Saturday, February 6, 2016

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Writer/Director: Baz Luhrmann

Writer: Craig Pierce
Composer: Craig Armstrong

Santine- Nicole Kidman
Christian- Ewan McGregor
Harold Zidler- Jim Broadbent
The Duke- Richard Roxburgh
Toulouse-Lautrec- John Leguizumo

Awards and Nominations:
OSCAR- Best Art Direction

OSCAR- Best Costume Design- Catherine Martin and Angus Strathie
nomination- OSCAR- Best Picture (lost to "A Beautiful Mind")

nomination- OSCAR- Best Actress- Nicole Kidman (lost to Halle Berry)
nomination- OSCAR- Best Cinematography (lost to LOTR: Fellowship)
nomination- OSCAR- Best Film Editing (lost to "Black Hawk Down")
nomination- OSCAR- Best Make-up (lost to LOTR: Fellowship)
nomination- OSCAR- Best Sound (lost to "Black Hawk Down")
Golden Globe- Best Picture- comedy musical
Golden Globe- Best Actress- Nicole Kidman
Golden Globe- Best Original Score- Craig Armstrong
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Actor- Ewan McGregor (lost to Gene Hackman)
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Director- Baz Luhrmann (lost to Robert Altman)
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Original Song- "Come What May" [fun fact: it was written originally for Baz's "Romeo & Juliet" and because of this, it was disqualified for the Oscars... which sucks because it's a beautiful song!)
nomination- Grammy- Best Compilation Soundtrack (lost to "O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

[another fun fact: Baz Luhrmann was snubbed for Best Director and Original Screenplay and there was a huge controversy about that... he directed the crap out of this movie, I agree that was a huge oversight]


Opening Remarks

It's hard to believe that this movie came out 15 years ago... and to this day, it's hard not to be dazzled by the visuals and get swept up in the excitement of it. Almost as hard as it is for me to get through the ending without ugly crying... this time, I actually managed with only a couple tears.
"Phantom of the Opera" is probably the one musical that I cried at WORSE than "Moulin Rouge"... and I believe that's still true.

When I was putting together my list of favorite movies, "Moulin Rouge" was part of my so-called "short list"... a short list of probably 200 movies (that I cut down to 101). I think the main reason it didn't make the list was that I hadn't seen in some time.
I don't remember my first impression when it first came out, but I knew that I really enjoyed it. The only thing that stuck was Ewan McGregor. I loved him. So cute and his voice and all that emotion. He was the first singing actor I loved. I later saw a bunch of his movies, but I don't remember any of them as much as this.

Between getting the soundtrack, watching some of my favorite figure skaters perform to their music and a story I'd been writing, I'd been wanting to see this movie again for a while. The last time, we were at the shore house waiting for family to show up. When they came, the movie was in its final scene and I was ugly crying. My aunt and uncle (on my dad's side) see me ugly cry A LOT-- the last time it was that bad was when we saw "Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway. And I was crying because I was so afraid the Phantom was going to kill Raoul-- although I distinctly remembered that he and Christine are able to run away together in the end.

Today was as good a day as any-- two years ago on this date, Evgeni Plushenko performed his "Tango Roxanne" short program at the Sochi Olympics team event... that I somehow missed seeing live by 10 minutes.
But more on him and my figure skating connection with this movie later... much later ;)

Quick Comment on Awards

I remembered this being one of those movies that got so many nominations... but I had no idea how few it actually won. The Art Direction and Costumes were very well deserved. There's no denying that. And with the Golden Globes, it was able to win Best Picture because of the split of comedy/musical and drama.
Looking at the movie again, I agree it probably didn't deserve Best Picture and Nicole Kidman didn't deserve the Oscar for Best Actress. You get a lot of flash and glamour and it's one of those movies that exemplify why movies need to be made. You just don't see that in real life-- unless you happen to be fabulously wealthy.
Even the soundtrack [a section onto itself] wasn't all that great-- there is so much good music in this movie, but whoever put it together was an idiot. At least that's what I thought when I bought it and listened to it. It was a huge disappointment. But maybe I was just expecting more and maybe the movie doesn't have as much substance as I thought it did.

