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  Moulin Rouge! Singing Without Singing
Year: 2001
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxborough, Garry McDonald, Jacek Koman, Matthew Sittet, Kerry Walker, Caroline O'Connor, Christine Anu, Natalie Mendoza, Lara Mulcahy, David Wenham, Kylie Minogue
Genre: Musical, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Christian (Ewan McGregor) is a sad man, despite being young and in Paris 1900 where the world should be his oyster, because the woman he loves is dead. He arrived in the French capital an idealist, full of the optimism that love would be around the corner and certain he could make his living as an artist: a writer, in fact. But when things were not going so well, it just so happened that some men crashed through the ceiling, and that was how he was introduced to another artist, Toulouse Lautrec (John Leguizamo) and his coterie who were trying to get a show off the ground. What better to help them than a struggling author with a few very good ideas?

Moulin Rouge! was, as with all director Baz Luhrmann's work, a real labour of love; that this was dedicated to his then-recently late father, who had encouraged him all the way, was testament to that. However, while the end result was lauded in many quarters on its initial release, the praise was by no means universal, and soon it became clear this was a polarising effort, so you either loved it or hated it, with no in between. That can, at least, make for an interesting experience even if you're not converted, whether it was to ponder what anyone who liked it could divine in its chaos, or to marvel that Luhrmann had apparently handpicked a cast without being sure they could sing.

The idea was to craft a musical out of existing pop and rock songs, sort of like the jukebox musicals that were gaining popularity on the stage around this era, and would eventually make the translation to the big screen. Those, however, largely took a single artist's canon and applied it to a storyline, giving an all-star cast the chance to demonstrate their voices (or not, if you were Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody), but with this nascent attempt, the soundtrack flitted about from song to song, barely giving you a chance to think, oh, I know this one, before it hared off in the direction of something else. The celebrity voices, however, were all present and correct.

I say correct, but for some reason when there exists a thing called dubbing which could lend even the roughest-voiced performer a semblance of being able to carry a tune, Luhrmann mostly had his cast trill the songs, despite none of them having singing careers, Kylie Minogue's seconds-long cameo notwithstanding. Nicole Kidman was the closest to having one of those - she had a Christmas number one in Britain with Robbie Williams once - but her pipes, while not being unlistenable, were not strong enough when she tended to sing everything the same. McGregor fared worse: a respectable thespian when it came to drama, his singing was thin and lacking body, very unfortunate when his whiny character was called upon to carry much of the musical themes. As for everyone else, they were hopeless, a collection of hard to listen to growls or wailing.

The version of The Police's Roxanne - chosen because it's a song about a prostitute, and Kidman's Satine was a woman of the oldest profession - was especially tough on the ears, but then, none of the tunes here were given anything like a decent production, merely throwing more of them on like fuel to a tyre blaze. The plot had prostitute/showgirl Satine dying of consumption (depicted by her occasional coughing) while being romanced by poor Christian who she loves and a rich Duke (Richard Roxborough) who she does not, and he hates that. This was arranged in the fashion of a classic romance, yet the lack of joy inherent in knowing the leading lady was playing a dying person torpedoed any of the supposedly upbeat setpieces, and with jokes that simply were not funny and tragedy that just did not move, unless you were one of those people who didn't like musicals but enjoyed playing spot the song, Moulin Rouge! was not going to succeed for you. It blared, it fluttered its eyelashes and flashed its knickers, it tried to bully you into feeling for its cardboard romance, but as a musical it failed, the best thing that it helped bolster the survival of the genre into the twenty-first century.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Baz Luhrmann  (1962 - )

Australian writer and director with an ebullient, emotion-packed sensibility for his films. He started out in the business as an actor, appearing for a spell in his homeland's soap behemoth A Country Practice before the ballroom dancing experiences of his parents prompted him to create the stage play and later film Strictly Ballroom. The movie was an international success and took him to Hollywood where he reinvigorated Shakespeare for teenagers in Romeo + Juliet and fashioned a musical tragedy in Moulin Rouge!, which either swept you up in its swoons and glitter or gave you a splitting headache. With three big hits under his belt, Luhrmann turned back to his origins and would-be blockbuster Australia, but it was judged a disappointment. His long planned a version of The Great Gatsby was released to mixed response in 2013, but was one of his biggest hits regardless.

 
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