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Music & Choreography

The music in MOULIN ROUGE is a celebration of many of the great pop songs of the twentieth century, from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Lennon and McCartney, from Sting to Elton John, from Dolly Parton to David Bowie.

Luhrmann drew inspiration from the methods of some musicals from Hollywood's glory days. He explains: "The device of contemporary music set against a period setting was standard fare in the heyday of the musical. Even though the film MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS is set in 1900, Judy Garland sings 'The Trolley Song,' a popular contemporary radio hit of the 1940s. Usually the musical numbers were already familiar to the audience, either by the virtue of having been radio hits or, as in the case of 'No Business Like Show Business' or 'White Christmas', favorites used in more than one production. This allowed the audience to have an immediate emotional connection to these songs.

"In addition, the character of Christian needed to possess an extraordinary gift with poetry, so Craig Pearce and I created a device early on where our young poet channeled the great popular songs of the twentieth century. For example, in early drafts he would say, 'The times are a changing' or 'We can't go on together with suspicious minds'; from here we started using whole popular songs as storytelling text, e.g. Roxanne' or 'Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend."'

For MOULIN ROUGE, Luhrmann wanted an electric score that would encompass opera, pop, rock, techno and standards, featuring the work of dozens of composers, producers, arrangers and musicians.

Says music director Marius DeVries: "We really had no limits or boundaries to where we could take the music. Our aim was to be as unexpected as we could — to push the emotional envelope as far as possible." Composer Craig Armstrong adds: "Almost nothing is exactly what it seems at the start. Songs dissolve and become part of the score only to reappear in different form. I think that's a very Baz Luhrmann thing to do."

Because the songs are a crucial storytelling device, music supervisor and executive music producer Anton Monsted and music programmer/music development editor Josh G. Abrahams supplied Luhrmann and Pearce with songs, as the writing duo worked on the script. Monsted recalls: "The songs were to serve what Luhrmann and Pearce call STAFs: 'Scenes That Are Fundamental.' Each STAF demanded a song cue that would work to illustrate the story in a way dialogue or regular action could not."

As the songs were finalized, Luhrmann held workshops and rehearsals for the actors. The actors would then record the songs, followed by Luhrmann putting it all on film. Digital recording methods allowed the filmmakers to "fine tune" the music outside of the studio. To get the best performance, Luhrmann took advantage of different song recording options: to pre record the vocal track so that the actors lip-sync to their own performance, or have the actors sing live on-set to a guide track or a live keyboard accompaniment. For the latter, the pianist could follow the emotional direction the singer wanted to take the song, resulting in a less mechanical, but more in-the-moment performance.

Armstrong, DeVries, Monsted and Abrahams, along with additional score conductor Chris Elliott and music programmer Steve Sharples, collaborated closely with Luhrmann on the film's music and soundtrack, which features the work of some of today's hottest and most talented artists and composers.

The album opens and closes with David Bowie singing the 1 940s standard "Nature Boy." The opening draws on MOULIN ROUGE score composer Craig Armstrong's score version of the song. (Armstrong has also composed and arranged for Madonna, Massive Attack and Bjork.) The album closes with Bowie's collaboration with Massive Attack on the same song. The two interpretations of the song, with its central lyric &m


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