Laura Clifford Robin CliffordThere has been a hype preceding Baz Luhrmann's latest opus that has helped
to infuse interest in the budding Australian film industry. Fox Studios,
Sydney has bellied up to the bar in a big way to bring us the director's
own vision of turn-of-the-century Parisian nightlife in "Moulin Rouge."
"Moulin Rouge" is a jam-packed musical extravaganza utilizing brilliantly
conceived, complexly produced sets providing the viewer with a visual
cornucopia of images. There is so much going on during the high-octane
musical numbers, I could only think of Peter Greenaway's stunning sets in
"Prospero's Books" by way of comparison. The numerous, imaginative dance
routines are done with the director's patented hyperkinetic editing, giving
the film the feel of Gilbert and Sullivan on acid.
Luhrmann's frenzied form of filmmaking was evident in his stylish and fun
"Strictly Ballroom." He took it a step further (and faltered horribly) with
his annoying "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" that must have had the
Bard rolling in his grave. The helmer continues to follow his own vision in
his best work to date. Not that "Moulin Rouge" is a great film, mind you.
The are cracks in the kitsch that keeps this extravagant musical from
The story, by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, covers no new ground with poor,
struggling poet, Christian (Ewan MacGregor), attracted to the big city
lights of circa-1900 gay Paris where the diminutive artiste, Henri de
Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo), and his cronies befriend him. The gang
soon introduces the naove Christian to the pleasures and debauchery of the
infamous Moulin Rouge, a notorious nightclub owned by a surrealistic emcee,
Zidler (Jim Broadbent). There the gullible budding poet is introduced to
the charms of the beautiful star of the show, Satine (Nicole Kidman), the
most famous courtesan in Paris.
Zidler wants to make the change from nightclub shill to legitimate theater
owner and uses Satine to lure the wealthy Duke of Worcester (Richard
Roxburgh) to invest in his venture. The selfish, arrogant aristocrat lusts
after the beautiful chanteuse and agrees to pay for the business transition
- if he gets Satine in the bargain. The deluded Zidler and ambitious
Satine, who hungers to be a legit actress and no longer a highly paid
whore, agree, but overlook one major snag. Christian falls for Satine and
vice versa. Oh, yeah. Satine suffers from consumption. You take it from
there, keeping in mind this is a romantic tragedy.
Luhrmann almost overwhelms you with his frenetic dance numbers that utilize
a plethora of pop music songs delivered in operatic-style. The list is long
and starts with "The Sound of Music" begun, first, as narrative but soon
breaking into song as Christian conceives the heart of the musical play
that will launch the new Moulin Rouge. This is where the flick is both at
its best and its worst (though "worst" is a bit harsh).
There is a Bob Fosse influence to Luhrmann's proceedings as he combines
1900 Can Can burlesque with the modern musical poetry of "Roxanne," "Like a
Virgin" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Elton John's "Your Song" is the
flagship tune that epitomizes the romance between Christian and Satine.
"Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," a string of "love" songs (that's
song's with "love" in the title, Alex) - "In the Name of Love," "Silly Love
Songs," "All You Need Is Love" - "Up Where We Belong" (from "An Officer and
a Gentleman) and David Bowie's "Heroes" all get attention to varying
degrees. The all male "Like a Virgin," led by Broadbent, is good fun.
The myriad of musical numbers and references are, as I said, overwhelming
with the cleverness and single-minded wit of its auteur. For Luhrmann, more
is better as he batters you with a visual bombardment that weaves the
varied of songs into the fabric of the film.
There are actors up there on the screen and credit must be given to Kidman
and MacGregor for terrific musical performances. Each did their own singing
and both are first-rate, especially MacGregor, whose pipes could earn him a
living as a crooner. Jim Broadbent gives a wild and colorful perf as
Zidler, while Richard Roxburgh puts a Simon Legree spin on his sinister and
dispicable Duke. The rest of the cast provides a "Cabaret" level of
choreographic splendor to the striking dance numbers.
More is not always better and, sometimes, it is best to give the audience a
little time to chew on things a bit. The frenetic pace of "Moulin Rouge" is
a blessing and a bane, but it is certainly the vision of its maker. I give
it a B.