The Story

of course...


you have been warned...

The movie takes place in Paris at the turn of the century. All of it takes place in flashback-- one year after the events take place.

Christian, our leading man, is a writer. He travels to Paris in 1899 to write about beauty, truth, freedom and above all things, LOVE. By complete coincidence, a theater production crashes through his roof and he gets swept into the Bohemian movement taking shape in the village of Montmartre. It's lead (but of course...) by Toulouse-Lautrec. "Spectacular Spectacular" is the name of the show.
In order to make it happen, they need to convince Harold Zigler- the owner of the Moulin Rouge. A huge dance club where prostitute can-can girls perform and go on to seduce wealthy men for money. And this method of persuasion goes through the lead girl, The Sparking Diamond known as Santine. And Christian is the one elected to do it. I mean, he's helping them write the show now (all because he had the perfect line for their Switzerland-based show... "The hills are alive with the sound of music"). That same night, Santine had been promised to The Duke (the duke of what, I have no idea, it's never explained) and through lack of communication, she is led to believe Christian is the Duke. She does all of her usual tricks to have her way with him, believing he'll pay her handsomely for it.
Then of course she finds out he's actually a writer and upon The Duke finding the two of them together, the Bohemians convince him it's all part of their show and they're just rehearsing.

Much of the movie is about the show being put together and Christian and Santine falling in love. Of course, all kinds of shenanigans happen and all these obstacles come in the way of them and their happy ending.
And sadly, there's the fact Santine suffers through most of the movie with a fatal illness (damn Tuberculosis!) and :gulp: dies.

Acting and Actors

When we watch this movie as a family, my dad loves Nicole Kidman and I'm in love with Ewan McGregor. The two of them have such great chemistry. And of course they sing really well for actors... or people who haven't sung professionally before.
Christian is such an idealist, so optimistic. And he makes Santine fall in love with him because of the words he sings and the passion he dispenses. It's not to fall in love with someone like him. He's naïve, having never been in love before, but so what... this is a movie, dammit! I usually don't go to movies for realism. I enjoy the fantasy of them and believing in what they present.
With Santine being such a performer, it's hard not to fall for her too. She can be seductive, but also very playful. When she's seducing Christian, she's REALLY over the top and I can see why some people don't "get" that. There were points where I was even cringing. I mean, he's quoting "Your Song" by Elton John and she's practically having an orgasm. Seriously, what? Then he starts singing and it starts to make more sense. She stops the sex noises and just stares with her mouth agape.

Some scenes, John Leguizamo steals with his hilarious take on Toulouse-Lautrec. Although I don't know if he's meant to be the famous can-can painter or they're just using the name just like they're passing off all these modern songs as songs that were around in their time period...

I almost didn't recognize Jim Broadbent under all that makeup :P But then I didn't know who he was at all until Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out. That character is much more fun to be around...
But then again, The Duke did stake the deed to the Moulin Rouge on the musical being done the way he would like it. It's hard not to give into his demands when this venue is practically your livelihood.
The Duke, of course, is our villain and Richard Roxburgh plays him so well. I don't think I've seen him in anything else really notable besides this movie. But the good villains have a habit of sticking with you. He's lewd, but he's also dangerous for a lot of the characters. Has a bit of an ick factor about him. Money is probably the only reason anyone would be interested in him.

Prepare to be DAZZLED...

I wonder how much of a budget they had for this movie and how much it took to actually make... or if they even made all their money back. The set pieces really are spectacular and the costumes are some of the best I've seen in any movie. They're so true to that time period and just... WOW
I fall for the love story more than the visuals personally... going back to "Midnight in Paris" which is about having nostalgia for certain time period and wanting to live in them, I preferred the 1920's to the 1890's- that was the moment where Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard's characters found themselves at an impasse. And it's ultimately why they didn't make it as a couple, despite having so much in common already. Certainly more than Owen Wilson did with Rachel McAdams, who he spent the movie engaged to. Why that is, I have no idea. It didn't seem like they had a lot in common.
...what am I doing? I already did a write-up on that movie.

