Cinematic Heaven: Moulin Rouge!

Moulin Rouge! | Baz Luhrman, 2001

Moulin Rouge! is like sex. The first time you do it, you might find it rather painful or embarrassing and you just can’t do more than a few minutes. However, as you do it more times, you become used to it and may end up loving it. Hell, some even become addicts. Most people, when you talk to them about Moulin Rouge! say that they could not make it past the first 15 minutes or so. I felt the same way when I first attempted to watch this Baz Luhrmann-directed movie late one Saturday in broadcast television. It was at the part where Christian and his friends first go to the Moulin Rouge, and my head hurt from all the craziness that was going on. So, I decided to turn off the TV and go to sleep. However, I could not get the few minutes I saw out of my head. Sometime during the week that followed, I rented the movie to give it another try. And this time, I fell in love with it. And so, I joined a select few who gave the movie another try and discovered that there is much more than that deliciously chaotic intro, and now I’m kind of addicted to it.

The story is all too familiar, but remains one of my favorite stories of all time. We first meed Christian (Ewan McGregor), and English writer who hopes to join and be inspired by the bohemian revolution in Paris during the 1800s. Within moments of his arrival in Paris, he find himself  in writing a truly bohemian show called “Spectacular Spectacular” and preparing a pitch for Harry Zidler (Jim Broadbent), with a troupe of bohemians, among them John Leguizamo as Toulouse, a dwarf. There is one problem: Zidler doesn’t know anything about the new writer. So, they have to get to Satine (Nicole Kidman), the star of the Moulin Rouge, first so that he could convince him to stage the show.

Meanwhile, in the Moulin Rouge, Zidler is planning to sell the Moulin Rouge to the Duke (Richard Richard Roxburgh), and to convince him he sets him up with Satine. So, through a series of events and musical numbers, Satine confuses Christina with the Duke, then they realize that he is not the Duke, hilarity ensues, and now The Duke and Christian are in love with Satine, but she only loves Christian, but she must sleep with the other man after the opening of “Spectacular Spectaular”, which The Duke was given creative control over. The rest of the movie is spent with the eveloution of the relationships, the play, and elaborate musical numbers.

Like I said, the story is not very original. However, while the story is definitely one of the most important factors, it is more about how it is told. Baz Luhrmann used the story to create a musical unlike any that had been seen before, or since. He created a extremely stylish movie filled to the brim with colors, chaotic editing that no doubt made some people feel sick, and extremely catchy arrangements of popular songs that server the story a great deal. For some this is too much to take in, and it is understandable, but all this just makes me feel awe every time I watch it. This is true director’s piece, something that is rarely seen these days.

Of course, he would not have been as successful without the excellent craftsmen behind the scenes. Catherine Martin, Luhrmann’s wife, was in charge of the costume and the art direction in this, and took home two Oscars for her effort. The costumes are among the best that have ever graced the silver screen. And the sets along with Donald McAlpine’s cinematography takes us to a Paris unlike any we have seen on screen, or perhaps existed, but to the Paris that we could only dream up. Aiding this is Jil Bilcock’s Oscar nominated editing and Craig Armstrong’s score.

Speaking of the music, this movie would be nothing without it. Armstrong took each song, and rearranged it to fit the mood of the movie. It is orchestrated like the music of the time period, but since we are not occupied with historical accuracies, he used modern music to make it even more exciting. As for they song choices, some are bizarre, some are perfect, some are cheesy, but every one of them works within the context that they are prevented. Some cannot stand seeing Jim Broadbent and Richard Roxburgh singing to “Like a Virgin” while waiters dance around them, but that whole scene is a blast.

This brings me to the performances. The performances in a musical have to be excellent. We have to believe that the characters are the kind of people that would just suddenly break into song, and they have to feel the song, portray the emotions that the song is suppose to evoke so that we can get attached to the characters. Thanksfully, every performance is perfect. Let’s start with Leguizamo. He is annoying in just about every movie he’s ever been in, but his persona actually works in his favor given the role he is playing. Roxburgh is slimy, yet so good as The Duke. He makes this character one of the most memorable villains of the last decade. I wouldn’t be surprised if Anton Wolbrook’s performance in The Red Shoes was an inspiration for him. Jim Broadbent is always a delight, and this is no exception. The best part of his work here is when he sings “The Show Must Go On.” Eway McGregor gives what still is his best performance of his career, and his voice is surprisingly good. And then there is my beloved Nicole Kidman. First, she is at the peak of her beauty here. My heart skips a beat every time she first comes on screen every time I watch it. She went on with her Botox phase. But now she seems to be holding back, letting her age show a bit and she’s letting her natural (and beautiful) hair color come back. Her voice is not the strongest, but fits the character and the song that she has to sing. But she makes up for the singing with performance. This is my favorite role of hers and is her second best performance (after To Die For). She should have won her Oscar for this, and not for the extremely overrated The Hours.

So, yeah, I’m a Moulin Rouge! addict. But it’s not my fault! I blame Baz Luhrman and his team for creating an amazing musical experience unlike any I had ever seen. Let’s hope that at some point he makes a movie that reaches the greatness of this.

Moulin Rouge! will be released on Blu-ray this Tuesday, October 19

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