Skip’s Quips: A Skunk Cabbage By Any Other Name

Blog Sketch 082813Wherefore art certain schemes to market the Bard so silly?

Taketh Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, for instance. Or rather, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet.

That’s William with a “W.” Shakespeare with an “S.”

And dopey with a “d.” C’mon, who else’s Romeo and Juliet would it be–Irving Berlin’s?

I’m not sure why such a prestige picture needs the added prestige of the famous author’s name in lights above it. It’s different,  methinks for a film like Fellini Satyricon, where the source material’s not as well-known, and the director’s the selling point. But R&J?

I don’t think anyone’s gonna come up to the theater and say, “Drat–I was hoping for Christopher Marlowe’s version.”

In reality, this is just a modern way to tout a vintage, though hallowed, brand. But I think there’s a double standard. You don’t see movies touting Homer’s The Odyssey. Or Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Or Madonna’s Sex.

Thank goodness is what I’ve got to say.

It’s obvious the cachet of Shakespeare’s name lends itself well to movie titles … or so Hollywood may think. Yet his lilies don’t need the gilding. The Bard’s greatest works speak for themselves and lack the pretension artificially ascribed to them by application of marketing nomenclature. Frankly, if the studios want to reach a new audience with R&J every decade or so, they should concentrate on casting it better and giving it a less-flashy director. (It remains to be seen how Carlo Carlei’s Romeo & Juliet will fare, though I suspect it can’t be worse than Luhrmann’s iteration.)

My concern, then, isn’t whether a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. It’s whether today’s filmmakers think so.

I hope they do.

Skip’s Quips: Of Titles and Trollope

Blog Sketch 082813Back in the day–and I mean back, at a time when I thought Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings was the definitive version–I perused my parents’ bookshelves frequently in search of tomes with curious titles. A particular favorite: Is He Popenjoy?, an Anthony Trollope novel that, as a child, I couldn’t fathom reading but nevertheless intrigued me as I wondered if the character was indeed, well, Popenjoy.

Years later, I realized what had struck me about the title. It’s pressing, insistent. combining an unusual name with a terse question–making you want to find the answer.

I think a lot of filmmakers today could learn from old Trollope.

All right–bad titles aren’t necessarily a modern malady. They’ve existed even before They Knew What They Wanted debuted in 1940. But I think there’s a relatively recent tendency to drop the intrigue in movie monikers and take the easy way out. Just look at the past decade’s slate of Meet the [Silly/Generic Surname Here] flicks. Danger, Will Robinson. Dreary trend ahead.

I guess it’s a positive that filmmakers have eased up on putting exclamation points in their movie titles or experimenting with the excruciatingly wacky names that were so prevalent in the 1960s and ’70s. Yet we still get stuff like Fled and We’re the Millers, where the labels are either awkward (the former) or obvious (guess) while lacking any hook. True, that may not matter when it comes to popularity–Millers is evidence of that–but when it comes to quality cinema, don’t we want a title that can grab us? Shouldn’t it give us an idea of why we’d want to see the movie it’s tied to…without telling us too much?

I don’t think a film will necessarily be lousy if it doesn’t have an interesting title. But it’s hard for me not to judge a DVD by its case. Today, as I recall my times examining volumes on my parents’ bookshelf, I wonder if Trollope would agree with me on the importance of naming movies–adaptations of his works included.

Somehow, I don’t think Meet Popenjoy would fly.