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TROMEO & JULIET: NO HOLDS BARD!

This is William Shakespeare re-visited – in a nightmare; Troma Inc, who specialise in traumatic films that combine sex, silliness and overboard storylines, are responding to Baz Luhrmann’s challenge with their own modern version of the Bard’s eternal romantic tragedy, as ANDREW L. URBAN explains.

This is as classy as it gets at Troma: Shakespeare! Of course, the Bard has to adapt to the territory: Juliet gives Caesarean birth to a live rat; later, she mutates into a lovely cow; a priest crushes the head of a Satan worshipping bikie with his heel; Capulet locks his daughter in a glass box (not a balcony) in bondage gear. "Body piercing. Kinky sex. Dismemberment. The things that made Shakespeare great," blurbs the flyer promoting the film.

Director Lloyd Kaufman and his stars - Jane Jensen, Will Keenan, Valentine Miele, Steve Gibbons, Sean Gunn, Joe Fleishaker, Lemmy and Debbie Rochon - worked hand in gory glove with SFX make up designer Louis Zakarian to bring to life the deadly scenario that Kaufman and co-writer James Gunn created.

The result, says Elizabeth Snead of USA Today, is "not just for Troma junkies: Tromeo & Juliet is sexy, silly, sweet and surreal. Out of the past, totally of the moment and completely over the top."

New York Post’s Bill Hoffman even raves about the acting, calling it "spirited".

"The costumes blend stylised Elizabethan with the tattoed and tattered underground look of today’s lower Manhattan."

Shakespearean dialogue is mixed with nuevo-Goodfellas exchanges, often in iambic pentameter.

The film is a commentary on popular youth culture in general and cinema in particular, contrasting high and low art, comedy and tragedy, melodrama and black humour, according to US writer Mark Cummings, writing in FilmTopics. He says Kaufman’s inspiration is not the banal 1968 Zefirelli version but the stylised 1934 George Cukor interpretation. Not only is part of the film score the same, but the costumes blend stylised Elizabethan with the tattoed and tattered underground look of today’s lower Manhattan.

Kaufman’s instructions to his actors was simple but strong: "My primary goal with the actors was to keep them focused on the truth of the emotion without regard to the unusualness, or even the silliness, of whatever was taking place around them."

This is the underlying reason for Troma’s overall success; characters reacting to their extraordinary surroundings as if they were absolutely mundane.

"Some will undoubtedly see Tromeo & Juliet as a desecration of a great work."

Cummings closes with a resounding (if a tad garbled) endorsement of this film: "Some will undoubtedley see Tromeo & Juliet as a desecration of a great work. But for those of us able to overcome our prejudices of what cinema or story are supposed to be, we are presented with a dark comic masterpiece more akin to Bunual than Hershell Gordon Lewis, closer to Borges than Stephen King – and lying beneath it all, a glorious sadness as infinite as its possible interpretations."

The Troma genre is something unique, a mix of the sacred - The Toxic Avenger III: The Last Temptation of Toxie - and the profane - Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell. Their catalogue includes Demented Death Farm Massacre; Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid!!; Redneck Zombies; Bloodsucking Freaks; Curse of the Cannibal Confederates; and the off-beat, off-handed comedy, When Nature Calls You've Gotta Go!

"Whether they love it or hate it, they'll never forget it."

As Kaufman says, "Troma films are supposed to be comedies, but the people going are looking for an adventure in movie-going. Whether they love it or hate it, they'll never forget it." The company has a loyal following not only in the US (The Toxic Avenger sold 300,000 copies on video) but in the UK and in Europe.

And it is not confined to the shadowy video libraries in back streets. The British and American film institutes have both organised Troma retrospectives, as has the San Sebastian Film Festival.

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*Exclusive season at The Mandolin Cinema, Elizabeth St, Sydney from November 20, 1997

 


"Body piercing. Kinky sex. Dismemberment. The things that made Shakespeare great," blurbs the flyer promoting the film.

 


"The film is a commentary on popular youth culture in general and cinema in particular, contrasting high and low art, comedy and tragedy, melodrama and black humour"

 


"Out of the past, totally of the moment and completely over the top."

 

"Characters reacting to their extraordinary surroundings as if they were absolutely mundane."

 







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