Moulin Rouge! (2001)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #63

Truth — Beauty — Freedom — Love

Country: USA & Australia
Language: English
Runtime: 128 minutes
BBFC: 12
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 16th May 2001 (L.A., USA)
UK Release: 7th September 2001
First Seen: DVD, 2002

Stars
Nicole Kidman (Eyes Wide Shut, The Hours)
Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith)
John Leguizamo (Super Mario Bros., Land of the Dead)
Jim Broadbent (Iris, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)
Richard Roxburgh (Mission: Impossible II, Van Helsing)

Director
Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, Australia)

Screenwriters
Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom, The Great Gatsby)
Craig Pearce (Romeo + Juliet, The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud)

Music by
Craig Armstrong (Love Actually, The Great Gatsby)

The Story
Paris, 1899: while pitching a show to the owner of the Moulin Rouge nightclub, writer Christian falls for the venue’s leading lady, Satine. Despite her mutual attraction, Satine has been promised to the Duke of Monroth in exchange for his investment in the cabaret. As preparations for the show continue, Christian and Satine’s love blossoms nonetheless. Will true love conquer commerce?

Our Heroes
Christian is just a poor, miserable poet living among Bohemians in turn-of-the-century Paris, until he meets and falls in love with Satine, the Moulin Rouge’s star act and courtesan.

Our Villain
Unfortunately for Christian, Satine has been promised to the Duke of Monroth, a nasty piece of work who will have his way or have Christian killed.

Best Supporting Character
The Moulin Rouge’s exuberant owner, Harold Zidler, is prepared to essentially sell Satine for investment in his establishment. Which makes him sound like a horrible so-and-so, but actually he cares for her deeply.

Memorable Quote
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” — Christian

Memorable Scene
Zidler convinces Satine that she must tell Christian she doesn’t love him, to save his life from the murderous intentions of the Duke. As she leaves the Moulin Rouge to break Christian’s heart, Zidler delivers an emotional rendition of Queen’s The Show Must Go On.

Best Song
The film is packed with interesting reinterpretations of modern pop hits. Personally, I love a reimagined cover version, so picking just one is bloody tough. There are a couple of mash-ups that work particularly well: the big number when Christian & friends first arrive at the eponymous establishment, which crashes Lady Marmalade against Smells Like Teen Spirit; and the Elephant Love Medley, which wittily re-appropriates lyrics from a gaggle of love songs (eight, to be precise) into one number. However, the best of all may be a reimagining of the Police’s Roxanne as a dramatic dance number, El Tango de Roxanne.

Technical Wizardry
One of the most controversial aspects of what is a love-it-or-hate-it film anyway is its editing style. Eschewing the familiar trappings of Hollywood musicals, Luhrmann has the entire film shot (by Donald M. McAlpine) and edited (by Jill Bilcock) as if it were a modern music video. In total, there are just shy of 3,600 shots in the film (according to this analysis), which gives it an Average Shot Length (ASL) of just 2 seconds. For comparison, the mean ASL for US films released the same year was around 5 seconds. Even now, over a decade later, the ASL for English-language films sits at about 2.5 seconds.

Making of
It’s now quite well known that musicals need to contain a brand-new song to be eligible for the Best Song Oscar. Obviously this is normally relevant to adaptations of stage musicals, but naturally it applies to Moulin Rouge, too. The film’s one new song is Come What May, but it was ruled ineligible for the Oscar because it was actually written for Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, even though it wasn’t used in that film. The music arm of the Academy really are a tricky bunch.

Previously on…
Moulin Rouge is the third part of Baz Luhrmann’s thematically-linked Red Curtain Trilogy, following Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet.

Awards
Nominated for the Palme d’Or
2 Oscars (Art Direction-Set Decoration, Costume Design)
6 Oscar nominations (Picture, Actress (Nicole Kidman), Cinematography, Editing, Makeup, Sound)
3 BAFTAs (Supporting Actor (Jim Broadbent), Music, Sound)
9 BAFTA nominations (Film, Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, Editing, Visual Effects, Make Up/Hair)
5 Australian Film Institute (AFI) awards (Cinematography, Editing, Sound, Costume Design, Production Design)
5 AFI nominations (Film, Director, Actor (Ewan McGregor), Actress (Nicole Kidman), Supporting Actor (Richard Roxburgh))
3 World Soundtrack Awards (including Most Creative Use of Existing Material on a Soundtrack)
2 World Soundtrack Awards nominations (including Best Original Score of the Year Not Released on an Album)

