Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Moulin Rouge! (Luhrmann. 2001)

"You'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs..."

Before I get too far into my next paragraph it may be important for me to admit that I have not ever been to Paris. I am not particularly interested in going to Paris. It is not the type of place for me. I am merely using information that I have gathered from many reviewing sites and personal accounts.

It sort of makes me giggle to think that people actually have a romanticized vision of the Moulin Rouge. It seems to have become a bit of a dive-in tourist trap with horrible acoustics, crowded seating and sub-par performers. Roger Ebert claims that the biggest issues with the theatre are the ticket prices and the quality of entertainment. He says – “The tragedy of the Moulin Rouge is that by the time you can afford a better seat, you've outgrown the show”. To me, though windmills are neat, it looks like the place where Emil Jannings loses his dignity in the tragically funny film The Blue Angel. I am forced to wonder how many performers have lost their dignity at the Rouge.

So what creates this undeserved aura of upper-class romanticism? The outer-aesthetic appeal of the building has to be somewhat responsible, but I think a lot of people chalk the Moulin Rouge’s significance up to the concept of romance. Tourists want to go to a place like this to find a completely new definition of love. Or at least that is what they have heard they will find. It is THAT concept that makes a movie like Moulin Rouge! work. It is not worried about staying accurate, but rather it shamelessly exploits the reputation of the famous burlesque theatre. And the audience believes the completely ridiculous mythos because….well…the movie makes it seem believable.

A lot of that is due to the brilliant, Academy Award nominated, cinematography by Donald McAlpine. The camera creates a postcard-like frame for the action that whirls and twirls almost exactly like the human imagination. The audience is taken on a (highly-saturated) colorful rollercoaster ride that seems to only stop to push the plot. The film, which was shot on sound stages in Australia, does everything on a grand scale. The camera catches everything – even if it has to be frantic in order to accomplishing it.

The story is extremely straightforward and easy to follow. That may be the biggest flaw in Moulin Rouge!. A love-obsessed poet (Ewan McGregor) comes to the Moulin Rouge and madly falls for a dying dancer/hooker named Satine. Played by the Academy Award nominated Nicole Kidman, Satine is a famous dancer with a secret. The audience finds out very early in the movie that she has tuberculosis and is dying. The Duke (Richard Roxburgh) is also in love with Satine and disallows her from seeing the poet.

Each character in the movie is decently defined, with Nicole Kidman standing alone as the only incredible performance. She is sexy, smart and compelling as Satine. It is a performance that perfectly embodies how a person would act, in this outlandish circumstance, if they knew that they were dying. In her final moments on the screen she is so tender, heartbreaking and relatable that it almost forced a tear to my eye. Sadly, the ending was so obvious and abrupt that I was not fully involved enough to cry.

The storyline in Moulin Rouge! is empty and a bit weak, but I do not think that narrative is what Baz Luhrmann was trying to rely on with this movie. It features some of the most stylized costumes, sets and color schemes that have ever been in popular film. Everything is over the top, extraordinary or fantastical. It is almost as if the audience is supposed to be captured in the surrealist aspects of the main character’s surroundings. Why not? Moulin Rouge! is set in France – the country that adopted the father of surrealist cinema, Luis Buñuel. Maybe this was Luhrmann’s form of homage to the great director. Or maybe he just wanted the movie to look neat. Either way, I think he succeeded.

Moulin Rouge! is most famous for its use of several popular songs that were rewritten and performed by the characters. There is a very famous medley of songs, “Elephant Love Medley”, which made it onto the pop charts in 2001. It features a complex mix of songs by artists spanning from The Beatles to Kiss. Though it is a neat selection of songs, I was not particularly fond of a number of the renditions that were written for the film. “Roxanne” and “Like a Virgin” stand out as two of the more grueling numbers.

I suppose that I enjoyed Moulin Rouge! on a visual level, but the movie itself is not very entertaining. People did and still do go nuts for the musical numbers, but (like Glee) when you mash-up a bunch of already popular songs – you will probably get a popular song out of it. Nothing besides the artwork is particularly memorable outside of Kidman’s performance. I feel like this must be a polarizing movie. It is probably much more popular with women who yearn for the fake, pre-packaged romance of Paris.

“It is perfectly appropriate that it was filmed on sound stages in Australia; Paris has always existed best in the minds of its admirers.”

Moulin Rouge!: B-

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