Thursday, September 07, 2006

Object of My Obsession: Moulin Rouge! (Pt 2 of 4)

This is the second part of a four-part obsessively detailed look at one of my favorite films Moulin Rouge!. If you missed the first installment, you'll want to start there. Think of it as watching the DVD with a very chatty friend --namely, me.

Those crazy lovebirds and those zany bohemians... they're ba-ack for part two.

A Poetry Reading

Now where were we? Goodness, this movie can exhaust you. Oh, yes. We'd reached Christian's wide open heart. Though Ewan MacGregor's performance is adept enough to show the writer's sensitivity immediately and make it loveable, the film would have still worked with a less expressive actor --just not as well. For every contribution from a thespian, Moulin Rouge!'s strenuously visual madness joins in to make the accomplishment a duet. For instance, as Donald McAlpine's camera zooms in to our next scene Christian is framed in --what else?--a heart shaped window.

But where exactly are we, physically? There are two simultaneous sound cues in case this abrupt scene change has lost you. On the soundtrack Nicole Kidman warbles "Meet Me in the Red Room" (one of the many reasons why you need to own both of the Moulin Rouge! soundtracks, not just the first released) and there's a quick cutaway to Toulouse-Lautrec who shouts it out for us, as well:

"Unbelievable. Straight to the elephant"

The "Elephant" and the "Red Room" are both descriptors for Satine's bedchamber where she is meant to entertain the Duke who she still thinks is Christian. That heart shaped window is located at the elephants head and it opens up to Satine's bedroom draped in eye-popping reds. Given the numerous dick jokes that follow though, you'd be excused for assuming that The Elephant and The Red Room are merely euphemisms for what goes on inside.

At this point in the movie, the MPAA drops by for a visit.

READ THE REST for Ewan's "huge talent", a bitter Oscar tangent, Harold Zidler and Jack Sparrow's kinship, the gargantuan bedazzlement of "Spectacular! Spectacular!", Nicole & Ewan's chemistry, and love (for this movie) above all else.

Tags: Moulin Rouge, , , Nicole Kidman, Jim Broadbent, Ewan McGregor, Oscars, Academy Awards, cinema, DVD, Review, Film, cinematography, moviemusicals


Anonymous said...

Another glorious essay. I had to laugh at your reaction to the bedroom farce scene. I feel the same way. I tend to tune out a little and start thinking about Oscar. I just can't understand why they used that scene for Nicole's Oscar moment. Ouch. I also get what your saying about Nicole singing Fly a Way. Her voice doesn't do justice to the emotion of the song. I still feel what she is feeling though. The need to escape, to get away from a seemingly imposible situation. The soaring music, as she moves up the stairs and outside, rather than her voice deliver here.

Ahh yes the elephant. You're not alone in bemoaning it's demise for Star Wars 2. Ewan says as much somewhere in the Making of MR doco on the DVD. I think he hates George Lucas too. It is a travesty that it was not kept as a tourist atraction. Fox Studios in Sydney had a backlot tour for a few years when it first started up but it wasn't viable (ie there was really nothing to show) so it was closed down. The MR sets and costumes would have been a huge attraction. I saw an exhibit of sets, props and costumes at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. It blew me away. I wonder where they are now?

I live in Sydney and occasionally head out to Fox Studios to see a film or go to the fresh food markets on a Wednesday. I am always in awe that Moulin Rouge was filmed there. The 5th time I saw MR was at a Fox Studios cinema.

Standing by for part 3 in October...

Gilidor said...

You rock, again and still!

"So exciting, it will run for 50 years"

What, this series?

Just kiddin' ;)

adam k. said...

I would've paid SO much to walk inside the elephant.

God, Ewan is so hot.

I think the reason they showed that clip for Nicole was to make it look like less of a travesty when Halle won.

Here are your clips:

Renée either talks about "wiping Saddam Hussein's ass" or walks around in the sexy bunny suit (I remember it was one of those)...

Nicole fakes giant orgasms inside a giant elephant...

Halle cries because her son just died.

"And the oscar goes to... Halle Berry."

And then Halle cries again.

Anonymous said...

Yay, I loved that. That was fantastic. I loved it.
Forgive me for quoting such longish passages ahead, I couldn't help myself:

"As Christian hits the lyric 'How wonderful life is now that you're in the world' there's a wash of joyful realization across his face that settles into a smile."

"If you weren't feeling the sudden kindled love from these two expressive actors, you would probably find this scene to be the silliest of all romantic movie moments. OK, OK. You still do because it is. But here's the magic of the film: instead of dismissing it you decide that silly is the best adjective that was ever made up to illustrate the giddiest feeling you could ever feel. "
- Haha! Too true!

"Rectangles trump squares every time."

