An Analysis of Moulin Rouge

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Moulin Rouge(2001) is an Oscar winning master piece from director Baz Luhrmann. It followed the success and recognition of Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Strictly Ballroom (1992). All three films were recognized for Luhrmann’s characteristic style. His films feature stylistic choices such as blue and red lighting, the use of rapid cuts and vibrant, period accurate costume. To analyze Luhrmann’s use of the four elements of the stylistic system, I will consider two specific scenes from the film, namely El Tango De Roxanne and the first meeting between the Duke, Christian and Satine. Although they both feature singing and dancing, the mood evoked by each contrasts completely.

Every film uses the stylistic system to structure a narrative that is based on a combination of the visual and audile rather than either in isolation. The four elements of the stylistic system are sound, cinematography, editing and mise-en-scene. Mise-en-scene can be further broken down into four different categories, namely setting, movement of figures, lighting and costume and make up. I will comment on the film in the context of the musical genre and then analyze the use of the stylistic system in Moulin Rouge by considering each element in the context of the two scenes.

Until the early 1900s, theatre was the most popular form of entertainment for the masses. Musical theatre was especially popular with its exciting costumes, sets and a multiplicity of performance art; acting, dancing and singing. The Jazz Singer (released in 1927) was the beginning of an innovation in the cinematic world. “The immediate impact of The Jazz Singer: lots of movie musicals”. (Cohan, 2002, pg 4)Modern film musicals have come a long way since then. Two types of musical cinema have come about; straight musical and backstage musical. Straight musical refers to musical films like Grease where the film is a story (usually a romance) in which the characters sing and dance to tell the story. “The myth of spontaneity suggests that the musical is not artificial, but rather completely natural.” (Cohan, 2002, pg 38) Backstage musical is where the story is centered around performers in their own story world. As Martin Rubin said; it is the idea of a “show-within-a-show.” (Cohan, 2002, 55) The characters themselves are performing for the audience within the diegesis (the film world). (Bordwell and Thompson, 2008, pg 333)

Moulin Rouge is one such example. The film is the story of Christian, a young man who goes to Montmartre, Paris and writes a play at the Moulin Rouge called Spectacular, Spectacular. He falls in love with a Courtesan, Satine, who is coveted by a jealous Duke. Their love affair remains secret while they rehearse the play. The film ends with Christian writing their story. IMDB.com calls Moulin Rouge a “Stylish musical, with music drawn from familiar 20th century sources.”

We first recognize Moulin Rouge as a musical in the opening credits. The film begins with the fade in of a proscenium arch stage and the silhouette of a conductor in the orchestra pit. Applause is heard and the conductor begins conducting the orchestra as the curtains open to reveal the credits playing on a flickering screen (reminiscent of early film) accompanied by a medley score of popular songs from the film. This opening sequence accompanied by an orchestra and conductor sets the tone for the musical genre. Similarly, at the end of the film, the red velvet curtains come down on the words and it is as though the play we were watching has ended. The play is full of singing, dancing and the romantic idea of the harmony of two souls; “The hero and heroine realize that they form the perfect romantic couple because they perform beautifully together.” (Bordwell and Thompson, 2008, pg 333).

The first scene I will analyze occurs approximately 35 minutes into the film. The Duke has returned to Satine’s room to find her unconscious on the bed with Christian on top of her. Satine claims that they...
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