6 June 2001
'This story is about love'
'Moulin' director sings a song of 'spectacular'
by Jamie Allen
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- "Moulin Rouge," the new musical from writer-director Baz Luhrmann, might be a wild ride that mixes a plot set in the famed 1890s Paris nightclub with a soundtrack of pop music culled from the 1970s, '80s and '90s.
But Luhrmann says the film is a reflection on our modern techno-revolutionary times.
"We set it in 1899 to reflect where we are," Luhrmann says in a conversation at CNN Center. "In fact, I'm not that interested in 1899. I'm interested in using that moment to reflect where we are now.
"(In 1899), the world was moving forward into the 20th century," he says. "Simultaneously, the world was pulling back into the 19th century. So you have a wave of people who are retreating and a wave of people moving forward.
"And we're going through that now. You can see it. You can see there's a leap forward. And a lot of people are too tired. They want to pull back into the 20th century."
Love and other myths
Anyone who sees Luhrmann's work won't have a choice -- the film never rests long enough to let the viewer decide which direction they want to go.
Featuring fast editing and a medley of musical skits set to songs ranging from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to Madonna's "Like A Virgin," the film spins a tragic tale about a young writer named Christian (Ewan McGregor) who falls madly in love with can-can dancer Satine (Nicole Kidman) -- "the sparkling diamond" and most coveted prostitute of the Moulin Rouge.
When Satine sells herself to the financier of the "Spectacular Spectacular," a bohemian musical written by Christian to be staged at the Moulin Rouge, the couple sings their way into a world where love wilts in the face of hard reality.
Luhrmann says he wanted to tell a story that strayed from traditional happy endings.
"I'm not that young anymore, all right?" says Luhrmann, 38. "So I wanted to deal with the Orphean storytelling shape -- idealistic young man in the underworld, meets the time of his life when he realizes he can't control it, gets crushed in a relationship, loses love, grows spiritually, but he's scarred."
Still, Luhrmann believes the heart of the film, with its elaborate red-velvet sets, singing moon and campy, self-mocking humor, pumps on the force of one energy: love.
"This story is about love, your relationship to love," he says. "When you're young, you say 'I will never ... You and I always ... This is always going to be ...' Then you get hammered by that. You can either shut down and become love shy, or you can evolve and grow spiritually."
'A life force'
Luhrmann, born in Herron's Creek, New South Wales, Australia, has built a career on avant-garde storytelling. His films include 1992's "Strictly Ballroom" and 1996's "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet," starring a pre-"Titanic" Leonardo DiCaprio.
Luhrmann's also has directed opera, and he was the producer of the concept album "Something For Everybody," which included the hit "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)."
He says doesn't see himself as a film director or opera producer.
"Our currency is story. We deal in story. I think of myself as a storyteller, if you don't get too pretentious with that," he says. "I just think about what I need to make and then I go out and make it on whatever medium."
Sometimes he struggles to make it. "Moulin Rouge" was plagued by many delays and fights with studio officials at 20th Century Fox. It took four years to make. And then, in the months leading up to its release, Kidman made headlines when her marriage to Tom Cruise shattered, amid reports that she had suffered a miscarriage.
Kidman, to her credit, shook off the tough times and made herself a highly visible promotional tool for this film. She has earned the respect of Luhrmann, who has known the actress for years.
"She is just a life force to be reckoned with," says Luhrmann.
The show must go on
Still, the director says he regrets that the making of "Moulin Rouge" "nearly wasted me, in my soul and my body."
When asked what motivates him to continue this demanding work, Luhrmann confides that after the movie's promotional tour is finished, he'll head off on a two-month vacation to "be free of responsibility."
"At that moment, I will be able to answer that question," he says. "Right now, with the show about to open, it's only about the show. When it's done, I will be at the point where I need to say, Why would I bother to make another movie or show?"
For now, the curtain is up on "Moulin Rouge."
"There's a line from the film ... 'The show must go on, for all our sakes.' And the show must go on. It's about realizing you must grow from experience and that's what I realized from making this film," he says.