Movie Analysis of Moulin Rouge
by Yazmin Ghonaim
Moulin Rouge (2001) brings to the screen the visual and aural spectacle associated with the famed music hall (inaugurated in Paris in 1889), the home of the exuberant cancan dancers often described as "the most exotic sex market in Paris". Focusing on the bohemian art and lifestyle of the Montmartre-based entertainment center, director Baz Lurhmann (William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet; Strictly Ballroom) employs what he terms the "Red Curtain" style of filmmaking, where the film viewer sees the Moulin Rouge's celebrated stage as the exalted mise en scène of a simple love story.
When the Moulin's most desirable entertainer and courtesan, Satine (Nicole Kidman: Eyes Wide Shut), mistakenly identifies penniless writer Christian (Ewan McGregor: Eye of the Beholder; Velvet Goldmine) as a wealthy suitor and her highest bidder for that evening, the misinformation tricks her into wanting to seduce the lucky lad. Unaware of the misunderstanding and dumfounded by her beauty and her eagerness to please him, Christian fails to deliver the expected performance, yet manages to enrapture Satine with an inspiring song about his genuine love and poetic sensibilities. Soon, however, the appearance of the destined client, the powerful Duke of Worcester (Richard Roxburgh), shatters the enchantment. The ambitious Satine dismisses Christian and decides to clear her mind of the ethereal sentiment he inspired. Yet her heart, as if captured by the artist's saving virtue, would henceforth send the material girl conflicting counsel.
Moulin Rouge invests vastly in depicting the picturesque quality of the world that its characters inhabit. Impressive set designs house the adequately costumed characters, while choreography, color, sound, impatient editing and an active camera capture the extravaganza of the time and the place. Moulin Rouge slightly furthers its raison d'être by insinuating the artistic and social revolution that prompted a democratization of leisure (or a "leveling of enjoyments" where all classes merged) and that lay the foundation for the 20th century's production of mass culture. Appropriately, Moulin Rouge includes artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (played by John Leguizamo), who is known for immortalizing the subjects of brothels, bars and dance halls in his paintings, prints and posters. (In the film, Lautrec is defined as the carrier of the bohemian maxim of "Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Love".) Yet what prevents Moulin Rouge from being classified as simply an amusing representation of the historical setting is its surprisingly effective application of modern songs (by artists that range from the Beatles to Elton John, Madonna to U2). Some memorable songs such as "All You Need Is Love" and Elton John's "Your Song" are interpreted by Kidman and McGregor, whose imperfect voices --rather than categorize the actors as mediocre singers-- seem to express their characters' inherent humility toward their aggrandized notions of love. Furthermore, the new versions of these classic songs refresh the words and accentuate the harmony of their meaning. Although Kidman's personification of the struggling starlet is more convincing than that of the voluptuous cabaret performer, all of Moulin Rouge's players manage to transcend their theatrical persona to embody --within their cinematic reality-- their true identities.
Answer in essay form the following questions (20 points each):
(Remember that ARTICULATION is what matters most.)
1. Plato and Aristotle agree that Art is an imitation of Nature, since both classical Greek philosophers subscribe to the Mimetic Theory of Art, which means that all works of art closely resemble life and reality. Pastiche, on the other hand, is a dramatic, literary or musical piece openly imitating the previous works of other artists, often with satirical intent. In Moulin Rouge, does art imitate life or does life imitate art, or does the movie embody both tendencies? Elaborate on your chosen answer as best as you can.
2. The play within the play is an effective literary device in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. How effective is the deployment of "Spectacular, Spectacular" (the play within the movie) in enhancing and emphasizing the doomed love between Christian and Satine, which becomes the main storyline of the film? Elaborate on your chosen answer as best as you can.
Note: Submit your computer-printed or typewritten essays on July 21, 2008, during our class period (10:00-11:00 AM). I will not accept late papers, nor handwritten answers.