Lift your skirt up for Moulin Rouge! It turned ten years old last week (it was released in Australia on 24 May) and that means it's been ten whole years of deep affection for Baz Luhrmann's extravagant, revolutionist movie musical. I saw it eight times at the cinema and would happily see it again if it, like other classic musicals, was rereleased at anniversary intervals (hello Astor Theatre). To say I was "obsessed" would be putting it mildly. I hailed it the no. 2 film of the decade and it would have been an east no. 1 if David Lynch hadn't thrown his hat into the ring in the same year with Mulholland Drive.
When the mission came to choose a "best shot" for Nathaniel Rogers' Hit Me With Your Best Shot project at The Film Experience I quite obviously found it a daunting task indeed. Visually, Moulin Rouge! is one of the grandest films you'll ever come across. A large amount of the film's enjoyment hangs on Catherine Martin's art direction and costume design (Oscar winners, each) and the cinematography, editing, make-up, visual effects, etc, and how they all connect via Luhrmann's astonishing directorial vision. The film is obviously much, much more than the visuals, but this is a feature dedicated primarily to what we perceive as aesthetically pleasing so we'll stick to that path.
The first shot that I considered was the moment Kylie Minogue enters the picture as "The Green Fairy", a hyper hallucinatory after effect of drinking Absinthe. Minogue's appearance at nine minutes into the run time is like a eyebrow raising dare to the audience - "Can you handle this? Here's Kylie fuckin' Minogue!"
And then but mere seconds later - "Oh, I'm sorry. You're not a fan of Kylie Minogue? HERE ARE TEN MORE!"
It's as if Baz Luhrmann dared himself to out-camp Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet combined and commits himself to it like it's going out of fashion.
There are whole lot of micro shots within this opening "Welcome to the Moulin Rouge" montage sequence that would be worthy contenders for the title of "best shot". One of my favourites is the following of Lara Mulcahy's Môme Fromage swinging around with her bosom, only partially housed within the hot pink polka dot cancan dress, sticking out like it's on a platter and her face giving of the expression of unbridled sexy frivolity.
The next shot I considered was this one of just romanticism - and yet, it's one of the very sort of shots that the movie's "haters" would point to as a reason why it's awful. As the lights pop up all over Paris to the tune of Ewan McGregor's voice, it's a gorgeous moment that continues Luhrmann's determination to throw as much at the audience as possible. It's followed mere seconds later, however, by a far more personal and simple shot of Nicole Kidman reacting that is sublime.
There's something about this shot of six bald-headed men in tails sitting around a piano during the "Come What May" number that I really like. I used it in my Black & White Friday entry for Moulin Rouge! and it looked better in black and white so I'm not using it as my "best shot". Still, I do like it for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. Perhaps its just the pure oddity of the scenario that does it for me?
"The Show Must Go On" is perhaps the film's most underrated number. It's exclusion from the soundtrack certainly didn't help, but I think it's Kidman's finest vocal work and is filled with amazing shots like the ones below.
And, really, who can't love this shot from the "Come What May" climax?
The "El Tango de Roxanne" sequence is filled with potential best shots. How about these two, which I absolutely adore (Caroline O'Connor... I wish you'd return to the silver screen!)
But the "Roxanne" shot that I very nearly went with was this one. In fact, I had decided upon it until I revisited an earlier scene just to make sure and in fact found one I'd realised I was silly for not chosen before. Just look at this shot and you'll surely understand why I was so close to hailing it as the best. That deep rich navy blue surrounded by a pool of black, Nicole Kidman's face bathed in light, but silhouetted by a lacy curtain that's accentuated further towards the bottom, adding a lovely visual flair. It's a truly astonishing image and it reminds me of this wonderful poster for The Barefoot Contessa, but upon further thought I'm glad I went with the shot I eventually used because, if anything, this one shot is too dark for a film like Moulin Rouge!
A film like Moulin Rouge! needs to be represented by something brash, bold and bright. Something that's as in your face as the film itself. While the following shot, of an unknown actress' undergarments, would perhaps be seen as a crude and throwaway shot - nothing more than one out of a thousand shots that Luhrmann and his editor Jill Billcock throw at the audience amidst the Moulin Rouge introductory sequence that is such a sensory overload - but I think it represents so much about Luhrmann's movie. It is brash, it is cold, it is bright. It's colours leap out of the screen, the sex oozes from the frame and its imagery is shoved in the audience's face. Hit me with your best shot? Here it is: