Franco Zeffirelli has been a major director of opera productions since the 1950s in Italy, as well as all over Europe and in the United States. He began his career in theater under director Luchino Visconti, who made him the assistant director for the film La Terra Trema, which was released in 1948. Over the years, his theater background has had a huge influence on his films, particularly on Romeo and Juliet (1968), in which lavish costume designs and action-packed choreography contribute to the film's unyielding sense of pageantry.
"Lavish in scale and unashamedly theatrical.'' This was the phrase used to describe the style associated with Zeffirelli in the 2002 New York Times article "A Showman and His Showcase," by Matthew Gurewitsch. Notably, this is also how Zeffirelli himself defined his artistic touch in his autobiography, "Zeffirelli," published in 1986. Actors who worked under him often described his ability to make them think of their characters in a new light, re-interpreting tired old personas to create fresh takes. The article continues, "Some artists are content to please the few. Mr. Zeffirelli's mission is to reach the many." It emphasizes that Zeffirelli took an aesthetically traditional but fiercely detail-oriented approach to his art, working until he had put the last touches on every facet. "Those last few touches," Gurewitsch says, "informing every glance and gesture, have always distinguished Mr. Zeffirelli at his best."
The operatic elements of Romeo and Juliet are apparent at a glance, particularly the scene with the Capulet feast. Here, all in attendance are dressed in periodically appropriate but undeniably extravagant outfits. They dance the Moresca with flair as music and laughter ring out, creating a magical atmosphere for Romeo and Juliet to meet for the first time. There's even a direct element of live performance as Peter begins crooning the film's signature song, "What is a Youth?" Zeffirelli's theatrical taste comes through here with finesse, creating an elegant scene as effective in its emotional elicitation as it is visually stunning.