Monday, 2 February 2009

Suddenly an unconscious Argentinean fell through my roof. He was quickly joined by a dwarf dressed as a nun.

No 211 - Moulin Rouge!
Director - Baz Luhrmann

I remember very vividly when I first saw this film. I was in sixth form when it came out, and was a student of 'Theatre Studies', so there was naturally a lot of talk about this overtly theatrical piece. However, I was not convinced that I would enjoy it, it looked overtly soppy, a chicks film. Finally I was convinced to go and see it (Tom Done, who was in the year above and who was utterly terrifying, though who is now a good friend, won me over by stating the line I have used as a title. Surely a film MUST be good if it features unconscious Argentinians and cross dressing dwarfs!). So one evening I went to the Regent cinema in Wantage (now shut down) with my best friends Hanna and Richard.

The film completely blew me away, and is the only film that has managed to firmly grab my attention in the first second, as the curtains open and the conductor arrives to play the 20th Century Fox theme. It uses the production company's theme and introduction and places it firmly into the film's style and universe. It is brave, bold and really quite ridiculous. Those three words becoming a theme that create the style of not only the entire film but the entire Red Curtain Trilogy.

What I like about this film is the simplicity of the structure, the fact that it is a mix of slapstick, farce and sexual innuendo, unashamedly slushy romance and dazzling glamour. All wrapped up in a parcel which is camper than a bucket of glittery boy scouts sipping flirtinis. And I really enjoy the high camp mentality. The glitter, the kitsch and the bizzare sound effects (a particular favourite being Jim Broadbent making his own whooshing noises as he moves fast in the song Spectacular Spectacular) and the songs.

Ah yes, the songs. We can not talk about Moulin Rouge without mentioning the songs. I am a totally biased judge here because I love musicals and I think songs have an amazing emotive power that simple speech can't grasp. However I accept that for a lot of people, songs in films can be a bit of a cringey nightmare. But they can just get stuffed for the next paragraph or so, for I am going to be completely on the side of singing.
The songs are almost entirely excellent (I find Nicole Kidman's version of 'Someday I'll fly away' a bit dull and the Bollywood version of 'Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend' is a bit superfluous to me) and got Jen and me singing away in true am-dram form as we watched the film. In fact, I often find that the songs make the soppier aspects more bearable... case in point The Love Song Medley - which turns a scene of professing love into an overblown mix of pop songs referencing love. It is so clever, but also so ridiculous that it makes the scene much more enjoyable. The Love Medley also has a number of fascinating facts:
1) Ewan McGregor wears stacked heels in it (you can see them in one of the shots)
2) I am yet to know a male/female couple who sing the correct parts. For some reason if you sing this with a friend the female always sings Ewan's part and the male sings Nicole's.....

Some songs are camp marvels bordering on insanity (Like A Virgin) whilst other songs are just brilliant covers (Ewan McGregor singing 'Your Song' convinced me to buy Elton John's Greatest Hits) and one is even better then the original. I am, of course, talking about El Tango De Roxanne which gives the song a meaning and a passion that I don't think Sting ever managed. It also has polyphony in it meaning that the song can not help to give me goosebumps. Watch it for yourself and see what I mean.

So we have discussed the songs of Moulin Rouge. Let us look at the cast - the characters are just as dazzling and rich as the backdrops at sets. It firstly helps that the two leads are gorgeous and crackle with an amazing rumour starting chemistry. This is the one film where I have found myself fancying Nicole Kidman and Jen would not shut up about how beautiful Ewan McGregor is. However, the true stars are all the supporting characters.

The narcoleptic Argentinian (who looks awesome, I want to look like him), or Toulouse Lautrec (a double take causing performance from John Leguizamo) are superb, Chocolat is a genuine hero with the most un PC name ever and Nini Legs in the Air is a superb bitch. However, there are 2 characters that need special mentions for they are truly brilliant roles and one is a fearsome showcase of acting range.

I am talking about Harold Zidler and the Duke. Their roles flit from comic relief to sinister presences. Zidler is part bumbling fool, part showman, part shrewd business men and part hindrance - holding on to his courtesans so that they won't leave the Moulin Rouge. The Duke however takes his personality changes and cranks it up to 11. He is sometimes the boo hiss villain with his silly nasal voice and pretending to be a wolf in Like a virgin. He is sometimes a truly sleazy little creep and then, just once, he loses it all together and you see the true Duke - a viscous, angry, savage man capable of murder and rape. He goes from being the comic foil to being truly terrifying in one scene.

Finally I wish to talk about the end of this film.... For if there is one flaw in this, it is the casting of the leads in The Moulin Rouge's first play. Lead Male is a narcoleptic, he is hardly a reliable person to have in such an important role. Lead Female is dying of consumption (not a spoiler... the fact that she dies is mentioned in the first scene). You would think that Zidler arranged some excellent understudies. But no. Nothing. Satine dies and the play is ruined.... Moulin Rouge goes out of business. Poor poor planning if you ask me.

Interestingly, Jen refuses to watch the final scene. Play finishes, Ewan and Nicole kiss, curtain goes down. Happy ending. She left to make tea so that she did not have to face Satine's death and Ewan McGregor's sad little bearded face.

But don't worry! Christian (Ewan McGregor's character) has written a book so that their love can live on forever.
Here ends film 1 of our "Love Triumphs over Death" double bill.


Christine Kennington said...

I am so glad you have put the tango scene for us all to watch. It is my favourite part of the film and like you, it gives me goose pimple. I remember going to the cinema to watch Moulin Rouge and wondering what I was doing there, almost leaving after the first 10 minutes. I am so glad I did not!!

Worm said...

Like you,I first watched this on the recommendation of a friend - but I wasn't sure I would like it. I was similarly blown away, and El Tango De Roxanne is a constant favourite of mine.

I liked the film so much, I immediately watched it again - not many films do that to me :)