“Mad Blood Stirring” (p. 3)
by Eleanor M. Farrell

Writer/director Paul Morrison’s 1999 film, Solomon and Gaenor, frames the well-known tragedy as a conflict between Welsh miners and Jewish town merchants in South Wales. Filmed in Welsh, Yiddish and English, Solomon and Gaenor was an important contribution to Welsh cultural efforts, and received an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film. Set in 1912, the film paints a dismal picture of economic uncertainty around miners’ strikes and anti-Semitic riots. Gaenor (Nia Roberts), the story’s Juliet, is a daughter in a mining family, while Solomon (Ioan Gruffudd) is the son of an Orthodox Jewish “pacman” — a cloth seller travelling around the villages with his wares. The two meet when Solomon visits Gaenor’s village with his cotton samples, and an initial attraction soon leads to a sexual relationship. Solomon even comes up with a completely unique wooing technique: he makes Gaenor a dress! This Romeo-figure, however, is more than willing to shed his name, and pretending to be English, rather than a Jew, calls himself “Sam Livingston.” It’s only when the pregnant Gaenor goes to Solomon’s home to talk with his parents that she finds out his background. With both families against their union, the two are physically separated, Solomon sent to Cardiff and Gaenor to live with an aunt some distance away, with his letters to her intercepted. When Solomon finally manages to learn Gaenor’s whereabouts, he sets off to find her — inadequately clothed, on foot, through the snow, across the mountains — and then dies of exposure. Gaenor has the baby, gives it up, and is last seen riding in a cart, bringing Solomon’s body back to his family.
The cultural barrier between the lovers in this treatment, as evidenced by the actions of both families, is paramount. When Gaenor’s pregnancy is discovered, she is thrown out of her church in a malevolent gesture by the young Sunday school teacher who formerly fancied her. Solomon’s mother coldheartedly rejects her son’s pregnant lover, offering her money to leave him alone, while Gaenor’s brother brutally assaults Solomon when he tries to find out Gaenor’s whereabouts. Each clan is self-serving and unsympathetic, and this pair of star-crossed lovers hasn’t even a Father Lawrence to assist them. The film is weak, however, in convincing the audience of a passion between Solomon and Gaenor that is worthy of transcending the barriers between them. Solomon’s lies about his name and his hesitation to offer to marry Gaenor are in stark contrast to Romeo’s willingness to wed a Juliet he has just met. And, in fact, although Solomon dies in a futile but remorseful act of reconciliation, Gaenor shows no inclination to join him, but apparently returns to her old life after his death and the birth of their child. Even though it’s Wales rather than Dorset, this is Shakespeare depressingly channeled through Thomas Hardy.
The immense popularity of the “Bombay Talkies” today parallels the experience of the world of Elizabethan theater, where all classes of society were brought together by the essence of popular culture. The family drama is a staple of Hindi cinema, and the feud a common element of these (literal) melodramas, so Romeo and Juliet would seem to be an ideal Shakespearean text to exploit. More than a handful of better-known Bollywood films — including 1942, A Love Story, Bombay, Parampara, Karan Arjun, Henna, Bobby, and JOSH (a Hindi version of West Side Story) — incorporate the basic Romeo and Juliet story line of young lovers opposed by feuding families or religious differences. The cultural individualism of these films lies in the use of the musical conventions of Bollywood. Raj, for example, in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, shows his Romeo-like aimlessness at the beginning of the film in a ’50s sock hop performance of the film’s hit song, “Papa Kehte Hain,” whose lyrics convey the dilemma of whether to follow his father’s vision (“Father says, he will make a big name”) or his own longing for love (“My dream is of one face”). His choice of the latter — falling in love being perhaps the only form of culturally acceptable rebellion — leads to tragedy. Over the film’s last shot, of the dead lovers, a soft refrain of the song is heard.
Next, 2, 3, 4, 5

2002 © Eleanor M. Farrell. This paper was presented at the 33rd Annual Mythopoeic Conference, Boulder, Colorado, July 26-29, 2002. Images are the property of the individual film production/distribution companies.

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