William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet received a significant shakeup in Baz Luhrmann’s lavish, audacious 1996 film Romeo + Juliet. While the movie follows the original Shakespearean dialogue faithfully, it is set in a modern-day city called “Verona Beach” that looks a lot like Los Angeles (the film was shot partly in Miami, Florida in the US, and Mexico City, Mexico).
Des’Ree sings the love theme from Romeo + Juliet, “I’m Kissing You,” and this soundtrack is played over the two star-crossed lovers, played by Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio, meeting for the first time at a costume party. The scene against the giant fish tank is magical in its filming and production, and to me, the song is a perfect choice. It has elements of romance but also seems to carry a slight, underlying mood of tragedy, for a little foreshadowing.
Luhrmann later treated Moulin Rouge (2001) with the same sense of over-the-top colour, decor and spectacle; again, surrounded by a touch of impending doom. This combination of elements reminds me of a 12th-century writing by Yehuda HaLevi, a Spanish Jewish poet, physician and philosopher, “To Love What Death Can Touch,” introduced to me by a dear American friend of ours:
‘Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.
A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –
And oh, to lose.
A thing for fools, this,
And a holy thing,
a holy thing
For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.
‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.
Today’s selection is the only piece I really know by Des’Ree, though years ago I bought a CD of hers on which the song appears (in addition to the two separate CD volumes of music from the film; one has the vocal version; the other, an instrumental). And yes, hers one of those I’ve yet to sit down and listen to all the way through. In addition to her magnificent voice, which captures so brilliantly the mood of the tragic story, Des’Ree has a majestic sort of presence that I enjoy watching.
Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.
Here’s a video (not an official version) of Des’Ree performing the song mixed with scenes from the film:
And here’s the party scene in which it first appears in the film (also not an official version):