Baz Luhrmann had already pulled off a pair of unlikely feats with the first two films in his Red Curtain trilogy. Who would have thought a fairytale romance set in the world of ballroom dancing and a recklessly anachronistic Shakespeare adaptation would work?
For the trilogy’s conclusion in 2001, he aimed at even more unlikely coup – reinvigorating that thoroughly unfashionable genre: the musical.
He took a bunch of contemporary pop songs; put them in the mouths of actors no one thought could sing (Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, anyone?); and concocted a story about the doomed love affair of a young writer and a consumptive starlet in bohemian 1899 Paris.
The outcome: the breathlessly romantic but giddily post-modern musical Moulin Rouge!
Once again, Luhrmann is the master showman, pulling the theatrical red curtain back to announce, ‘We, the storytellers, are here.’
There’s no pretence at creating the illusion of reality. Instead, the viewer is pulled into a world of crazy artifice where Kidman’s Satine sings Madonna’s 1980s anthem ‘Material Girl’, The Police’s ‘Roxanne’ is done tango-style, while the cancan is danced in the furious, feverish manner of a rave.
The result is a movie that is both hot and cool, a movie that makes a direct emotional appeal but also invites us to spot all the knowing cultural allusions and delight in the in-your-face anachronisms.
As you’d expect, Luhrmann unpacks the profusion of music and movie quotations on the new Blu-ray edition’s bountiful extras. The picture-in-picture commentary finds him in full flight – accompanied by production designer Catherine Martin (his wife), cinematographer Don McAlpine and co-writer Craig Pearce. And there’s a cornucopia of behind-the-scenes footage from what Luhrmann calls the “Bazmark vault”.
For me, the prize treasure is Nicole Kidman’s first vocal test, ‘Sad Diamonds’, an achingly vulnerable performance of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, filmed by Luhrmann himself on Super 8 in a bid to convince the studio that this mad project could work.
It did, of course. Yet to my mind, Moulin Rouge is the least successful of the trilogy. Vibrant, luxurious, full of razzle-dazzle fantasy and a delicious visual feast, yes, but watching it is rather like devouring a box of expensive chocolates in one go. To some of you, I imagine, recommendations don’t come higher than that.
Moulin Rouge is released on Blu-ray on 1st November.