My point is that I don't feel like I want to live in this particular time period or in the world this movie presents. [Personally, I don't "get" the Can-Can... great costumes, but the whole shtick of them is kicking the legs and lifting the skirts so you see the girls' stocking and underwear... This isn't me on a feminist rant or anything, women have every right to be sexy and seductive, but there are other ways than panty-flashing to get a guy's attention]
But I don't mind visiting every time I do return to it.
Most of the time, I'm just kept in by the love story and all the razzle dazzle.
The staging of the actual musical in the movie is really well done, pretty much staying in line with how the rest of the movie is presented.

Weak Points

This movie is very polarizing-- half the people who've seen it LOVE it... the other half hates it with a passion. Internet personalities Nostalgias Critic and Nostalgia Chick spent nearly half an hour (maybe more, actually) discussing whether it's a classic or a colossal mess. But this is my review, not theirs. :P

I will concede, though, that the movie isn't perfect. And by a lot of accounts aren't realistic.
Firstly, Santine is DYING of a deadly lung disease-- yet she's singing AMAZINGLY. But I will forgive and suspend belief for a while. Especially because Nicole Kidman sang her part so well.
Second... the one musical number that makes me cringe. When Santine has her sick day, a night where she agreed to meet with The Duke and Christian, Harold Zidler goes to The Duke and convinces him that she's "praying" to "cleanse herself of her former life to prepare for him"... and they decide the perfect song to commemorate this moment (and yes, every moment in this movie NEEDS a song to explain what the actors are feeling) is "Like a Virgin"... it's just wrong... the previous time I saw this, I finally noticed how messed up that scene is. Zidler and The Duke just ruined a perfectly good song by just making it sound creepy and perverted. Madonna made it perverted with her iconic wedding dress VMA performance... but it didn't need that chauvinistic lewd male twist on it. Just EW!

Writing may not be the movie's strong point. And there are scenes like the Bohemian group number "So Exciting," which is set to the melody of the Can-Can song where so much happens and it's so chaotic and you're expecting not just The Duke but US to believe that they know what their musical is going to be about. We all know that they're all making it up on the spot, but heck, it's so funny and enjoyable to watch that I don't mind it.
But at the halfway point, when the our couple is about to be torn apart (possibly forever), they're broken up by the stupidest of circumstances. Okay, maybe not the circumstances, but the way they react to them and carry them out.

Ok, ONE circumstance...
By this point in the movie, everyone but The Duke knows about Santine and Christian. Then one of the can-can girls asks him "why would the courtesan go with the penniless writer? Oh, I mean sitar player..."
We see her in the background a couple of times and this is maybe the one line she has in the whole movie. As far as I'm concerned (and I AM concerned), she's just here to ruin the movie. She has no other purpose (other than maybe being "victimized" in the Tango Roxanne scene). Now, if her character was developed more and we'd seen that she was jealous of Santine being the star of their group, I'd be willing to forgive this.
It's as if movies don't know how people break up... there's a random person that reveals a forbidden truth or a misunderstanding that takes place in the third act that derails the whole thing... "Moulin Rouge!" has BOTH of these issues... no wonder it didn't win Best Picture...

Christian asks Santine to run away with him and she agrees. Zidler tells her that The Duke knows about them and is going to kill Christian if she doesn't break them up and choose him. She blows that off and keeps packing. The moment he tells her she's dying... that's the one thing that makes her stop.
WHY? How is that stopping you from going anywhere? You're going to die no matter where you go and it's not as if there aren't doctors where they are going. So she cooks up this whole story with Christian to break up, saying she chooses The Duke because he offered her everything she could want. SHE COULDN'T HAVE SAID THE DUKE THREATENED TO KILL HIM OR THAT SHE'S DYING... she just says "I'm choosing The Duke"...

Falling in love through song, now that makes sense... seriously, it does.

The Music

I'm almost done... now the best parts for last...

