In the headlines, right now, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whitting, are filing a lawsuit over the nude scene in the 1968 adaptation of Romeo & Juliet. I have, on this blog, used frames from that adaptation and it is my favorite version. Also, in my derrivite fiction, when I employ the famous couple as characters, I make the point that the Hussey and Whitting were cast for their perfect resemblence to the in-universe real couple who, in my fiction, come back as ghosts and do things like join the Italian Resistance to Mussolini and host a popular literature review show for the BBC.
I can’t say I endorse the lawsuit, which is for half a billion dollars. Typically, I don’t make assumptions about cases I hear about from a distance but this one is weak. I’ve seen that adaptation (in fact it is one of the movies on my iTunes account) and the scene they’re suing $500 million for lasts roughly two seconds. If they were suing for $1 to make a symbolic point or just writing an op-ed or doing a documentary about it, I’d be more sympathetic to their case. The 1996 adaptation has worse scenes because Leo DiCaprio makes smoking look sexy. Letting a cigarette dangle out of a 22 year old Leo DiCaprio’s mouth was more evil.
They argue they deserve half a billion dollars. Nobody does and the myth people do is based on the idea that capitalism is the basis for normative ethics and fair market value has ontological inherrency. If I were to advise them, I’d tell them to give their likenessness to Disney or something to make those the canonical Romeo & Juliet likenesses (they were absolutely perfect for it and their likenesses should be canonized as such) and use them for derivitive stories where they live as married ghosts or some other undead creature and have adventures.
Also, to use their likenesses to do mental health and anti-suicide PSAs and educational campaigns. Obviously, as the most famous likenesses of Romeo and Juliet, doing anti-suicide and mental health campaigns would be apt. Ultimately, and ironically, the sense of the very poetic tragedy they were in is lost. Filing a lawsuit over a fifty-five year old relatively minor transgression is the very type of near-arbitrary ancient grudge which Romeo & Juliet is about and very much a cautionary tale against. In the book “In Praise of Forgetting”, the political scientist David Rieff goes over all those modern adaptations of Romeo & Juliet, all those sectarian conflicts the world over. The thesis is that they should forget the ancient grudges lest they dost break.
P.S. As someone who, in their fiction, brought them back as ghosts. I want to address the “they would never have made it because they weren’t in real love and were just horny teenagers”. They’re fictional characters so if I think true love is cuter then, as an author, I can magically define their reality and wire their neurons so that it is true love. With fictional characters, you can control their brains very easily.
Also, if I had been in their position shooting Romeo & Juliet in the middle of the Vietnam War, I would not passed up the chance to make PSAs in character and costume pointing out that mortal feuds still produce dead teenagers. One thing that I don’t like about any major adaptation is they all emphasize the love story but downplay the antiwar, human insanity, element. When it is over, I want the families to look over microcosm of Verdun to be horrified at the fruits of their nationalism and for the opening theme to be “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya”