Retro Review: Moulin Rouge
Everything old is new again, or so it seems. In Retro Review, our resident film buffs take a dive into a movie classic -- and tell us why it worked then, and whether it still works now. This week, Anna Salome looks back at Baz Luhrmann's landmark musical.
THE MOVIE: Moulin Rouge!, 2001, Nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Actress, won for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.
WHO'S IN IT? Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh.
DO I KNOW THEM? You sure do. Nicole Kidman is in the fifth decade of a career that started as a teen in Sydney but remains as visible and successful as ever. She has a plethora of accolades and awards including an Academy Award, a BAFTA (both for The Hours); two Primetime Emmy Awards; and six Golden Globe Awards.
Ewan McGregor: His credits span the genres from arthouse to blockbuster -- he first attained fame in Trainspotting and if he never did another thing he will always be known as the actor who stepped into Sir Alec Guiness's legendary shoes as Obi Wan Kenobi in the later Star Wars films. He has a Golden Globe, an Emmy and an OBE from the Queen for his service to drama and charity.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT:
Baz Luhrmann’s musical romance follows protagonists Satine (Nicole Kidman), an aspiring actress, and Christian (Ewan McGregor) a struggling playwright. The pair meet in unforeseen circumstances in 1899 at the Moulin Rouge in France. The story portrays their lust as they live out the Bohemian ideals of “truth, beauty, freedom and love.” Their yearning for love is slowly put on hold with the interruption of antagonist The Duke as he attempts to take over the Moulin Rouge.
WHY DID IT WORK THEN?
Moulin Rouge! worked when it was released due to its eccentric costumes and set design paired with a dramatic love story. Kidman’s performance as Satine is filled with charm as she acts as the object of all desires. Her talent shines in the Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend musical number as she takes centre stage. The chemistry between Kidman and McGregor is displayed during their rendition of Elton John’s Your Song as they fly amongst the sky dancing through life. McGregor portrays the longing playwright well as he falls for Satine showing his struggles in life.
One of the most memorable aspects of Moulin Rouge! is its soundtrack, filled with re-imagined retro pop hits. Luhrmann uses song to portray a love that is indescribable with just words but requires the characters to break into song. The film includes hits such as Nature Boy, Lady Marmalade, Roxanne and many more making up an ear-worm soundtrack.
DOES IT WORK NOW?
For the most part Moulin Rouge! still works today and has become a cult classic, along with finding new life as a Broadway musical. The jukebox soundtrack is charming for people of all ages with the hits remaining popular. The bold and detailed costumes and sets leave a lasting impression on the viewer’s mind, setting the film apart from others released at the time. Each time I view the film I am swept away and notice a new a detail and am enchanted anew.
But, there are some elements that might be considered problematic today. Luhrmann has shared that parts of the film were inspired by the Bollywood genre in the third act when the bohemians put on a play. The final act focuses on a courtesan falling in love with a sitar player whilst being committed to a maharajah. In the play the actors can be seen doing movements and wearing costumes inspired by the genre.
The nod to Bollywood films could be considered cultural appropriation today with the elements being used at a surface level but with little diversity in the cast. When adapted to the stage, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, the play is changed to include an ingénue falling for a sailor whilst being controlled by a gangster. Whether the change was necessary or not, it modernises the production significantly.
DO I NEED TO SEE IT?
If you are looking for an over the top and entertaining experience, then most definitely! There is something for everyone to love within Moulin Rouge’s dramatic and fast-paced narrative. It is one of my favourite movie musicals with it still remaining interesting each time I watch it. Moulin Rouge! is a story about a love that will live forever.