Yeah, so I didn't get this when I saw the movie the first time all the way back in 2001. We rented it from Blockbuster :P Those were the days...
Anyway, I didn't get that all the songs (well, excluding "One Day I'll Fly Away" and "Come What May") were already written in our time. Between the 60's and the 90's, no less. They were just given a modern, contemporary twist.
Dammit... "One Day I'll Fly Away" isn't original either?! How can that be? It's such a good song... there's no way it wasn't written for this...

Anyway, the moment Ewan McGregor sang "The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music," I realized that the movie took all these songs and redid them so they were like new... or retro or something... it's confusing... a movie made in 2001 but takes place in 1899.
I knew more of the songs by this point and I picked out even more during the Love medley than I did the previous times.
Notably, "Heroes" by David Bowie.

I listened to the soundtrack on my commute yesterday. I swear on the first song, "Nature Boy," it felt like David Bowie's ghost was in the car with me. I felt chills in my hands. Or maybe that was just the cold air in the ventilation...
Anyway, it was almost spooky. Considering he just died and feeling his mojo in his songs. "Heroes" was featured prominently in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," but I only just recognized it today in the Love medley.

The soundtrack, as I may have mentioned early, has its flaws. The production, especially. It's one thing when I play albums from the 80's that don't have the Dolby sound yet that amplifies the volume. (Okay, maybe not Dolby, but there's a reason why I have to crank the volume up for CDs produced in the early 80's vs. CD's now).
But the sound is so quiet on so many of these songs, I had my volume past 30 so I could even hear it... usually, I have between 19 and 22 with regular CDs. With 80's discs, usually, it's past 22, but never 30.

While it, thankfully, omitted "Like a Virgin" in the creepy perverted style, it also omitted "The Show Must Go On"... I was sorely missing that especially yesterday... more on that later.

Going through it when I first got it back in 2012 (wow, and I was sure I'd gotten it in 2014 after the Sochi Olympics...), the one song I really didn't like "Because We Can" but it was just chaotic and really had no point. But the few times I've heard Fatboy Slim, I haven't been pleased. So I conveniently forget that dude (or band, I don't know which it is) even exists.

I think I got it particularly because I wanted to invest in actors who sang. Robert Downey Jr. got me started on that. Johnny Depp on the Sweeny Todd soundtrack and Hugh Laurie soon followed. Hugh Laurie has a great voice, but I didn't like that his "Let Them Talk" album had not just covers, but really old Swampy music. He says they were among the first songs he learned on the piano with his teacher back in the day... I think I'd only heard it through 3-4 times since I got it. Way too old school for my tastes.

And I wanted to have Ewan McGregor at my listening ears :P but then I found myself disappointed because I really couldn't hear him all that well through most of the album. During "Your Song" and the Love medley, I kept hearing this male opera voice completely obscuring him. Somehow, I blocked out the fact that the fucking moon has a face and sings through much of the movie :roll: I'm sure Plácido Domingo is a famous opera singer, but did we really need him for the sake of making the movie more epic?
I just want to listen to Ewan McGregor alone :(
"Tango Roxanne" has a similar issue, but more on that later...

Nicole Kidman stands out with her vocals on much of the songs she's featured in. Just beautiful to listen to.

A Quick aside...
One thing I forgot to mention earlier: I'm working on a story that involves dancers that perform in musical numbers and some of them prostitute themselves for extra income-- of their own free will, they aren't pimped into it or contractually obligated. It's just a way to make a living in their neighborhood, set somewhere in South America.
My protagonist is in this business because her greatest talent is to entertain and be seductive and so on. And the framework of her business allows her to live life without love-- something she feels she can never have after two incidents with men, neither of which were particularly damaging to anything but her self-esteem.
I thought of going back to this movie to find inspiration I might be able to use for my story. But I was too busy staving off figure skating programs that came to mind during certain musical numbers :P I all but forgot about it until the scene leading up to the Love medley. Santine tells Christian that love doesn't pay the bills and she's paid to make men believe she's in love with them. But it isn't as if she hates men or doesn't believe in love... my girl Talia does fall into a similar situation, though, where a guy comes along that loves her and tries to convince her to give him a chance. There was even an earlier draft that had a love triangle and her struggling about choosing love over a sense of duty and the guy she's with lets her go.
Also in an earlier draft, I wrote that she occasionally has sex with Alejandro, but never takes him fully serious... how much that's changed- now he's just a guy that runs this club with her that she loathes because she still thinks he's a two-timing bastard... she caught him with another girl when she agreed to go out with him-- the girl was a crazy ex and she never gave him the chance to explain.

