Music

Ranking the Top Ten Moulin Rouge! Songs, 20 Years Later

Photo by Moviestore/Shutterstock (1601010a)
Photo: Moviestore/Shutterstock

When Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! hit theaters 20 years in the past (May 16, 2001 to be precise), the visionary director’s kitchen-sink spectacle wowed audiences with its lavish costumes and set items, its chart-topping soundtrack single (“Lady Marmalade”), and its basic air of star-studded, must-see Hollywood glitz and glamour. Though vital response was initially blended (our own critic didn’t hold back, saying, “It’s like being trapped inside a fever dream of Oscar-night production numbers”), the film went on to gross greater than $150 million at the field office and later discovered new legs on the Great White Way as a beloved Tony-nominated musical.

Despite its box-office success and sustained fandom, Moulin Rouge! initially seemed prefer it had fiasco written throughout it. Luhrmann, driving excessive off the success of Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet, was seeking to shut out his Red Curtain Trilogy with a flourish — but neither of its leads had ever starred in a full-scale musical. Kidman’s many accidents dogged the manufacturing and even left her with a reputation of being uninsurable. By their nature, high-concept musicals typically show dangerous endeavors; At Long Last Love was savaged by the critics, and One From the Heart was such a monetary catastrophe (making again lower than one million of its $26 million finances) that Francis Ford Coppola would finally should declare chapter.  And Moulin Rouge! wasn’t precisely a straightforward promote with its scattershot influences, from intellectual (Orpheus and Eurydice) to lowbrow (Wile-E Coyote), amounting finally to much less of a jukebox musical and extra of a warehouse-of-different-jukeboxes musical.

(*20*)I’m not particularly keen on jukebox musicals or tragically maudlin love tales, however I ended up seeing Moulin Rouge! in theaters six occasions throughout its authentic run. I’d wish to say that it was my film-school curiosity, however honestly, the endorphin rush I skilled was second to none. (Just seeing Ewan McGregor scratch his head nonetheless fires off all my serotonin receptors.) When I look again on it 20 years later, Moulin Rouge!’s curtain name looks as if the final of its variety, the last gasp of Hollywood making box-office financial institution with earnest, campy Technicolor spectacle. Stacking it up towards the extra cynical trade superhero diversifications which have all however consumed our bandwidth and a focus of late, Moulin Rouge!’s monumental success feels all the extra miraculous.

To have a good time the movie’s anniversary, Vulture is trying again at ten of the songs that outlined Moulin Rouge. It’s a very Sisyphean job to assign any sort of order to this chaotic masterpiece, however at the very least, we’ll assist you distinguish the spectacular from the “Spectacular Spectacular.” So seize your prime hat, tighten your corset, and let’s hit the dance flooring.

As the movie fades in, a tragic John Leguizamo (dressed as a Pierrot clown) is perched in entrance of a windmill. Nine occasions out of ten, seeing a tragic clown (he’s really dressed as a magical sitar, however that’s neither right here nor there) loafing in entrance of a windmill could be thought-about a foul signal, however Leguizamo’s Toulouse-Lautrec (sure, that Toulouse-Lautrec … in clown make-up … in entrance of a windmill) launches into “Nature Boy.” Written by eden ahbez, a proto-hippie who was rumored to reside underneath the Hollywood signal, the tune serves as the good introduction to the movie’s protagonist, Christian (Ewan McGregor), who’s himself “a very strange enchanted boy.”

The decrease rating has much less to do with the tune itself and extra to do with the proven fact that it feels a bit like going again to the nicely. “Nature Boy” has been used to ascertain characters and themes in media reminiscent of The Boy With the Green Hair, Untamed Heart, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and, most just lately, the criminally underrated sequence Lodge 49. That’s to not say Moulin Rouge! made the flawed selection, although; the tune establishes Christian as a hero who’s “a little shy and sad of eye.” By the time we discover McGregor along with his three-day-growth beard weeping into his typewriter, we’re able to wander very far on the journey with him.

