With The Great Gatsby about to explode onto the summer cinema scene I felt it a perfect time to wax poetic about my undying and fervent love for Baz Luhrmann and his filmmaking.
It all started with Strictly Ballroom when I was about 7 or 8 years old – which would have been the year 1995. I’m pretty sure my dad just rented it from Blockbuster because one of his students recommended he see it. We all fell in love with it. At the time we had never seen a “mockumentary” before (and have since discovered all of Christopher Guest’s brilliant mockumentaries) and Strictly Ballroom fascinated us with it’s realistic documentary style filmmaking and plot about the “Pan Pacific Ballroom Championships” and it’s participants. Even with his first film which was extremely low budget, there is a surreal, magical quality about the sets, lighting, and music. Baz never fails with his soundtrack.
A year or so later Baz’s “Romeo + Juliet” came out right around the time I was old enough to appreciate Shakespeare and his brilliance, and again I was enraptured with another Baz masterpiece. In this film, Baz got even wilder with his saturated color palates, period throwbacks (even though the movie is set in a quasi-modern world, the main characters tend to find themselves in outfits for most the movie that would be more appropriate in Shakespeare’s time. Baz’s tactic for this was for the main characters to meet at a costume party where Romeo is dressed as a knight) and then of course we have the theatrical elements draped throughout – at one point we even see the characters on a decrepit, abandoned stage on the beach.
Then Moulin Rouge! came out my freshman year of high school, and every girl my age was obsessed. This movie was by far the most hightened example of Baz’s Red Curtain style – it was full-on period piece, but in classic Baz fashion instead of staying true to that period 100%, he added a few drops of modern day pop culture and music, gave it a good stir and let it turn radioactive. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure he set the stage (pun intended) for directors to cross-market the title track and soundtrack of their films with the movie by selecting huge current pop stars to collaborate on the soundtrack for the film. There was huge hype surrounding the movie before it ever came out because of the “Lady Marmalade” song and video released by the biggest pop acts of the day – Christina Agulera, Pink!, Mya and Lil’ Kim. Genius. Baz has done it again with The Great Gatsby – collaborating with Jay-Z for a soundtrack that juxtaposes 1920’s era speakeasy jazz with modern rock, hiphop and indie/alterative artists like Lana Del Rey, Fergie, and Beyonce.
Those three movies would complete Baz’s “Red Curtain Trilogy” – although none of the story lines are interconnected at all, the Red Curtain Trilogy has been described by Luhrmann as following a specific filmmaking technique, and each film contains a theatre motif that reappears throughout the film.
Baz’s filmmaking is clearly influenced by Bollywood styles and the multi-facetted emotional roller coaster of them. You’ve got comedy, high drama, heavy theatrical and even sometimes musical elements all blended together in an intoxicating experience. All the films have an almost gaudy opulence about them, but it’s balanced out by raw, emotional realism in the acting performances and overarching (usually tragic) statements about the fragility of the human condition and passion of the human spirit.
Even though most people disagree with me, I have to give kuddos to Baz for Australia as well. I will never understand why some movies are panned that I think are masterpieces – perhaps I am simply blinded because I love Baz so much, but I thought Australia was an epic that deserved so much more credit than what it received, which at best was critics saying it was beautiful mess. This film was stunning in every way, superbly acted, and not since seeing “The Rescuers Down Under” do I remember seeing Australia portrayed so brilliantly on film, and The Rescuers was an animated kids movie!! Sure, Australia went a little long. But so did a lot of the greatest films ever made.
On top of everything else awesome about Baz, the dude could be a model. He looks just as awesome in front of the camera as he does behind it and his signature style shines through in his own appearance as well as his films, which is so rare for a director.