About The Production
Though entirely set in Paris, most of MOULIN ROUGE was shot over five sound stages at Fox Studios Australia. "We made a decision at a certain point to realize nearly every aspect of the show on studio stages," says producer Martin Brown. "It's reminiscent, in a way, of studio films of the 1940s where westerns gave you a guy with a fake campfire and a backdrop vista.
"MOULIN ROUGE is intentionally theatrical," Brown continues. "You have to enter into a contract with the film whereby you're prepared to suspend your disbelief. Believability comes from the two leads' love story
- that's what you connect to emotionally. Baz calls it 'wide awake cinema.'"
Lavish sets recreated - and reinterpreted - the Moulin Rouge. Production Designer Catherine Martin, set decorator Brigitte Broch and supervising art director Ian Gracie oversaw a vast array of designers, sculptors, graphic designers, model makers, and scenic artists who meticulously manufactured the sets.
One of the many striking sets was an interpretation of the Moulin Rouge's three-story, paper-mache elephant that contained an Arabian-themed gentlemen's club in its belly. For the cinematic incarnation, the elephant houses Satine's Red Room, where the courtesan seduces Christian, mistaking the young poet for the wealthy Duke. "There's a seedy side to our rendition of the elephant, because the characters were selling sex, as well as glamour," CM notes.
Shooting requirements necessitated the construction of several different elephant sets, including a forehead and back, designed at ground level for the lovers to sing atop. The head and belly housed the interior action. The production built a full-scale elephant on a steel frame, which they then covered in polystyrene to stand in the garden, as well as a model built to one fifth scale.
The filmmakers also built one-fifth scale models of the Moulin Rouge and other sets, all of which contributed to the desired feel of a created world. "We treated this world in a very self-
consciously theatrical way," notes CM. "Baz wants a completeness to the world, and every design detail tried to reinforce this."
Veteran director of photography Donald M. McAlpine, ACS/ASC, who previously worked with Luhrmann on WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S ROMEO
+ JULIET, was a close collaborator with the director and production designer Catherine Martin to create MOULIN ROUGE's heightened world. "The last thing this film could be used for is historical reference," says McAlpine. "Everything, including the costumes, which are probably the nearest to historical 'correctness,' is still only inspired by the period. There's an operatic approach by Baz and CM, and I'm on the same train."
Electricity was new to turn-of-the-century Paris - a novelty for which McAlpine tried to find a modern equivalent. "We assume that when people saw electricity back then, they thought they were seeing the brightest, most glittering, most wonderful thing that had ever happened," states McAlpine. "We're interpreting that time into our own. As far as lighting is concerned, nothing can be over the top. It's heightened lighting as befits the Moulin Rouge: all glamour."
McAlpine also embraced the challenges of the intrinsic limitations of filming almost entirely on sets and reduced scale models, with virtually no location work. "Because you can't have a new set for every scene
- which is what every cinematographer would love - you have to visit the sets many times. In order to underline the story, one of our guiding principles has been to make the sets different every time we hit a new turn in the story."
Costume designers Catherine Martin and Angus Strathie designed over four hundred costumes for MOULIN ROUGE's principals, dancers and extras.
Initially, CM found the idea of designing costumes for a film called MOULIN ROUGE, troubling, to say th
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