Once Luhrmann decided that his next red curtain film would be addressing musical cinema, he moved into the development stage with his Bazmark collaborators. Along with co writer Craig Pearce and production designer Catherine Martin (known to friends and colleagues as CM) he journeyed to Paris to write a synopsis and conduct meticulous historical research of
end-of-twentieth century Montmartre. To find ways to depict 19 century Paris and the Moulin
Rouge as it may have felt to its audience then — at the cutting edge of sex, music, dance, theater and modern thinking — the filmmakers immersed themselves in the neighborhood, venues and culture of their story. They researched everything from the can-can to Toulouse-Lautrec (an important player in their story), to the writers and journalists who recorded their breathless first hand accounts of the late nineteenth century nightclub itself.
They came to understand the essentially modem possibilities of a club that placed the hitherto rigidly segregated classes cheek to cheek: aristocrats and the fashionably rich alongside workers, artists, bohemians, dancing girls and working girls. "The Moulin Rouge was the equivalent of Studio 54 in New York during the late '70s, a place where the rich and the powerful can mix with the young, the beautiful and the penniless," states Craig Pearce. "And that's exactly the thought that motivated [Moulin Rouge impresario] Zidler. He and Joseph Oller built a Palace of Women' based on a dance craze, the can-can, which was a kind of sexually confronting strip
While Luhrmann and Pearce continued to work on the screenplay, CM took all the information and experiences they had accrued in Paris and turned them into designs for the film. Rather than slavishly recreate historical fact, CM worked from Luhrmann's imperative to create a heightened world. "We always start pedantically, recreate precisely, then adapt and change to serve the story," explains CM. "It's about manipulating the elements that existed in their world, so they read now, so that a modern audience can access this period world. Baz wanted us to create a world in a style he dubbed
'real artificiality.' A 'created' Paris in which the musical of his invention would sit comfortably. A place where breaking out in song would feel natural ."
The "Red Curtain" style was instrumental in creating this world. Luhrmann: "One of the characteristics of the 'Red Curtain' films is the use of classic cinema references. In MOULIN ROUGE we have utilized this mechanism both in making reference to classic hair styles and costume silhouettes of the great divas of the '40s and
'50s. Marlene Dietrich (BLUE ANGEL), with a sprinkle of CABARET and a nod to Rita Hayworth in GILDA. It is this constant referencing and re-referencing that we hope allows a modern audience to decode the historical setting. The ease with which the audience understands the story is crucial. In this musical we are not revealing the characters or plot slowly and invisibly, but quickly and overtly."
Indeed, the music and songs are critical to character and story. But creating MOULIN ROUGE as a musical presented Luhrmann with a daunting challenge: Musicals have long been out of fashion, so he had to devise new ways to reach contemporary audiences. The key was having the actors sing the story. Co-writer Craig Pearce explains: "As writers, we're intent on making the songs not simply an adornment, but integral to the story telling, so that there is no better way to convey a story point than with a number. As a result, we deal in big, strong gestures. The scenes have to build to such an extent, with the characters getting so high on the energy, that they can't do anything else but SING!"
Producer Fred Baron notes that Luhrmann has created nothing less than a new kind of musical. "Baz has taken this classic form and re-mixed it to create a new cocktail, a new form. In the traditional Hol
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