elucidates the seven opening electronic bars on a keyboard–complementing the co-existence of the dialogue between the Nurse and Juliet who is waiting to hear “joyful” news about Romeo, you know, re: their vows.

A sea of white robe personified provocations involving a priest and choir boys, legal-ish, smoking, gun-toting, a plant-obsessed priest who works in a church where the music libidos are acapella soothing–like marijuana-infused Gregorian Chant. In these scenes, the church choir and Friar Lawrence’s mutual parts are to revisit the sweetest honey that is the chemical called love–even when to “love moderately” results in doves crying. From Prince to ‘Everybody’s Free,’ music plays a vital role in foreshadowing the deaths of Romeo and Juliet through subtle musical parallels that Quintin Tarver’s (rest in peace) provides. The song imposes a false sense of freedom emerging from an actual act of rebellion. The specere of enabling the fastidious bars between an in-sync OST and the film’s actions ensures that the editing–in this case, assimilated with animation techniques and fast high art–becomes antiquated in a structural unconscious manner. The power of using contemporary music–the music of the streets–of the people–something Shakespeare admired is yet another notch on the suspension of disbelief which Lurhmman pays hella attention to when it comes to his movie’s sonic construction. That being said, ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’ is one of the most effective remixes’ out there–a bittersweet epilogue to graduating from a chapter of one’s life. 

A tangible connection concerning the outro track of Romeo and Juliet acknowledges that even life has its own exit music. This particular “exit music” occupies the subjects of the film and the various locations in which the tragic settings take place. ‘Exit Music (For A Film), the second collaboration between Radiohead and Lurhmman on this OST structuralizes mortality and death–the destiny of the characters, the families’ refusals, the blind-eye of consumerism, the conquests of love and hatred, and, eventually, the sealed fate of that of Juliet and her Romeo. Thom Yorke provides the outro of the film as yet another specifically commissioned track, a revolutionary escape in the form of exiting through the principle of pure insanity as seen through the double-suicide of hormonal teenagers with this perfect outro.

The OST of Romeo and Juliet compliments the artistic signature of director Baz Luhrmann. It follows the unpredictable choices that spin around on an emotional carousal of dramatic and exaggerated aesthetics–all set to the theme and tone of MTV’s contemporary children– who are still very much engaging with the wild ride of the tunes from the 1990s.