Filmmaker Alan Brown notes in one of the special features included on the DVD release of "Private Romeo" that he doesn’t make movies with overtly political messages. That said, there’s no denying the provocative nature of the film, which sets the text of Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet" into an unexpected context: A private, all-boys military academy. The film is perfectly situated to comment, elegantly and with devastating precision, on matters such as the now-defunct ban on gays serving openly in the military and the ongoing crisis of anti-gay bullying in the schools.
The main characters are Sam (Seth Numrich) and Glenn (Matt Doyle), who seem to belong to different squads or, perhaps, intramural teams. (These rival squads stand in for the Capulet and Montague families.) As the two young men discover a deep and overwhelming attraction for one another, the Shakespearean text of the play, which they have been reading aloud in class, spills over into their unfolding romance. What are depicted as family ties in the original play translate here into tribal loyalties; emotions flare with the intensity of youth--love, rage, betrayal, despair.
"Though Romeo and Juliet is usually interpreted as a romantic tale of young love thwarted by a family feud, recent re-readings convinced me that it is actually a much more modern, and relevant story about sexual identity and desire pitted against society and its institutions; about personal freedom and rights versus authority," Brown notes at the film’s website. "As a gay man and an artist, frustrated by the political battles, and inaction, over gay equality, and by the heart-breaking epidemic of gay bullying, I thought Shakespeare would be the perfect vehicle for exploring these issues."
The filmmaker’s insights prove correct. Aside from a few lines of contemporary dialogue here and there, Brown’s film uses "Romeo and Juliet" the way musicians use popular music, setting raw emotion to lyrical text and refined rhythms. The result is homoerotic poetry, and gay filmmaking, of a new sort: Charged, captivating, and utterly beautiful, a brilliant re-casting of a classic work that bursts with timeless resonance and topical urgency.
"Private Romeo" was a critical favorite at last year’s GLBT film festivals. It deserved a wide theatrical release, but its availability on DVD from Wolfe Video is just as good: This film deserves to be seen. Its intended audience deserves to see it.
The DVD release includes several special features, including Deleted Scenes, Web Clips, a Behind the Scenes featurette that documents a long final night of filming, and a surprisingly frank and chipper audio commentary track with Brown and some of the cast.
"Private Romeo" is available from Wolfe Video at http://www.wolfevideo.com/products/private-romeo/