I truly would
like for Baz Luhrmanns Moulin Rouge!
to work. The old-fashioned film musical is pretty much a dead art form.
It has been relegated to animated films, because it has somehow been
decreed that only cartoon characters can believably break into song. The
occasional live action musicals like Evita generally are box
office disappointments. In fact, the last hit musical was Little Shop
of Horrors back in 1987, the last blockbuster goes all the way back
to Grease in 1978.
So it takes a lot of nerve just to film this
movie. Unfortunately, the filmmakers cant quite seem to decide what
they want the film to be. In most ways the story is almost as quaintly
old-fashioned as an opera (one of the main characters is dying of
consumption, it doesn't get much more antiquated than that!) At the same
time, though, the camerawork, the storyline and particularly the music
are disturbingly post-modern. Especially the first fifteen minutes
which Luhrmann has had cut at a dizzying MTV
pace. While I get that he is trying to convey the frenetic energy of the
place, it is rather difficult to even keep up with whats going on.
Then, after a little while, the cuts slow down to a very stately
(perhaps even too slow) pace. Still it is appreciated, because you can
take the time to value the stunning sets and art direction and the
fine performances by Nicole Kidman and Ewan MacGregor. The other
performances are a bit over the top, particularly Richard Roxburgh as
the evil Duke who wants Kidman all to himself and John Leguizamo as
Toulouse Latrec still, this scenery chewing somehow fits into the
grand guignol gonzo passions of the story.
The biggest problem is the
music. While it certainly can work (and has worked in the past) to use
popular tunes to form a musical, for the most part it doesnt succeed
here because the songs are just too far removed from the story they are
trying to tell. Not surprisingly, the songs that feel most comfortable
in the Paris 1900 setting are the oldest ones
"Nature Boy" and
"Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend" are not quite that old, but they do
have a certain old-fashioned charm. There are also a few other more
obscure songs that also feel comfortable because while people might not
get the rush of familiarity, they also do not carry their own pop
culture baggage with them.
Too bad they insist on slipping in pop hits
from the seventies, eighties and nineties like "Lady Marmalade," "Your
Song," "Like A Virgin," "Roxanne" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit." These
songs bring Moulin Rouge! screeching to a halt every single time.
The audience listens to the opening words thinking they sound familiar,
chuckle briefly when they recognize the song. Its a cheap trick,
though, after that small pay-off the audience has to sit through the
next two or three minutes pondering how these characters knew about
Madonna and Elton John a hundred years ago, and what do these words have
to do with the storyline, anyway? (6/01)
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January 28, 2022.