(orchestra warms up, curtains open)
What a difference a year makes. I saw this with a few friends one night around the same time last year. My attention span was out the window as I tried to figure out what was going one between the frantic editing, the lavish set design and costumes, and the jukebox soundtrack. Well, last night I went to my library and picked this up as it was considered a new addition to the collection. Today, I realize that there was something more to it than what I saw last year.
In a unique beginning, we see a conductor score the fanfare for the 20th Century Fox logo as it plays behind him. (To Hollywood, please be as creative like this with your logos. It’s a nice treat.) We then proceed to Christian, a tortured writer who types about what happened at the Moulin Rouge. He has arrived in Paris to write a story but finds himself involved with some interesting people at the turn of the century. This leads to one night at the famous building complete with spectacle and energy.
This first third of the film is the most frantic. The shot length is so short that by the time your brain registers what’s in it, the movie is seven or eight shots ahead. How can I appreciate the amount of effort put into the design if I can’t see it? The way it’s done, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a part of Sprite’s “subLYMONal” campaign (though that came years later). Also, the constant cartoon sound effects left me confused the first time as I couldn’t tell if the film was trying to take itself seriously or if it was all a show. I still don’t know.
Christian falls in love with Satine, a dancer at the Moulin Rouge, who mistakes him for a duke who plans to make her a star. This leads to a misunderstood “poetry reading” in a giant elephant. The duke does appear and Christian tries to explain that this was all for a play, “Spectacular Spectacular,” though the name changes at one point towards the end. One hyperactive musical number later, the play is considered a done deal and will be performed.
It’s after this part that the film starts to regain composure. The editing is dialed back where we can see this world that the characters live in and the songs are more or less mellow. There are some strange moments like a light-hearted romp set to “Like a Virgin” sung by an all-male cast.
Sometime later, we learn that Satine is dying and nothing can be done. After some emotionally charged moments, the final act begins as the show must go on. We see the play in bits and pieces, a Bollywood style act (in 1900’s Paris no less). Christian, by orders of the duke, must die if he returns to the stage. It’s a scramble as lives and careers are at stake. Then, when all is said and done, tragedy strikes. After all, that’s how we were introduced to Christian at the beginning.
So what’s it all about? It’s about Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and above all, Love. I know that Baz is not for everyone as I found out from my youngest brother who couldn’t make heads or tails from Romeo + Juliet in his English class. It’s still worth a watch just to see how spectacular spectacular the designs are.
This review comes after the fact that this may be converted to 3D and re-released. Unnecessary. The first act alone would give people headaches because of the breakneck editing. The colors would need to be increased in saturation and vibrancy in order for it to look the same as a 2D version. I’ll skip the glasses. Also, I have learned that there is a movie with the same name and some of the same material made 40 or so years ago. I might see if it I get the chance.
1001 MYMSBYD selection
400 Nominations selection for AFI Top 100 for 2007
Winner for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design
(curtains close, fade to black)