I also thought about my story during "Tango Roxanne" where this one guy talks about prostitutes in Buenos Aires and how a relationship with a girl who sells herself never ends well. (In my story, it WILL end well, I promise). And because they sell themselves to the highest bidder, there can be no trust. And without trust, there can't be love.
That was an aspect I was going to explore in my story, but I'm so busy developing my characters and having them interact, I probably won't get to really go into that.

Back to the show...Singing along to "Come What May" and "One Day I'll Fly Away" were great moments yesterday :D Great sweeping songs. They were also the few moments not obscured by unwarranted opera singers.
"Diamond Dogs" and "The Children of the Revolution" I had to get used to with time... but I do kinda enjoy them.
The Hindu remix of "Diamonds are A Girl's Best Friend" I didn't warm up to until the 2014-2015 season of figure skating...

Actually giving myself away from the soundtrack and not expecting too much from it... I enjoyed it quite a bit while listening to it. And it made the trip go by so much faster. [The speed limit is 65 on that particular route- and "Because We Can" fit in that capacity rather well].

Then I had a flash of nostalgia when I was remembering when "Lady Marmalade" came on the radio and was gaining popularity. And one of my friends was saying "voulez vous couchez avec moi ce soir?" actually means "do you want to sleep with me tonight?"
We never forgot that :P it didn't help matters that we both had French, but we didn't exactly cover Moulin Rouge in class. We did cover the Geoffrey Rush/Claire Daines version of "Les Miz," though...
They had four bad-ass girls killing it vocally :P Christina Aguilera (when she was just starting to break into her own, leaving the clean pop image behind), Pink (before she exploded), Lil' Kim (I assume before she had issues with drugs and jail time-- I just remember her being on Dancing with the Stars and not being a huge fan) and Mya (who had a great one-hit wonder with "The Case of the Ex" and I didn't hear from her again until Dancing with the Stars... or after that).
And of course I tried to sing Christina's part and kinda failed... that's why I do that crap when I'm by myself. More confident girls will do it in the company of their friends, but I'm not one of them :P

Which just leaves me with my favorite part of the whole movie... although seeing it again now, the section of it dedicated to Santine trying to seduce The Duke to get him to change the ending of the musical back to the original version (sitar player gets the courtesan)... that was hard to watch because he discovers it's a ruse and almost rapes her.
If not for the token black guy in the cast... he's one of the performers we see a few times, but he has no lines. Yet he's the one who knocks out The Duke (I screamed "Hell yeah!" when he did, lol) and brings her back to Christian... historically, him being there probably wouldn't have made any sense (about as much sense of "Grease Live!" having the inclusion of Keke Palmer when, I don't believe, high schools were desegregated until the 60's and the story takes place in 1959) but it's good they gave him a good part that actually meant something. And it isn't something cliché.

Anyway... I just loved the song... particularly Ewan McGregor's singing in it. The tone of his voice is beautiful despite the context he's singing about-- jealousy, Santine being with The Duke. It's hard not to get swept up in the theatricality of it. Maybe deep down, I'm just a sucker for a good Tango. All the dancing shows and figure skating have proved that.
Looking at it again, there is so much to watch and pay attention to. Not that it felt rushed or chaotic, but there was so many cool things about it that I didn't know where to devote my attention.
Then checking into how it starts, this one deep-voiced growly guy is singing the song and the bitch who spilled the beans is at the center of it. I started to wonder if maybe this was the cast's way of getting revenge on her for her truth-telling. At the end, there's even a mob scene where it looks like she's surrounded and people overwhelm her. Not sure if it was rape or not, but she deserved some sort of retaliation for her actions.

