Thursday, December 8, 2011
In Defense of...Moulin Rouge (2001)
The Nostalgia Critic made me do it. If you don’t know who that is, firstly, shame on you. Second, he is just your everyday, run-of-the-mill, single, borderline thirty Chicagoan (Chicagoite?). Oh, and he produces videos every week vehemently criticizing, justly I may add, movies or television from our childhood, mostly from the 80’s & 90’s. Well, last week, it happened. He, along some collaborators to his site (http://www.thatguywiththeglasses.com/), went after something that I truly enjoy.
Released in the summer of 2001, Baz Luhrmann directed & co-wrote the third in his “Love Trilogy”, after Strictly Ballroom and Romeo & Juliet. The story is fairly simple: At the turn of the 20th century, a young writer, Christian (McGregor), is looking to hit it big in Paris, only to have an opportunity fall through the ceiling in the form of a Bohemian troupe looking for a place to set up shop as well. At a party at the Moulin Rouge, the young writer meets Satine (Kidman), a courtesan who desires to be an actress. The owner, Zidler (Broadbent), has his eyes sent on making a boatload of money and Satine famous by convincing The Duke (Roxburgh) to invest in the place. After many misunderstanding and hijinks, The Duke will invest in Christian’s story with Satine in the lead if he gets her and final story approval, with only Christian standing in his way.
I will be the first to admit that the story is a little thin and flimsy. Okay, those words aren’t strong enough. Satine & Christian basically act like teenagers throughout. Any little disagreement and they break apart. There is more sneaking around between these two than in any Friends episode. Villains in early Adam Sandler “comedies” aren’t as dumb as The Duke. You’d swear he were the great-great grandfather of Sheldon Cooper he is so oblivious to the relationships of others. And I won’t even start with the soap opera-esque finale.
So why defend such bland and unmotivated storytelling? Simple, I won’t. Moulin Rouge is totally about the spectacle on the screen. And I can prove it. Watch the opening and closing shots. Along the edge of the screen you see the silhouette of a conductor & his orchestra. This shows the audience that the film is being show as if it were supposed to be a stage musical, where spectacle is a major component. So, one (and I may be the only one) can say that the look of the movie is on equal footing with the story and not reduced to the background like most movies.
The glorious camerawork and sharp music video really adds to the pace, energy and enthusiasm of the musical numbers. The use of mostly borrowed lyrics could have been a distraction but it somehow works. As the movie goes on, the musical numbers become more elaborate & expertly produced leading up to the wondrous, yet clichéd & already spoiled ending.
So, I will easily concede that the story is juvenile & paint-by-numbers. But to completely disregard the look and the impact on the film world this movie had is foolish. It stands by its tagline: Truth (in that the story is quite lame). Beauty (Nearly every musical number is fantastic). Freedom (We can agree to disagree). Love (It truly is the greatest, whether lost or found).