Thursday, October 8, 2009

2001 - Moulin Rouge

Living in New York, there are plenty of tough working class men around, so I expect to be witness to the odd spitting-in-the-street incident now and then. Today, however, I experienced something I never expected. As I walked through the streets of Astoria, I passed a short middle-aged Chinese lady who hocked a loogie right in front of me. Granted, her somewhat dainty action produced a less thick and globular result than the one from the man I passed on the previous block, but still, that's not something you see every day.

On that rather repugnant note, let's move on to the first Best Picture nomination from 2001...

Moulin Rouge
Baz Luhrmann
Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce
Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh
Academy Awards:
8 nominations
2 wins, for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design

Visually stunning and musically anachronistic, Moulin Rouge self-confesses to be, above all things, a story about love. Christian is an English writer who moves to turn-of-the-20th-century Paris to mix with the Bohemian crowd. He quickly becomes involved in the exciting underworld of the hottest nightspot in town, the Moulin Rouge. It is here that he meets the star of the show, Satine, who also happens to be a courtesan (which is really just Bohemian for 'prostitute'). The two fall in love but when the fate of the Moulin Rouge is left in the hands of the Duke, who also fancies Satine, the lovers find themselves struggling to stay together.

I've never known quite what to make of Moulin Rouge. It's certainly unique in its extravagance and it is one hell of a spectacle. However, I suppose the simple fact of the matter is that it's just not my type of movie. Part music video, part cartoon, part acid trip, I just found it exhausting. The story is simple enough, but each scene moves at such a breakneck speed with such farcical exaggeration that, for the vast majority of the film, I couldn't help thinking all the bells and whistles were just disguising the lack of emotional content. But that's probably a bit unfair. The second half of the film engaged me much more with several touching scenes, which I believe can be attributed to its slower sensibility. Once I could take a breath and allow myself to feel something for the characters rather than the visual spectacle, it became more palatable. Still, the Looney Tunes sound effects and MTV editing were waiting in the wings to snap me back into non-reality.

Having said all that, there is no doubt that Moulin Rouge is entertainment, pure and simple. The design elements alone are enough to elicit oohs and aahs, so it's no wonder the two Oscars that the film won were for its sets and costumes. On top of that, the music throughout the extravaganza is positively extraordinary with its deliberately anachronistic use of pop and rock'n'roll - everything from Nat King Cole to Nirvana. There's an inspired tango version of The Police's Roxanne, plus a strange male duet rendition of Madonna's Like a Virgin. And since it's a musical, we accept a world in which people break into song, so the fact that the songs are of a different time period doesn't really affect its plausibility. Although, the moon singing opera is perhaps stretching it. Yes, that's right. The moon. Singing opera. Larger than life is putting it mildly.

A rare Best Picture nomination for an Australian film (Babe is the only other one I can think of, off the top of my head), Moulin Rouge features a host of well-known Aussie names. Well, they're well-known in Australia, at any rate. Garry McDonald, Jacek Koman, Kerry Walker, David Wenham, to name a few. And our beloved Kylie Minogue briefly appears as the Green Fairy. Richard Roxburgh particularly stands out as the Duke. Jim Broadbent, not from Down Under, is also wonderful as the owner of the cabaret. As for John Leguizamo as Toulouse-Lautrec, I just couldn't get past his ridiculous speech impediment.

And can someone please teach Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor how to pronounce "Moulin Rouge"?

The 1952 Best Picture shortlist also contains a film with the title Moulin Rouge, unrelated to this story. Let's see if that one manages to tickle my fancy any more.


  1. People will continue to think we are the same person. Once again we are in agreement and for pretty much the same reasons. Moulin Rouge! is an extravagant, excessive, heartfelt, silly, tuneful, cartoon-like experience. It isn't so much that you either love it or hate it overall, but rather scene by scene. The first time I saw it, I went from having goosebumps to wanting to walk out.

    It really did re-introduce the musical back to the movies - and as far as the music, the decision to go contemporary was the right choice. Not all of it worked - I could have done without "Like a Virgin" I particularly liked "One Day I'll Fly Away" and the new song "Come What May"

    I think what made this movie work for me was the chemistry between Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. It was old fashioned and had heart.

    The musical was back and the next year another one copped the Best Picture. It was more polished but I'll have something to say about it when we get to 2002.

    Perhaps Moulin Rouge! is just too erratic and hyper-kinetic to be considered the best of the year, but it had its great moments and should be experienced.

  2. I tell you Matt, spitting in public is such a NY thing, happens all the time. Totally gross. Now, remind me to tell you about the time I saw a woman drop her pants and go no.2 at the bus stop on La Brea and Hollywood! That was all class.

  3. I have to say I luckily stayed beyond the very noisy first 15 minutes and loved the movie. I thought the scenery was excellently shown and I enjoyed this film as much as or even more than I enjoyed Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet. I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed Nicole Kidman’s voice and having heard McGregor before like his voice too. Jim Broadbent and John Leguizamo were good additions but Richard Roxburgh’s role as the Duke had me wishing him dead – exactly its intent. I will watch this movie over and over.

    Sal D