Romeo and Juliet works because of the forbidden aspect of their love. Of course, there’s Shakespeare, whose poetry adorns the narrative like the arias of angels, expounding on the meaning of life, sounding the depths of love, and exploring what it is to be a human being with emotions to express. Shakespeare takes the story of ill-fated lovers and uses it to open the box of human existence, to show us that the connections between humans are more elevated than the automatic copulation of animals or the pollination of flowers because of the poetry pricked by the emotions of intimacy. But beneath all that, on a storytelling level, the fact that the two lovers are so in love but aren't allowed to be together creates the engine for everything else that happen. It's the obstacle of the feud between the families that takes abstract ideas about love and turns them into a gripping narrative that favors emotion over intellect.
Generally speaking, watching two people fall in love is boring unless there are some obstacles put in their way. Even Kim and Kanye, who seem happy and made for each other, have the looming specter of the public eye and the media putting pressure on their not-so-private lives. If they shut themselves off from cameras and attention—if they stopped giving us salacious glimpses of their beautiful, outrageous lives and we stopped demanding those glimpses—theirs would be a very different love. It’s a relationship initiated in the public eye, developed in the public eye, and consecrated in the public eye; now, like any interesting love narrative, we wait to see if they live happily ever after.
It's like watching NASCAR: the vicarious excitement we feel watching great feats, but also the shameful frisson that excites us when disaster strikes—the horrible human desire to see the other shoe drop. I personally hope that Kim and Kanye live happily until they die, but because their story has become a narrative larger than the love between them—one that we all watch, willingly or unwillingly—it is fraught with the narrative need for conflict. We can’t just let them be happy, and they can’t just be happy. There needs to be sparks.
The obstacle in Romeo and Juliet (feuding families) can be transferred to anything: race, as in West Side Story, where the poetry of Shakespeare is successfully replaced by the music of Leonard Bernstein, the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, and the choreography of Jerome Robbins; age as in Lolita—_ha ha, a little bit of a joke, but not really—where the driving force behind the book is Humbert Humbert’s forbidden attraction to a pre-teen nymphet. Even something like Cormac McCarthy’s _Child of God, at least in my interpretation, is a love story about a man who has to resort to necrophilia in order to find intimacy, and of course, outside of the sphere of art I’d find such a thing disgusting, but within the frame of the narrative I find it to be a portrait of the universal human need to be with another person and having that need thwarted. Brokeback Mountain is a beautifully crafted film, but at it’s core it's propelled by the motor of forbidden love. In many ways it is a conventional love story, but because the usually hetero lovers are recast as two gay cowboys it's a fresh telling of that old tale. The gorgeously shot documentary about horse fucking, Zoo, also banks on forbidden love. One of the last kinds of forbidden love to be explored on screen: incest. (Don’t worry, I’m trying.)
That being said, here’s a little video based on Romeo and Juliet that I directed. It was shot by my main man, Bruce Thierry Chung who is still at NYU after six years—someone tell that boy to graduate. The music is by my band Daddy_,_ the RISD arts school band I started with Tim O’Keefe and Andy Rourke from the Smiths_,_ that also features former Xylos singer Monica Heidemann; get ready for the album later this year, or early next year. Anyway, enjoy.
Follow James on Twitter