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Baz Luhrmann Talks Awards and "Moulin Rouge"

Copyright © 2001 20th Century Fox - All Rights Reserved

 Related Resources

• DVD Review: "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet"
• DVD Review: "Moulin Rouge"
• Soundtrack Review: "Moulin Rouge"
• "Moulin Rouge" Movie Review
• Links to "Moulin Rouge" Fansites
• Ewan McGregor Movie and Fansites
• Nicole Kidman Internet Sites
 More of This Feature

• Action/Adventure News, Interviews, and Reviews
• About's Home Video Guide's Feature on Luhrmann's DVDs
 Elsewhere on the Web

• Official "Moulin Rouge" Website

Baz Luhrmann's 10-year "Red Curtain Trilogy" odyssey ended with the release of his lavish romantic musical, "Moulin Rouge." With all three "Red Curtain" films now making their way to DVD, Luhrmann spoke about "Moulin Rouge's" critical acceptance, and why he felt a musical would be accepted by the viewing public.

How did the idea for a lavish musical come about?
Catherine Martin (production designer and Luhrmann's wife) and I went to India to work on "Midsummer Night's Dream." We went out one night and there was a big poster up for a Bollywood movie. I said, "Let's go see that." We did - 2,000 audience members, high comedy, high tragedy, brother kills brother, [they] break out in some musical numbers, all jumbled up together in 4 hours of Hindi. We thought that was amazing. So our question was, "Could we create a cinematic form like that? Could a musical work?" A musical must be able to work in western culture again, and could it be comic-tragic? So then began this commitment of moving toward "Moulin Rouge." I decided I'd do "Romeo + Juliet" and then a musical film.

How did you expect "Moulin Rouge" to be received? Were you shocked by its Golden Globe nominations?
Everything I've made on this 10-year journey has had exactly the same reaction and the same pattern. There was always this passion for, this passion against. It would not open in a spectacular way, and then it would go around the globe, gather momentum, and eventually it would take on this very committed audience. The audience would discover it. Same thing with "Romeo + Juliet," I opened it and there were people who said to burn the negatives. Yet it went on to win many British Academy Awards against rather outstanding films like "Titanic." It was accepted in England, the home of Shakespeare, and eventually has become rediscovered. The same thing happened with "Moulin Rouge."

I'm dealing in a language that most of what we consider the current vernacular for cinema was rejecting and I'm reinventing that. In turns of Golden Globes, in terms of the Grammys, the Academy Awards - my singular mission has been to find a way of making the musical cinema work again for this time and this place. It's not so much vindication, although you feel good, but I feel I'm off the hook because it's not me, I'm used to being ridiculed. I'm used to burning. But I take a lot of people who are not good with that, and who risk their careers and their efforts and their time. And I don't feel like I'm off the hook until every person I can possibly get to see the work has seen it. When they're acknowledged - like when Nicole won the Golden Globe I was like "Yes!" - I knew what she went through, I knew what a test it was. I heard one of the greatest actors in the world say, "She plays high comedy, she plays high tragedy, she sings, she dances, she pulled it off." That is an incredible test, that is an unbelievable achievement so that's why I'm the mouthpiece because we don't have the same bucks that some of the other campaigns do. I'm out there to articulate the film - not to convince anyone to vote for it but to say, "Please make sure that you at least go and see it." I'm an Academy voter and I don't see all the films.

Do you understand the logic of nominating a film as Best Picture but not for Best Director?
Look, I was disappointed in the moment. 10 minutes later when Nicole was nominated, I did cry actually - I was like "Oh my God, we're there!" And then when a musical for the first time in 20 years was nominated for an Academy Award, I was somewhere else because it's all about the film, it's all about that. Every one of the directors who were nominated have done fantastic work; they're incredible directors. I have no problem with that. It's art. Really it's not about one picture being better than the other. There are five or six films that have really pushed the medium this year and they've had a light shine on them. And whether or not nothing else happens with "Moulin Rouge," we're done, we're already there. There's an audience who has embraced it, it's been recognized, nothing can change that.

