I have laid my wet, gleaming, morose eyes on one indulgent and breathtaking mammoth of artistry at least ten times, rounding it off to the nearest figure. And considering the fact that I don’t do well with the same sequences of film playing themselves on repeat on screen, ‘Moulin Rouge’ pushed against all the confines of an ordinary Hollywood classic for me. As the end unfolded, I was left in awe by the masterpiece Luhrmann had created.
Sooner than later, my newly formed disposition for the likes of such a brilliant director led me into following his previous works as well, namely Romeo and Juliet (with my favourite actor of all time, Leonardo Di Caprio) and Strictly Ballroom. Upon my prying inquisitions, I later came to the conclusion that the ‘Red Curtain Trilogy’ was the bespoke title given to the first three films directed by Baz Luhrmann, that opened his career as a promising and highly influential director for all.
The Red Curtain Trilogy has been described by Luhrmann as following a specific filmmaking technique, with each film containing a theatre motif that recurs throughout it. In 2008, I followed the next Lurhmann release, Australia, an epic-length story starring an on-screen chemistry between Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, taking place during World War II, in a setting that has forever aspired my aesthetics. In 2013, little would’ve I guessed that my all-time favourite book, starring my all-time favourite actor, again, would be blood, toil, tears, and sweat of the same director whose work I absolutely adored and had been so passionately following. The Great Gatsby was Luhrmann’s next big-screen work, and as of 2014, it is Baz Luhrmann’s highest grossing film to date.
A brief analysis of Red Curtain Cinema, thus, is able to illustrate how Lurhmann’s trademark use of excessive visuality and symbolism affirm the real-life universality of the experience of love, grief, and loss, in relation to their existence and prevalence everywhere.
Ending revealed at the very start of the film
The progression of Luhrmann’s love stories almost always points to a sort of disillusionment or dissatisfaction with the way characters fight battles within themselves and with others, as a foolhardy endeavour that in the real world only culminates in disappointment and heartbreak
Countless choices define our fate: each choice, each moment – like a ripple. Enough ripple, and you can change the tide. Fate has a way of circling back on a man and taking him by surprise, so he can see things differently at different times in his life. This predetermined mapping of our futures, set in stone, has been crucial to the form, structure, and presentation of Lurhmann’s stories that have been more important than the narrative itself; this is the reason why the ending is always revealed at the very start of his films. For example, Romeo and Juliet starts with a news flash on a television screen, which depicts city brawls that have taken place and more fights that occur, later onwards, in the film. Moulin Rouge shows Satine coughing up blood, a sign of tuberculosis, from which she subsequently dies. By giving away the tragic outcome at the very beginning, the focus of the film moves away from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’. ‘What’ is of interest is not so much about what happens in the film, but ‘how’ it is presented.
Looking and the Male Gaze
Feminist film theorist, Laura Mulvey in her essay on the male gaze mentions the rigid dichotomy between active and passive looking. According to Mulvey, traditional cinema always places the man in the active position of looking, while the woman “stands in patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other” and remains a “silent image” on which men can project their fantasies. In this respect, women become objects of the scopophilic male gaze, which then projects its voyeuristic fantasy onto the female figure ‘to-be-looked-at’. When he sees his love for the first time in Romeo and Juliet, Romeo wonders, “Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight, For I never saw true beauty until this night,” thus emphasising the power behind just one look. Also, in the Moulin Rouge, Satine is a courtesan who dances in front of men and earns her living by letting men watch her. In the course of the film, Satine plays many roles, from the unobtainable sparkling diamond to the seductress and femme fatale – and all of her roles are designed to spark her audience’s desire. Mulvey also seems to suggest that to a certain degree, all three female protagonists are fetishized and overvalued by men, and also seem to only be desirable as long as they are out of reach. This idea is reminiscent of Jay Gatsby’s perfect image of Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby: His longing for her is symbolised in the green light at the end of her dock, but the light is hidden in fog and storm the second he holds her in his arms.
Love and its tragic ending
Ultimately, Lurhmann’s stories are about love. This is a type of forbidden/unacceptable by society style of love, and in the way these couples fall in love and try to continue affairs/relationships without the knowledge of others in the larger society, standing up against unsupportive families, rules, responsibilities, and against all odds, they fight for what they want and succumb to its tragic outcome. This boils down to the seemingly familiar chant: Do we really, ever, learn that “the greatest thing is just to love and be loved in return?”
The progression of Luhrmann’s love stories almost always points to a sort of disillusionment or dissatisfaction with the way characters fight battles within themselves and with others, as a foolhardy endeavour that in the real world only culminates in disappointment and heartbreak. It’s kind of an absurd thing in real life, and so reflecting that absurdity in movies while celebrating it is elusive. And that is exactly what Luhrmann does.