"Baz Luhrmann is, by now, a complete mess with his tubes of frosting. He doesn't care."
- I got the most giggle-inducing picture in my mind when I read that. :)

"Musicals don't usually get much credit for the screenplays, probably because they have much more obvious contributions to celebrate. So it was par for the course that Moulin Rouge! would be shut out of the screenplay category at the Oscars. What's more horrifying to me is that I didn't show discernment here in my own awards . Yes it's true: The screenplay by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, despite its exceedingly clever construction and witty internal language was also snubbed right here. Shame on me."
- Exactly! I've been saying that...well, something like that, for forever. Moulin Rouge does deserve more credit for its screenplay that it usually gets. The story and characters are cliche and simplistic, but the construction of the script is actually exceedingly complex!

"What matters is that these two make for a thrilling screen couple. The amazing thing about their energy together is, I believe, rooted in the way they appear completely at ease with each other...The beauty of the scene is that what comes through is even stronger than the usual movie lust. What you see is unmitigated like...This relationship between Christian and Satine rings true and passionate because you can see their genuine and mutual affection as clear as day even before the kiss."
**sigh** again

Glenn Dunks said...

God yes. I agree with all of that so much. Those sets and costumes are seriously some of the best ever. And the day I read about the Elephant being torn down was sad. A death in the family.

I do really love "Elephant Love Medley" though. So great.

My eyes are drooling.

And yes I remember being so anxious to see what clip they would choose and was mighty disappointed. I was hoping for the "Come What May" moment from the finale (after Ewan has thrown the money at her and is leaving) or I sort've expected a bit from "The Show Must Go On", but alas...

of course, by that stage I already knew who had won that category because the stupid tv network decided to have a news update in the ad break before Best Actress was announced and they had "And we have all the winners from this year's Academy Awards" and they showed Halle Berry on stage crying and I was all "OH... MY... GOD... !!!!!!!!!" and then my head fell off.

Glenn Dunks said...

Oh, and no kidding, as I was reading that three Moulin Rouge songs came on my iTunes during a playlist shuffle.

"Nature Boy" by David Bowie, "One Day I'll Fly Away" (Tony Phillips Remix, which I like more than the film version) and "Bolero" from the closing credits.


Sid said...

I've heard some people saying that Kidman doesn't have "range". I won't even recommend a list of films to check out her range -- all you have to do is watch this one single performance -- she's got the entire range of emotions -- and acting styles -- from slapstick to traditional dramatic "performance" style.

Anyway, late September is TOO late. But I shall wait.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.


joanne -- i hear you. i feel what kidman is feeling too. i just don't "hear" what she's feeling in the way you would if it were someone like say bernadette peters (not that she woulda been right for Moulin Rouge! ha ha... maybe as a Diamond Dog?)

kevin -50 years... maybe. it feels like it. Seriously what was I thinking when I took this on?

adam --good call. makes sense.

anon -thank you,.

glenn -Bolero is awesome.

sid -you are a cruel tormenter. these things take forever !

anon #2 -you're welcome.

anyone other reactions to share? Humor me this is wickedly hard to do.

russtifer said...

I'm loving this. Great observations and commentary, Nathaniel!

Sid said...

Haha -- Nat I'm kiddin. I appreciate all the work -- this is easily the best stuff I've ever read from you. I'm patient don't worry -- I know it'll be worth the wait.

Reel Fanatic said...

If you're gonna be obssessed about a movie, you could certainly do a lot worse than this great flick ... interesting essay on what is still easily one of my favorite flicks

Anonymous said...

I was directed here from the Pajiba site, and got lost in your commentary for the better part of half an hour (with a side trip to your 2001 film awards). What a lovely exposition! I can't wait till the end of September to read the rest of your review. Thank's from this huge Moulin Rouge! fan for the thought and effort you put into this. I'll be thinking of you the next time I watch the movie.

Anonymous said...


thanks for this, as you know, nic is my numero uno babe.:)

Anonymous said...

I was directed from Pajiba too and this is wonderful. You write about everything I've always loved about Moulin Rouge and give me something else to love along with it.


Anonymous said...

Nathaniel, thank you so much. I've always liked Moulin Rouge but now I appreciate it even more. I thought this was a risky movie to make especially at the time when it was released. Credit to Baz for being crazy enough to visualize this movie and all the actors who jumped along with him. And I can't wait until Baz and CM's kids grow up :)

Anonymous said...

Now I know who ought to have written the first serious bio/film analysis of Nicole Kidman - and his initial are NOT "DT". Seriously, I agree with everything here - the praise and the criticisms alike. And I absolutely agree on your point about screen characters who hate each other and then we're to buy that they are really in love. I've never bought it, and yet its one of the most persistent film cliches. Nicole and Ewan made one of the best on-screen pairing of all time, and your comments are very astute, Nathaniel.

Late September? You're torturing us, man.

Anonymous said...

Please, PLEASE Nathanial, write the ultimate serious "Nicole Kidman" bio/essay book that a certain D. Thompson did such a botch job of.

Please? Or at the Moulin Rouge chapter.

Anonymous said...