With the amount of effort that goes into your work, did you take it personally when you weren't nominated?
I was nominated in DGA (Directors Guild of America). And actually, honestly, the moment it happened I made an immediate rule inside my head that I would not look back at that. I would not be drawn into that. There's no point in that. By the way I am nominated as is my wife. She (Catherine Martin) does remind me that I have been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture because I'm the producer. Having said that, I am nominated for DGA and that is the entire body of directors. Now the Academy is a slightly smaller group. How it happened, why it happened, there's no point and I can't really work it out anyway. If I look back at that, I'm falling into the terrible trap of living for that and that is a terrible thing.

In the end, what does the Academy Award win mean? What it means is that light has shown on that particular project forever and on. When I was a kid growing up in the middle of nowhere, we got what they called "cheap television." You know, "Singin' in the Rain," "Citizen Kane," "Red Shoes," just crap they didn't want in the 70s so we were really hard done by. I had to watch all that stuff. But every now and then it would be like, " 'Lawrence of Arabia' nominated for X Academy Awards." No question we were watching that movie. It was a Best Picture winner. You just didn't think about it. So that is valuable. I put all effort into being part of it because I am part of it. And because, you know, when I think of the what Nicole did and what Ewan did, and four months in Australia. They could have been the laughing stock… They could be in a horrible place. So I owe them that, and I'll do that, and then it will be done and we'll move on.

What's it like trying to convince actors to work in these unusual films?
It's not about over-the-topness as some people think, it's actually a lost craft to play high comedy/high tragedy. Katherine Hepburn plays high comedy. High tragedy? Greta Garbo. It's absolute reality, it's truth. But it's truth with some degree of heightened focus on it. What you're doing is you're expanding the human condition. It's not about observing the cinema verte, through cinema verte the minutia of life. Observing through a keyhole. It's not the illusion of reality; it's actually celebrating the human condition. So you are amplifying it a little bit. It's not about it being big, and therefore not real. It's an incredible craft and I can tell because I've worked with every kind of actor, there are not that many actors who can do it. Who can play tragedy that is real, at that level? That is a tricky thing to do. It's much easier to find an actor today who plays like a pale photocopy of Marlon Brando - like "Gee, I'm suffering." But it is (difficult) to get a young actor to stand, look at the camera, and sing, "I love you" without a jot of cynicism - that is hard to find, and for me, that's Ewan McGregor's great achievement.

Some moviegoers were a bit overwhelmed by the film. Did you deliberately push the envelope?
We absolutely pushed it - we were very traditional in our form - but we pushed that editing of the first 15 minutes so that it was like - the naturalistic version of "Moulin Rouge" is wide shot, music, Moulin Rouge. In this film it's like, "POW, wake up, participate!" It's like you're confronted. It's like you're being asked will you give in, or will you go?

You'd think George Sidney (director of "Kiss Me Kate," "Bye Bye Birdie," "Show Boat") who is 90 would go, "I can't handle it." Actually, I'll tell you who really got this was Stanley Donen (director of "Singin' in the Rain"). He is not a pushover. Stanley Donen is a man of opinions and he doesn't need to dance. And he says, "Baz challenges our notion of rhythm. He challenges our notion of pace. Every moment is a showstopper and 'Moulin Rouge' wins." Even Steven Spielberg said the editing is courageous. Because what we are doing, we are pushing it to a level whereby those who think they know what they're in for are asking questions and then when I left you off the hook 15 minutes in, it slows right down, the reverse of a naturalistic film. Naturalistic films start slow and get fast, ours starts fast and gets slower. Having said that, some people don't like westerns, they're never going to get it, that's cool, I respect that. But having said that, many people who see it the first time go, "Whoa, what was that?" Then they'll see it a second time, and a third time and then over and over again.

It's not a precise science because no doubt it has left some people behind. No doubt for some people it's too slow. What we've tried to do is take something very old and deal with it in a very not even now way, I wanted to make a cinematic language that would worked this side of what I call the 'millennial gate.' Something that works for this future that we are now becoming part of.

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