The final part to his 'red curtain' trilogy, following on from the international success of Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Romeo + Juliet (1996), Baz Luhrmann, not one to take subtle road when big, bold and brassy will do, takes it one step further with the stunning visual feast, fanatically edited and beautifully photographed, a throughly modern take on the musical, Moulin Rouge! Once again we're joined by Reel Whore, of Reel Whore, 'cinema's bitch', a great writer to boot, with posts full of acid barbs, in your face humour all marked with a unique and insightful look at the world of cinema, makes a case for this 'exhilarating' film and wonders why it was overlooked at the Academy Awards.
A recent advert for the DVD release of Slumdog Millionaire touts it as the best film of the decade. I couldn't help but laugh when I read this. Have people forgotten about Moulin Rouge!?
Slumdog Millionaire and Moulin Rouge! have similar roots; both projects' directors were inspired by Bollywood films. However, while Millionaire was the Academy darling this past year, winning eight of its ten nominations, Moulin Rouge! was widely snubbed, winning only Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction from its eight nominations. Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet) wasn't even nominated for Best Director! Could it be Rouge! is the inferior, less entertaining of the two?
I think not. The exclamation point in the title says it all; expect excitement. On the day I saw Moulin Rouge! in theaters, many audience members were not prepared. I know this because I watched at least four people leave before the Diamond Dogs began to can-can. When friends asked my opinion of Moulin Rouge!, I made it clear that it was awesome, but you had to give it at least fifteen minutes to adjust to the frantic pacing and wild cinematography.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, Moulin Rouge! is the tale of Christian (Ewan McGregor, Big Fish), a young British writer who moves to Paris at the turn of the nineteenth century to embrace the Bohemian lifestyle. Shortly after arriving, Christian meets the dwarf Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo, Spawn) who is developing a new play with his Bohemian friends for the Moulin Rouge's owner Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent, Gangs of New York). Christian and his mad writing skills are quickly accepted into the group and he is presented to the Rouge's star, Satine (Nicole Kidman, To Die For), to secure her favor for their play. Only problem is Satine mistakes Christian for the Rouge's potential financier, the Duke (Richard Roxburgh, Van Helsing). Ultimately Satine must seduce the Duke, while keeping her burgeoning romance with Christian a secret.
Once Christian and Lautrec meet, there is barely a moment's pause in the singing. Beginning with music from the Sound of Music flowing to the popular cover of Lady Marmalade and culminating in my favorite scene, a medley of love songs atop an Elephant's head, it's nearly forty-five minutes before the film returns to a standard story format. In Moulin Rouge! you find popular songs from artists such as David Bowie, Madonna and Nirvana in mash-ups against seemingly contrary songs, sampled as part of a larger medley, or used in their entirety to particularly comic effect. You might think the result would be irritating, but it's quite captivating. The music of Moulin Rouge! grabbed me in such a way that I snatched up the soundtrack the first chance I got and still give it a listen every couple of months. Until researching this post, I never knew they released a Volume Two. Needless to say, I will cop that tout de suite.
The rousing music is barely even the half of it. Colors jump off the screen. Deep reds, cool blues, neon greens and pale whites are so crisp they crackle. When the doors to the Moulin Rouge first open, a swirling, dizzying flurry of vibrant costumes and leering faces assaults the eyes; Luhrmann uses the visual overstimulation to mimic Christian's perspective on his virgin voyage to the cabaret.
If the music and imagery don't excite you, gazing upon Ewan McGregor will topple your defenses. His boyish smile and adamant belief in the love that he and Satine share is irresistible. You can feel McGregor giving it his all in every scene. Kidman is equally impressive. In fact, from Broadbent's boisterous showmanship to Leguizamo's absinthe-tinged lisp and Roxburgh's nasally tantrums, all the actors deliver scene after hilarious scene. Like Luhrmann's visuals, they can turn on a dime to deliver the most heart-wrenching and dismal moments, changing the playful nature of Rouge! into a rueful affair.
Outstanding music and exhilarating visuals presented by some of the most talented actors--you couldn't ask for anything more. Bollywood films are designed to give audiences their money's worth and Luhrmann does exactly that with Moulin Rouge!.