Baz Luhrmann--you either really like him or really hate him. I fall more into the like category, although the more I watch his Red Curtain Trilogy, the more I discover things that I don't like his directing. Last night I attended a Baz Luhrmannaloozathon* and I finally watched all three in one night. Almost overwhelming. I will say this: his films are viewed better in a group that will react/make fun of/sing along with/question the movies.
Strictly Ballroom (1992)
I know I've written about Strictly Ballroom before, but it was fun to look at the beginnings of Baz's directing style. Some of his trademarks (cliches?) found include post-production slo-mo, lots of sparkles (most of the costumes in this film), the Coca-cola sign that later turns into a L'amour sign with a Coke logo in both Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!, quick edits (although not as frenetic in this film as his future ones), and yelled echoy key line ("WE LIVED OUR LIVES IN FEAR!").
I find this to be Luhrmann's most accessible film--if you can get past the ballroom dance world. It's editing/cinematography style is mostly unnoticable and allows the actors to shine. In fact, highly emotional scenes don't end in screaming lines so it's like the characters mean them/know what they're saying**. There is an element of the fantastic in this film, but it's just real enough that it's easy to go with.
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
The last time I saw this, I was in 9th grade English, and after 7/8 years, it's still crazy. The beginning is fun, full of quick zoom-ins, visual puns, and fast edits, but things soon devolve into screaming, dramatic close-ups, and slow-motion. In other words, it starts weirdly awesome and then starts to suck. It's Casino but with young teenagers. Examples: Casino beginning vs. Romeo + Juliet beginning. They both start out awesome. And then this happens: Casino screaming at minute 2:20 (warning lots of language) Romeo + Juliet Avenging Mercutio at minute 8:50. Screaming rarely gets the point across if that's all that's happening. In fact, I quit paying attention. And in Baz's case slow-motion following screaming is too manipulative to actually be moving. We don't see the character change or realize a mistake, the camera makes it obvious for us.
To be fair, I hate Romeo and Juliet as a play. I have no sympathy for the main characters since they're stupid. Yeah, they're young, but that doesn't mean I can't be annoyed by them. I can't even stand the leads in West Side Story (speaking of Romeo and Juliet remakes), but at least the side characters make up for it***. Stupid star cross'd lovers.
And the fact the Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes can't handle the material doesn't help. The Hot Fuzz version isn't too far off on how I view the two leads' abilities, although they are prettier.
Some of the actors actually do rise above the crazy editing and actually deliver lines (even when the only direction is "just scream it"): Pete Postlethwaite as Father Laurence, Harold Perrineau as the cross-dressing Mercutio, John Leguizamo as Tybalt, and Vondie Curtis-Hall as Captain Prince. Other highlights include a baby Jesse Bradford as Balthasar and 50s golden boy
Paul Rudd as Paris (both part of some great teen movies).
Though the fact remains that Shakespeare's works are all about the language. Dressing it up distracts and detracts from it. In this case, you don't need to listen to the words at all to understand what's going on. It could have just been any other story or done without the beautiful language. The saving grace of this viewing was talking over it with othe people.
Oh, and the key line screamed: "A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES!!!!"
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
I've seen Moulin Rouge! a ridiculous number of times. I could probably recite it for you. I'm not even that big of a fan, but it's just great entertainment. And it's where Baz's insane style comes to an apex and somehow works. The first 30 minutes are overwhelming with color, editing, slow-motion, computer graphics, quick introduction of characters, sexual innuendo, and of course sparkles. Once the film settles, it's becomes humorous, dangerous, and tragic.
Somehow the goofiness of this film works. I think it's because of great music, competent actors (has Nicole Kidman ever had this much personality on screen), and a setting that's as transient as the editing (meaning it makes sense). And after you watch it enough times and often enough, you don't even notice all the craziness. Plus, the emotional ending is enhanced by slowing down the editing and keeping a take going for more than 2 seconds so the actors can actually emote (imagine that!).
And really, I think I would like this film even if I only saw "El Tango de Roxanne." Jacek Koman's gritty voice combined with intense/sensual choreography is unbeatable. Here's a version the just focuses on the dancing scene (no splicing with the Duke and Satine):
And just remember: "THE GREATEST THING YOU'LL EVER LEARN IS JUST TO LOVE AND BE LOVED IN RETURN!!!"
*If you want to see how dorky I am, here's my friend Shuana's post on the night. I'm the overly enthusiastic one.
**Yeah, I'll rant about this later.
***Anita being intense and somewhat reasonible. And Maria being lame.