In 1899, the summer of love, impoverished British writer Christian (Ewan
McGregor, "Star Wars: Episode I - the Phantom Menace") arrives in Paris
to find inspiration in Montmarte's bohemian artistic neighborhood. When
a narcoleptic Argentian (Jacek Koman) and a midget dressed as a nun
(John Leguizamo as Henri de Toulouse Lautrec) fall through his ceiling,
Christian's cast in their alpine play, "Spectacular, Spectacular." He breaks
their collective writers' block by belting out "The hills are alive!,"
is declared the play's new author and trundled off to meet Zidler (Jim
Broadbent, "Topsy Turvy"), the owner of their venue, the "Moulin Rouge."
Lautrec promises Christian that he'll meet with the play's star, Satine
(Nicole Kidman) alone, just as Zidler is promising the same to the Duke
(Richard Roxburgh, "Mission: Impossible II"), a potential backer. Satine,
Moulin Rouge's star and courtesan, gets mixed signals and sets to seducing
Christian, believing he's the wealthy Duke.
The story of "Moulin Rouge" (written by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, "William
Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet") mirrors Dumas' "Camille," where another
consumptive courtesan captures the heart of an idealistic young man, but
director Luhrmann uses the age old tale as a springboard to dazzle his audience
with lavishly colorful visuals, dizzily photographed, alarmingly editted and
musically propelled via snippets of countless pop tunes.
Our initial introduction to the Moulin Rouge is through the eyes of
Christian after imbibing in absinthe (guided by Australian songstress Kylie
Minogue as the green fairy), the legendary hallucinogenic green liqueur. The
skirts of can-can dancers whoosh by with a kaleidoscopic effect as the
performers sing the most unlikely medley of "Voulez Vous Couchez Avec Moi?" and
"Smells Like Teen Spirit." A wild assortment of freaks and fashionistas make
the patrons of the Moulin Rouge the Studio 54'ers of their day. Then Satine
makes her entrance, dangling from above on a swing, brilliant red hair and lips
spotlighted against chalk white skin. Satine's introductory medley, "Diamonds
Are a Girl's Best Friend/"Material Girl," prove that Kidman can carry a tune,
but are an uninspired choice.
Luhrmann then gives us a dose of the ludicrous as Satine writhes around her
opulent Indian elephant abode as Christian recites the 'poetry' of Elton
John's "Your Song." The real Duke's arrival calls for quick thinking on
Satine's part and aided by Christian's fellow playmates she
outlines the play's plot on the spot. This sequence plays as if the Marx
Brothers collided with the Three Stooges.
After this, Luhrmann eases up on the hyperkinetic editting and "Moulin
Rouge" settles in with its first truly showstopping number in which Zidler
performs "Like a Virgin" for the Duke accompanied by a chorus of dancing
waiters. Other highlights include the narcoleptic Argentian's advise to
Christian about getting involved with courtesans by way of a tango number
set to "Roxanne," and the climax of the play within a play.
Luhrman has created a great piece of eye candy, from his opening black and
white zoom through the streets of Paris leading to the Moulin Rouge (looking
like "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" crossed with "The City of Lost Children")
to the multi-level Indian set stages of a Bollywood Ziegfeld. His "Romeo +
Juliet" team of cinematographer Donald McAlpine, editor Jill Bilcock,
and production designer/costume designer Catherine Martin are joined by
art director Ann-Marie Beauchamp and Set Decorator Brigitte Broch ("Chronos,"
Yet all the film's spectular excesses don't add up to a completely satisfying
experience, careening as it does from slapstick to melodrama.
Kidman looks ravishing, but her plight never pulls on the heartstrings.
McGregor fares better, largely due to the real emotion he delivers with his
full bodied singing voice. Broadbent's Zidler is a pragmatic, rather than
evil, version of Joel Grey's "Cabaret" emcee and he gives the film's most
interesting performance (when Luhrmann lets us see it), yet his presence
distractingly recalls the theatrical "Topsy Turvy." Leguizamo is little more
than a tearful clown - Toulouse who? Roxburgh's Duke is as two dimentionally
villainous as the plot demands.
"Moulin Rouge" is itself like a courtesan, a lavishly oufitted, desirable
beauty who excels at artifice.
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