There’s one thing so satisfying about when a film tells you its whole plot earlier than it really occurs. In Shaun of the Dead, Ed lays all of it out over pints at the Winchester; Midsommar foreshadows what’s to come back by way of tapestries; and in Moulin Rouge!, we get “The Pitch (Spectacular Spectacular).” Set to Offenbach’s “Can Can,” it soundtracks Christian (McGregor), Satine (Kidman), and Harold Zidler (an completely reworked Jim Broadbent) as they attempt to promote their play to a nefarious financier, The Duke (Richard Roxburgh)—and in doing so, define some plot factors coming down the pipeline. It’s Moulin Rouge! at its zaniest, with whiplash-inducing digicam zooms and slapstick-y sound results straight out of Looney Tunes. If you may forgive the manic reducing and fast-motion results, you’ll discover ample alternative to thrill in Kidman’s keen theater-kid vibes whereas swooning at McGregor’s pining glances. Luhrmann’s fashion won’t be everybody’s cup of absinthe, however this quantity does its job in making ready an viewers for the tragicomedy forward.

From Wayne’s World to (duh) Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen have had their share of memorable film moments, however this one really feels considerably … plodding. Here, Satine (Kidman) is about to betray Christian (McGregor) with the intention to save him, however after so many dynamic numbers one proper after one other, this slows the film’s constructing momentum. To its credit score, although, the tune additionally highlights one in all Moulin Rouge!’s best strengths: It makes its stars sound nice. Is Nicole Kidman an important singer? I have no idea, however the movie does an knowledgeable job of creating it seem to be she is! There’s an inexplicable development in film musicals of counting on reside vocal recordings, as if we don’t have 100+ years of film magic at our disposal to make our stars sound wonderful, as if it’s a extra genuine cinematic expertise to observe poor Russell Crowe battle to hit the excessive notes on “One Day More.” Moulin Rouge! does its stars and viewers the service of giving us their finest.

For these of you who haven’t seen the movie, what I’m about to put in writing is sure to learn like phrase salad. “Zidler’s Rap” begins with McGregor, Leguizamo, and a gaggle of Bohemians downing pictures of absinthe and hallucinating Kylie Minogue as the Green Fairy. The Australian pop star then sings “The Sound of Music” whereas McGregor and the Bohemians sort out T-Rex’s “The Children of the Revolution.” The gang is then transported to the Moulin Rouge, at which we lastly hear the opening bars of “Lady Marmalade.” But past a couple of “Voulez vous couchers” and a pair “gitchee gitchee ya yas,” that’s … all we hear of the tune the whole movie. It’s a fairly ballsy transfer for what was already a large hit tune, however the whole quantity has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, just-go-with-it vibe. (Old males in tuxedos singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? Sure! Jim Broadbent doing backflips in a ringmaster costume? Okay. That was Kylie, proper? Where’d she go?) It’s an audacious introduction to the world we’re about to inhabit, with Broadbent, half pimp, half carnival barker, luring us the entire method.

2001 was a banner year for Broadbent, who would win an Oscar for his efficiency in Iris and was already starring in the field office juggernaut Bridget Jones’s Diary, so it appears virtually inconceivable that the identical particular person enjoying Bridget’s unhappy sack dad can also be the randy proprietor of the titular Moulin Rouge. In a scene that manages to be each pleasant and positively icky, supporting characters Harold Zidler (Broadbent) and The Duke (Roxburgh) take heart stage with a quantity that two middle-aged males rocking grotesque facial hair have completely no business performing. Gone is Madonna’s flirty, breathy vocals, changed right here with Broadbent’s groaning whispers—and simply as the second verges on overwhelmingly disagreeable, Zidler (with one other vocal help from Weigh) launches into an operatic tackle the ’80s hit that casts him as a shy coquette and the Duke as the huge dangerous wolf.

As the lone authentic composition written for the movie, “Come What May” faces an uphill battle in standing out amid such a robust catalogue of in style songs. While it’s the kind of completely serviceable quantity that matches nicely into the canon of Oscar-nominated pop requirements, by itself, “Come What May” doesn’t stack up towards the competitors — however as a standout scene in the movie, it comes alive. “I’ll write a song, and I’ll put it in the show,” Christian says to Satine as he kisses her brow. “And no matter how bad things get, whenever you hear it or sing it or whistle it or hum it, it will mean that we love one another.” What follows is one in all the best loved-up montages of all time, with McGregor and Kidman trying impossibly lovely with their stolen glances, shy smiles, silk robes, and frantic typewriting.

The tune’s impression isn’t totally realized, although, till its conclusion, when Satine — on the verge of dying — sings out to persuade Christian of her love for him. Christian returns her name with a full-throated response, a second that demanded one thing authentic. When “Come What May” is known as upon as a reprise, it lastly rises to the event.