This is fantastic, thanks for writing it. I've just read it through from the beginning and have been grinning ear to ear the whole way, remembering how great this movie is. You've highlighted everything I love about it as well as some things I didn't notice and can now love from here on in. Can't wait for the next instalment, but right now I have to click "submit" and get the Moulin Rouge! DVD into my player asap. ;)

Anonymous said...


Yes, yes of course I'll be patient. I understand. Greatness cannot be rushed. (Try telling that to Fox, apparently.) I was referred to this essay by someone at the NKU (Nicole Kidman United) board btw (shout out to fellow NKU'ers).

That said, I still am in total agreement with the fact that Nicole's voice isn't the "right" voice for "Fly Away" - and yet she IS the right actor for the role. (Unlike Chicago, where I was sitting there thinking Renee Zellweger, god bless her heart, can barely sing or dance - and if you have any doubts, they're all wiped away the moment Catherine Zeta-Jones or Queen Latifa walks onscreen.) That's part of Baz' genius, god bless him.

"Imagine watching this in pan and scan" - that's not a problem for me. My first experience of this film was the first vanilla version of the VHS tape on a 13" TV screen (it's all I had at the time). Not even letterboxed thank you. In fact the pan and scan version was my only experience of it for a long time. (And I confess I've yet to see it on the big screen, a mistake for which I frequently kick myself. A 28" TV is the best I can do.) The first time I saw the DVD (2-disk) was on a 17" computer screen - and to this day I remember how in awe I was, even while staring at a computer monitor of all things: "I don't remember that shade of blue around the window of the red room" I never saw her in that scene before" "I didn't realize the set behind the elephant was so deep!" (If watching the VHS was like getting a box of chocolates, seeing it in widescreen - plus the second disk goodies - was like getting the keys to the chocolate shop after hours.)

Swerving off for a moment if I may to the point that brings me here, though: I just read your analysis of why Brokeback Mountain (I'm going to seem to go off topic from MR but bear with me, it'll all swing back 'round) was not awarded Best Picture in the last Oscar race - and what you point out there, the insidious reality of homophobia even amoungst those who claim to be "liberal" is stunning. Another excellent essay, Nathanial, full of truth and feeling, and it evoked anger in me that has nothing to do with a movie or an awards race but with the way life IS as an LGBT person in this country.

Your comments at the end about "Imagine you were in love with a man/woman...and that person bent over backward to not even acknowledge your existence...That person is the AMPAS..." particularly struck hard. Without gay men and lesbians, where would the movie industry be? We've been its backbone and its inspiration - in much the same way I would think that African Americans have watched their culture, their music, their dances and lifestyle choices appropriated by the mainstream culture again and again and again, never mind a "thank you" or a nod at equal rights without a fight. (And perhaps the question is: if they don't love us, why do we care? Why do we waste our time buying tickets and DVD's and spending money on an industry that depends on us but does NOT acknowledge us? That's something to think about. "Gluttons for punishment" is too glib.)

Getting back to Moulin Rouge, however (as promised): Your essay also evoked a thought that has been nagging at me for a while that directly relates back to Moulin Rouge. Yes, this is a very CAMPY film (as musicals often are, but this one is ramped up to the **nth degree in that regard) which thus suggests "gay" and yes, Baz may possibly be the gayest "straight" male director on the block. (And just because he's married doesn't necessarily define his gender orientation, or tell me how many times he's been around the block and with whom - and it doesn't matter anyway.)

However, something I noticed while watching the film: the camp element is certainly front and center - the "talent" jokes, Audrey, the male chorus of waiters in the Gothic Tower, Zidler "wooing" or seducing the Duke (subtext! subtext!) in several scenes,the diva (Nicole) and the presence of Ewan - there's also a degree to which this film flirts with "gayness" and then shrinks back again. Yes it flashes images of a top-hatted can-can dancer, a man in a tutu, several androgynous individuals in the dance hall, but all so quickly that none have time to make an impression. When I first saw the film the Duke seemed so stereotypically foppish (read: gay)in the tradion of all cinematic fops and pansies (*wink wink nudge nudge*)that even I wondered
"What's he doing interested in Satine? Shouldn't he be going after Chris?"

Then off course there is "Audrey" -played by a man playing - what? A mannish woman? Or a womanly man? I vote for "womanly man" - but it doesn't matter either way, for she is dismissed from the beginning of the film within minutes, never to return, leaving the film once again safely ensconced in a world where heterosexuality is the only option, or the only one worth celebrating much less acknowledging.

And keep in mind please that I adore this film, I do - but I can't help feeling a sense of being "left out" once again on that level. It seems strange to me that a film that celebrates bohemianism, love and indeed dangerous love would make only a perfunctory nod to the people who would have been the true
"revolutionaries" in that time or this in terms of love, sex and gender.

Rant over, thank you. It's safe to bring out the children now.

Anonymous said...

You said September, then late September, and now October, and it IS October. Where is part 3???

Anonymous said...

January is halfway over - the clock is ticking. (In other words, I am DYING for more. I know the old show biz rule is "leave 'em wantin' more" but this is ridiculous.)

Not that I'm trying to pressure you, mind.