Moulin Rouge! is a masterpiece.
In this jukebox musical set at the end of the nineteenth century, a poor bohemian writer falls in love with a beautiful courtesan who works at the infamous Moulin Rouge nightclub in Paris.
I like to imagine director Baz Luhrmann looking through a scrapbook of his artistic influences—Madonna on the cover of Vogue, scenes from La Bohème, Garbo in Camille and Mata Hari.
Trying to decide what direction he’d take his great film—farce or tragedy, set in modern day or at the fin de siècle.
Did he want to emulate the over-the-top expressions of silent films or the frenetic smash cuts of MTV music videos?
A soundtrack inspired by The Sound of Music or Nirvana?
Then I imagine him slamming the scrapbook shut and saying, “Hell with it. I’ll put it all in.”
And damn if he doesn’t.
It’s funny, it’s sexy, it’s tragic. And even though he uses modern filming techniques, at its heart it’s a big old fashioned story about love—complete with a penniless songwriter, a mustache-twirling villain, and a hooker with a heart of gold.
And yet he makes it completely his own creation, superior even to his similarly eclectic Romeo + Juliet.
No one has ever come close to imitating it.
I don’t think Baz himself could recapture the lightning he caught in the bottle of Moulin Rouge!
Baz begins the ascent to the film’s climax when the Argentinian belts out the first words of Sting’s Roxanne. While the Moulin Rouge dancers tango, Christian (the penniless songwriter) waits in agony while his lover Satine is forced to sleep with the Duke who bought and paid for her.
Watching it is like riding a roller coaster full speed downhill.
And if the Academy had given Nicole Kidman the Oscar she deserved for her iconic portrayal of Satine, they wouldn’t have had to waste one on her the following year for that awful film The Hours.
This is part of my Movies I’m Grateful For series, running daily through the month of November.