I mean, Santine would have died anyway... but just having one random character have no other point than to ruin the whole story... I'll never stop being pissed at that.
At least we did get a great musical number out of it. So much happening, so many great visuals, great visuals, amazing music... 

I found out a couple years later that "Roxanne" was a song by The Police, so I listened to it on their album. It was NOTHING like this... and I didn't forgive that until Juliet Simms performed "Roxanne" on  The Voice. One of her best performances (still think she should have won-- the winner that year never put out an album).

The Figure Skating Connection

Now we're finally here...

I don't think I made the Moulin Rouge connection at that point, but when we went to see Divas On Ice in 2002, a skating show full of strong women, one of the biggest standouts for "Tango Roxanne."
It was performed by Katarina Witt, the ring leader of the tour. She did the seductress role so well and she was on the ice with a mystery man. And in the end, he overwhelmed her. I don't think the footage is anywhere online, but all these years later, I never forgot it.
The show had people like Yuka Sato (Jeremy Abbott's coach), Kristi Yamaguichi, Nicole Bobek, Nancy Kerrigan and Ekaterina Gordeeva. Ekaterina, I remembered her performing "Simply Irresistible" by Robert Palmer with a guitar. We stayed afterwards when they were redoing numbers so they could edit the footage together for an ABC special so it showed everyone skating flawlessly with no falls. Her number took especially long to get right.

As I said earlier on, Evgeni Plushenko performed a short program to "Tango Roxanne" at the Sochi Olympics and I didn't see his performance live... what I found out later when he'd used this music before. It was part of a compilation for a long program he had in 2001. Not his best effort-- which I hate to say is because Alexei Yagudin outperformed him... however talented he was, he was one of the people who attacked Plushenko's character after he withdrew from the individual event at Sochi due to injury... there's no forgiving that.

He also used "Tango Roxanne" on its own for his free skate in the 2012 European championships. It was arranged beautifully by Edvin Marton, who'd arranged music for him several times since 2004. The commentators detracted at one point, saying the choreography wasn't brilliant, but one thing they said was true-- it's the aura that he puts out on the ice that draws people in. People like me.
It was one of those "I could watch him skate forever" moments. And what sold me in particular, if the music alone wasn't enough... there was something he did in this number that he did in his free skate at Sochi... THE moment that made me a fan forever.

Ashley Wagner, another controversial Sochi Olympian (Russia had one slot for a man to compete and Plushenko got it despite coming in 2nd at their national championships... Ashley got on the American team despite coming in 4th at the US Nationals), performed a medley of songs from Moulin Rouge for her free skate in the 2014-2015 season. It helped her win the National title in 2015. She also resurrected it this year and breathed new life into it. It didn't hurt that she changed her look ;) originally wore a red dress and with her natural blonde hair.

This season, she dyed her hair red and wore the white dress Santine wore in her final scene before she died.

She'd been off her game this season. At least with her short program. It hasn't been particularly strong, but when she did this free skate, she came to life and performed the crap out of it. Johnny Weir and Tara Lipniski, former figure skating champions and NBC commentators, were also starting to believe in her. Johnny in particular had criticized her for overperforming and said now it felt more natural.
Ashley is one of the few American skaters I get really excited about these days. The guys' field has been demoted by other countries, particular Japan. Unlike Gracie Gold, I see a lot of fire and sass in her and that's what draws me in.
Her compiliation starts with "Hindu Sad Diamonds," goes into "One Day I'll Fly Away" and segues flawlessly into "The Show Must Go On." That's especially amazing to watch and easy to get caught up in when she's doing well ;) I cheered so loud when she won Nationals last year.
Richard Dornbush from the US had a short program this year set to "Come What May" and he has the sensitivity and artistry to pull it off. But technically, I never got the chance to see him perform it cleanly. He accumulated an injury that kept him out of the US National Championships and that's the end of the year for him.

Ok, so I wanted to do this movie so I could have an excuse to talk about figure skating here :P

But why not? It's something I enjoy about and am passionate about as much as movies.

Ultimately, this movie has great music and anyone who performs to any of it is bound to catch my attention ;) and keep it.

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