During the center of this tune, Satine undergoes a dressing up change throughout which she asks Zidler, “What’s his type? Wilting flower? Bright and bubbly? Or smoldering temptress?” Kidman manages to tug off all three, not simply in the film, however in the course of this “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and “Material Girl” mash-up. Moulin Rouge was the actress’s first movie post-divorce from Tom Cruise, and she or he had so much to show: While her roles in Batman Forever and To Die For confirmed that she was very a lot a star in her personal proper, her high-profile marriage to Cruise as soon as once more took heart stage with their long-anticipated turns in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut — the final movie she’d seem in earlier than the launch of Moulin Rouge two years later.

When she makes her entrance, all eyes are on her. As she actually high-kicks away ogling worshipers, it appears like the musical equal of her now-iconic divorce photo. Here, her singing is smoky and playful, and as she’s thrown into the air by a Bubsy Berkeley–esque circle of top-hatted me, her Cheshire Cat grin reveals us that she’s having as a lot enjoyable as we’re. The quantity is pure pleasure — till she collapses from exhaustion, foreshadowing her tragic dying to come back. When she lastly reveals us “wilting flower,” we’ve already fallen in love together with her vivid and bubbly smoldering temptress.

It was exhausting to think about that Ewan McGregor — a performer whose early career included roles like the scheming nihilist Rent Boy in Trainspotting —would at some point sing “Love Will Lift Us Up Where We Belong” along with his arms outstretched atop an enormous elephant. Yet the path of breadcrumbs was all the time there, as the British actor moved by way of delicate roles in movies like Little Voice and Brassed Off whereas displaying off his musical potential in fare like Velvet Goldmine and A Life Less Ordinary. Yet all of that was overshadowed by his most high-profile position as Obi-Wan in the Star Wars prequels, a task he’s set to return to in an upcoming Disney+ sequence.

Obi-Wan might wield “the force,” however the Star Wars universe not often makes use of McGregor’s best weapon: his allure. Even his most morally compromised characters have it in spades, and if you happen to preferred it when he was cynical and acid-tongued, you’ll adore it when he’s lovestruck and hopelessly honest. Kidman’s character has one job: by no means to fall in love. But McGregor launches a full-scale assault with an arsenal of tacky love ballads (every thing from Phil Collins’s “One More Night” to Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”). When Satine whispers, “You’re gonna be bad for business, I can tell,” she has decisively lost the battle, however the hungry kiss that follows tells us that this can be a candy give up.

For the most intense scene of the movie, Luhrmann didn’t maintain again on tying collectively wildly completely different kinds and influences. In establishing Satine’s would-be seduction of the Duke, the Police’s “Roxanne” undergoes an entire makeover, with Luhrmann reimagining it as a tango-inspired ballet. The tango conveys Kidman’s internal turmoil as McGregor, in a match of jealousy, makes his technique to her window, forcing her to just accept that she can not undergo with the seduction.

Everything has been constructing to this second, and every thing in Luhrmann’s bag of tips — borrowing, reimagining, frantic reducing — is on full show. Up till this level, these tips have been used to create film magic, however right here the director wields them for dramatic rigidity. As the Duke rips a diamond necklace from Satine’s neck, everybody hits their excessive notes, and we really feel Kidman’s terror. This is what separates Luhrmann from different filmmakers who make use of extremely stylized filmmaking: Where they typically use it for the sake of, nicely, merely being stylized, Luhrmann makes use of it to build emotion. He wows you with spectacle, stupefies you with pomp and circumstance, and simply when Moulin Rouge feels prefer it would possibly leap the shark, he pulls all of it collectively and devastates you with a single tune.

When McGregor shout-sings, “My gift is my song!” each garret in Montmartre lights up and Kidman’s jaw hits the flooring. The digicam holds on the actor as he quietly finds his phrases, gaining confidence till he breaks out that million-watt smile on “How wonderful life is, now you’re in the world.” No frenetic reducing, no mash-ups: only a younger man in love, expressing it by way of Elton John & Bernie Taupin’s basic. It’s the line-in-the-sand second that may show whether or not you’re onboard with this madcap film or not, as the factor strikes previous chaotic spectacle and turns into a complete celebration of freedom, magnificence, reality, and love. And if you happen to can’t discover pleasure in watching Ewan McGregor dancing with an umbrella in a bespoke sequined go well with, nicely, I don’t maintain out a lot hope for you.

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