Baz Luhrmann knows how to do kitsch. And Moulin Rouge is probably the best example of it there is.
I first saw Moulin Rouge in the theater, with my wife. We are not the kind of people who typically talk through movies, so she thought my constant snickering at the film meant I was not enjoying it, and was in fact making fun of it. She was wrong! Moulin Rouge is such a great film in part because it's so much fun, and I just felt like I was in on the joke. (I could tell not everybody in the theater was.) Every new and creative use of some pop song I'd grown up with in such a melodramatic context made me laugh out loud. By the time Ewan MacGregor busted out KISS's forgotten 1980 disco hit "I Was Made For Lovin' You" while standing inside a giant elephant, I knew Baz Luhrmann had created something amazing.
But the genius of this movie is that it's campy and kitschy and earnest and beautiful. This film was a prototype for things like Glee, a combination of irony and seriousness that's almost impossible to pull off without the deftest of hands (as Glee has repeatedly proven). Baz Luhrmann's confidence in this style shows through in just how quickly he changes gears, as in this early scene:
And not to digress, but this scene features some of my favorite closeup shots of all time:
Nicole Kidman is more beautiful in this movie than she ever has been before or since. And Baz Luhrmann and his director of photography Donald McAlpine know how to film her. The closeup is a true art form in itself, as it's really the way that characters convey non-verbal emotion in film, and this one should be used to teach that art in film schools. You may not consciously appreciate a good closeup as I do, but their quality and use (or lack thereof) can make or break an entire film.
Luhrmann's known for his lavish sets and costumes, but he's really an actor's director, and he knows that's where the drama is. Without emotion and chemistry between the actors, there is no drama.
Since this film's release, my wife and I have watched it both together and separately probably 50 times through. I guess you could say it's "our movie". (Hey, every couple needs one.) Despite its sad ending, there are moments in it that always remind me of why we got together in the first place, and I feel like we're Christian and Satine. (I don't think I'm spoiling anything - this is a film that telegraphs its ending right at the beginning, and the fun and drama are in the journey getting there.) Especially whenever we're fighting, watching this scene will always start me blubbing uncontrollably:
I swear to God, every time I watch her sing "come back to me and FORGIVE EVERYTHING", I just freakin' lose it right there, and I'm gone for the rest of the scene. (I often have a second breakdown when she says "I love you" - I'm such a sap!) Sometimes, if I'm a little drunk as I am now, just thinking about it will get me misty-eyed.
I suppose posting the "finale" scene might be considered something of a spoiler, but first of all, this film is almost ten years old - hey, also? DARTH VADER IS LUKE'S FATHER. Anyway, this is not even really the end, although often I do stop the movie here because I can't watch the real ending.
The film has actually inspired me to take an interest in the real Moulin Rouge and in fact my wife and I are planning a trip there... soon. (The current show features topless dancers, btw... along with plenty of cheesy 80's-style Solid Gold-esque music and dance.) I actually didn't think the film was in any way close to reality but apparently it actually is - many of the photos from that era do look very similar to the film, and the main hall really was that big! (It seems smaller now.)
Why the hell am I writing about this film now? Well, because my wife and I just watched it through again, and I just picked up the Blu-Ray version. In all honesty, I've had a post on both Moulin Rouge and Rent sitting here in draft mode, unpublished, since 2007. So it's not like I'm just thinking of it now. (I'll get to talking about Rent eventually.)
This film is destined to be a cult classic, and if you can't appreciate it, I really don't think I want to be your friend. If you like it, though, it was practically made for high definition and Blu-Ray - pick it up. But the definitive version in terms of extras is still the Collector's Edition DVD, which also happens to have some of the nicest packaging of any DVD release I own - and it's cheap! Get them both if you're a fan.