Watching Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were about love, tragedy, art.
But, according to Baz Luhrmann, they’re exercises in “decoding” dusty forms of entertainment to make them sing anew.
It’s that tension between intellect and instinct that makes Luhrmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy (the first, Strictly Ballroom, is already out in Blu) so fascinating.
Critics argue that Luhrmann’s ADHD inner child cheapens the classics. But that’s to ignore the dexterity with which he rhymes past and present. Luhrmann’s mission is to give mythic narratives a modern makeover through an immersion in... well, whatever works.
Romeo + Juliet’s MTV mash-up borrows Sergio Leone’s showdowns and the credits from Dallas, while Moulin Rouge! widens the net with George Méliès, Tex Avery and Bollywood.
If Romeo + Juliet remains the superior work, it’s because of the cavalier ease with which it turns apparent limitations (the language, a modest budget) into triumphs.
The reimagining of Montagues and Capulets as street gangs is drawn down to specifics (‘sword’ and ‘rapier’ as firearm brand names), while the creation of Verona Beach from bits of Miami and Mexico City is ingenious.
The result is intensely cinematic and, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the leads, palpably emotional.
Moulin Rouge! has it a little too easy. Instead of one play, Luhrmann has the history of pop to choose from.
The razzle-dazzle can be wearying, though Luhrmann’s gift for the right reference remains intact: Jim Broadbent’s ‘Like A Virgin’ builds both narrative and character, while the reinterpretation of ‘Roxanne’ as sensual, savage tango shows mastery of mood.
Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor strike the right earnest/camp balance, but the real star is Catherine Martin’s production design.
Transfers are exceptional and, while the bulk of extras are collated from SD editions, new additions shed fresh light on Luhrmann’s exhaustive research.
The ‘Bazmark Vault’ is raided to bolster existing chat-tracks with PiP functionality; more interesting are curios like the test footage of Ewan McGregor singing ‘Father And Son’.
All that’s missing is context. Given his influence on modern movies isn’t it time somebody decoded Baz?
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