What the Critics Said
“The time, the effort and the sweat are all up there on the screen in this opulent, no-holds-barred and multilayered movie. [It] is wrapped up in such an audacious mix of traditional and contemporary song — including David Bowie, Elton John, Madonna and Nirvana — and staged with a near-insane visual ambition, you will either fall in love with every camp flourish, or find yourself exhausted after 20 minutes. It’s a singular achievement either way.” — Andrew Collins, Radio Times

Score: 76%

What the Public Say
“one of the great movie spectacles of this generation, an undertaking of vast scope made all the more fascinating by how it transforms commonplace undercurrents into rich sensations […] There is a sense that these concepts are simplified for the sake of basic comprehension, but the picture doesn’t so much strip them of complexities as it penetrates to the core of their meaning. That creates a scenario where the story simply observes the indulgences that manifest in the rhythms, the music, the dance moves, the vocals, the dialogue, the facial expressions and the daydreams that inhabit the characters. It seeks no more profound a purpose. Some find the implication startlingly straightforward in an endeavor where the technical achievements are such a subversive triumph, but I applaud it; how frequently has any ambitious Hollywood production been willing to see past the varnish of a formula and deal directly with the ideals[?]” — David M. Keyes, Cinemaphile

Verdict

These days there are plenty of musicals appearing on the big screen, and they’re often contending for the top gongs come awards season. This wasn’t the case back in 2001 — Moulin Rouge, divisive as it is, changed all that (it was the first musical nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in a decade, and the previous one was a Disney animation). Baz Luhrmann’s injection of modern MTV style gave the genre a kick up the arse, which isn’t necessarily to the taste of classic musical fans but certainly brought the genre renewed mainstream attention. Mixing in his theatrical storytelling, melodramatic emotions, and vibrant and extravagant costumes and sets, Luhrmann created a heady film designed to give modern audiences a sense of how visiting the Moulin Rouge would’ve felt in 1899 (well, it’s certainly not the literal experience!) It’s clearly not a film that meets all tastes, but if you’re on its wavelength then it’s magnificent.

The first half of Baz Luhrmann’s Netflix series, The Get Down, was released on Friday, which is a neat coincidence.

#64 will be… a lot of fuss over very little.

An extended musing on falling in love with films

An issue that came to my mind while writing this entry (specifically after viewing film #123): when was the last time I ‘fell in love’ with a film? It’s got me pondering not only that, but also what caused me to ‘fall for’ the films I do like? Was it the critical reaction as much as my personal opinion? The in-built notion of This Is A Good Film making sure I liked it?

I don’t think that’s quite true: I was certainly aware of the high praise for films like Pulp Fiction or Fight Club (both of which I adored from first viewing) when I saw them, but I’m sure there was something more to them that impressed me. Certainly, there are films I’ve enjoyed to a similar degree where my awareness of its wider praise has followed later, such as Donnie Darko or Children of Men. By a similar token, there are films where I knew of the praise, such as Memento and The Departed, and still didn’t come to love them.

It leaves me wondering if, as I grow older, I’m less prone to being swayed by received critical opinions and finally just judging films on their own merit; or, possibly, I’m so eager to try to have my own thoughts and to therefore avoid things that I’m not taking them in the right way? It’s a very self-reflexive question and consequently a hard one to answer, especially as all opinions on art are so subjective anyway.

As for the issue of films I’ve ‘fallen in love’ with, the issue is slightly complicated by a division between Entertainment Films and Proper Films (I use these terms loosely, for the sake of this argument). To use some of the same examples, I would class all the films thus far mentioned as Proper Films (we can already see the line blurring as they all certainly have high entertainment values too), whereas things like Pirates of the Caribbean or Serenity are more clearly of the Entertainment variety. Handily, I have a list of all the films I’ve seen in the past eleven months, so I can see what I may’ve loved in the past year.

And, indeed, there are some. Under the Proper banner we might find the likes of Mean Creek, Brief Encounter, or, probably most of all, United 93. Under the Entertainment heading there could possibly be 300, Stranger Than Fiction, or, undoubtedly, Hot Fuzz. But it can be tricky to designate the difference between “liked a lot” and “loved” — there were several more films I nearly listed, but then just wasn’t sure.

Indeed, how much I love even the ones mentioned, and even more so whether they rank amongst films I’d call all-time favourites, is a complex proposition. When does “liked a lot” become “loved”? In the past, the likes of Se7en, Apocalypse Now and Magnolia, as well as one or two others mentioned earlier, easily jumped straight to the top of my favourites list after just one viewing… but then maybe I was just young and impressionable. Or maybe I wasn’t as easily persuadable as I seem to think, and I’m just still waiting for something to capture me the same way they did…