It’s pretty safe to say Baz Luhrmann’s a divisive film-maker. Love him or hate him, Baz delivers films that stimulate discussion for multifarious reasons. Moulin Rouge! (don’t forget that exclamation mark) is a polarising film. Those that “love it” can’t believe anyone could possibly dislike it, yet can’t actually say why they like it.
“It’s just great!”
For its detractors, it’s just a shallow retread of La Bohème (which Luhrman staged in 1990 for the Australian Opera) strung together with tacky nods to Madonna and Monroe and jumpy editing to satisfy the overstimulated Gen Y audience. Or is it a postmodern reinterpretation of that opera with the deployment of pop songs as a meta-text to emphasise a subversive story of love “out of its time” that was always fated to end? Or something… Watch John Huston’s 1952 Moulin Rouge with Zsa Zsa if you really want some colour and motion.
Baz Luhrmann is arguably an auteur.
All of his major films are linked thematically – Strictly Ballroom, Australia and Moulin Rouge! – have had a central plot involving a couple overcoming adversity to be together. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Oh, and there’s that other movie he did – Romeo + Juliet. I rest my case.
And on another note, Baz loves a party scene. Remember Mercutio’s high kicks to Young Hearts Run Free in Romeo + Juliet? Remember Fran’s parents doing the paso doble in Strictly Ballroom? Australia had a ball scene, and of course Moulin Rouge! had its highly choreographed nightclub scenes.
Baz’s next project is The Great Gatsby. Anyone who’s read the book will remember Gatsby’s parties being a dominant feature of the beginning. Undoubtedly Baz will dazzle with these scenes, because if there’s one thing Baz does do well, it’s spectacle. While the cattle run in Australia was ludicrous, it was spectacular.
So assuming you’ve read the book, you’ll know who the star-crossed lovers in this one will be, don’t you? Of course, Daisy and Gatsby are the couple who can never realise their true love. Yeah, so thank you, Baz, it’s a wrap!
But what if Baz could actually make things a hell of a lot more interesting by focussing on the other pair of star-crossed lovers in the novel – Gatsby and Nick. Apparently Truman Capote wrote a screenplay for the 1974 film version along these lines which was resoundingly rejected by Paramount. While Baz probably won’t go the Capote route, let’s hope his effort is an improvement on the 1974 film which has often been called the worst book-to-film translation ever attempted. It’s remembered for having the impossibly handsome Robert Redford playing Gatsby with almost zero onscreen chemistry to a vapid Mia Farrow who only seems to produce good performances when she is directed by a Polanski, or, dare I say it, an Allen. Luhrman, however, is an actor’s director, after all, it was acting he majored in at NIDA.
DiCaprio could make a better Gatsby – less pretty than Redford (interestingly both Redford and DiCaprio are playing the part at roughly the same age). DiCaprio’s boy-man quality should add a vulnerability to Gatsby that the dreamy Redford never captured. Overall, I think the book and Baz are a good fit. Let’s hope Baz has learnt from the overambitious Australia and the overfrenetic Moulin Rouge! and does justice to the great novel that it deserves.