BEGINNINGS /PRODUCTION DESIGN /CASTING
Once Luhrmann had decided that his next red curtain film would be addressing musical cinema, he moved into development stage with his Bazmark collaborators.
Along with co-writer Craig Pearce and production designer Catherine Martin (known to friends and colleagues as CM) journeyed to Paris to write a synopsis and conduct meticulous historical research of end-of-twentieth century Montmartre. To find ways to depict 19th century Paris and the Moulin Rouge as it may have felt to its audience then - at the cutting edge of sex, music, dance, theater and modern thinking - the filmmakers immersed themselves in the neighborhood, venues and culture of their story. They researched everything form the can-can to Toulouse-Lautrec (an important player in their story), to the writers and journalists who recorded their breathless first-hand accounts of the late nineteenth century nightclub itself.
They came to understand the essentially modern possibilities of a club that placed the hitherto rigidly segregated classes cheek to cheek: aristocrats and the fashionably rich alongside workers, artists, bohemians, dancing girls and working girls. "The Moulin Rouge was the equivalent of Studio 54 in New York during the late '70s, a place where the rich and the powerful can mix with the young, the beautiful and the penniless," states Craig Pearce. "And that's exactly the thought that motivated (Moulin Rouge impresario) Zidler. He and Joseph Oller built a 'Palace of Women' based on a dance craze, the can-can, which was a kind of sexually confronting strip tease. "
While Luhrmann and Pearce continued to work on the screenplay, CM took all the information and experiences they had accrued in Paris and turned them into designs for the film. Rather than slavishly recreate historical fact, CM worked from Luhrmann's imperative to create a heightened world. "We always start pedantically, recreate precisely, then adapt and change to serve the story," explains CM. "It's about manipulating the elements that existed in their world, so they read now, so that a modern audience can access this period world. Baz wanted us to create a world in a style he dubbed 'real artificiality. ' A 'created' Paris in which the musical of his invention would sit comfortably. A place where breaking out in song would feel natural. "
The "Red Curtain" style was instrumental in creating this world. Luhrmann: "One of the characteristics of the 'Red Curtain' films is the use of classic cinema references. In MOULIN ROUGE we have utilized this mechanism both in making reference to classic hair styles and costume silhouettes of the great divas of the '40s and '50s. Marlene Dietrich, with a sprinkle of CABARET (1972) and a nod to Rita Hayworth in GILDA (1946). It is this constant referencing and re-referencing that we hope allows a modern audience to decode the historical setting. The ease with which the audience understands the story is crucial. In this musical we are not revealing the characters or plot slowly and invisibly, but quickly and overtly. "
Indeed, the music and songs are critical to character and story. But creating MOULIN ROUGE as a musical presented Luhrmann with a daunting challenge: Musicals have long been out of fashion, so he had to devise new ways to reach contemporary audiences. The key was having the actors sing the story.
Co-writer Craig Pearce explains: "As writers, we're intent on making the songs not simply an adornment, but integral to the story telling, so that there is no better way to convey a story point than with a number. As a result, we deal in big, strong gestures. The scenes have to build to such an extent, with the characters getting so high on the energy, that they can't do anything else but SING!"
Producer Fred Baron notes that Luhrmann has created nothing less than a new kind of musical. "Baz has taken this classic form and re-mixed it to create a new cocktail, a new form. In the traditional Hollywood musical, the actor breaks into song and you know it's pre-recorded. Our actors are doing something very daring: singing live on camera. What Baz is trying to create is the feeling that the singing is the acting, that you're not leaving the world of the story. Baz is trying to draw you inside the characters so that their inner voice is a musical voice. "
Though the characters sing the story, Luhrmann had decided from the beginning that the film was "not about voice first and characters second, but about actors revealing their characters through voice. "
"We had to find two people who were actors first and foremost, but who could also sing," Luhrmann continues. When Luhrmann and casting director Ronna Kress began work early in the process, in 1998. Kress was immediately impressed with the director's methods. "I think what's interesting about Baz is that he's all about the process," Kress explains. "It's about the process of working with the actors and discovering how the actors work with him. I think that comes from his work in theater and opera; it's certainly unique in filmmaking. "
When Luhrmann and Kress saw Nicole Kidman perform on Broadway in "The Blue Room," they were convinced they had found Satine. Luhrmann cast Kidman as the courtesan-star early enough in development that she was able to impact aspects of the writing of the character and vice versa.
"Satine's a courtesan who works in the Moulin Rouge," Kidman explains. "She comes from a dirt poor background, and Zidler has made Satine into who she is. But Satine doesn't want to be a can-can dancer her entire life; her dream is to be an actress. She's quite hardened though, and skilled at projecting different facades, creating fantasies is her job. But when Christian weaves his magic on her through song, he makes her believe that she could have something else, he brings out her belief in her dreams and that makes him particularly intoxicating to her. "
For the role of Christian, Luhrmann and Kress considered many performers. Luhrmann had long wanted to work with Ewan McGregor, and the British actor's formidable acting skills and surprising singing talents won him the role.
McGregor embraced the challenges of performing in a musical. "I've been waiting all my life to do this kind of singing and dancing," McGregor points out. "I was musical at school, and used to dance when I was a kid. And I've always had a passion for the old forties musicals. I drove everyone nuts on the set of MOULIN ROUGE because I was too excited, but I just felt that nobody's done this for years. Not like this. "
"I've never played a character more about love in my life," McGregor continues. "He's just absolutely unashamedly driven by love: after he meets Satine, she's everything he talks about. Nothing else matters but love. "
Chemistry between the two leads was crucial, but as Kidman was performing on-stage in New York, and McGregor in London, Luhrmann could not screen test them together. "But once we got Nicole and Ewan together, they really fired off each other beautifully," Luhrmann says. "She's classy and elegant, and he's so spirited and alive. "
Upon beginning work on MOULIN ROUGE, Kidman and McGregor immediately struck a bargain with one another. "Ewan and I had a tacit agreement that we'd support each other throughout, taking risks, and be willing to make complete fools of ourselves in front of each other," Kidman states.
"The great thing about working on this film is that people are saying 'Let's try something different'," Kidman adds. "And we've connected wholeheartedly to it - that's what has made this project so fulfilling. I'm working with people who believe in the project. "
With Kidman and McGregor aboard, the filmmakers turned to casting key co-starring roles, among them Toulouse-Lautrec, played by John Leguizamo. In contrast to the disinherited aristocrat who has often been represented as a very dour man in a beard, Toulouse actually spoke rather like Daffy Duck with a lisp. Despite the pain he was in for much of his life from a rare disease that was also responsible for the foreshortening of his legs, Toulouse was an incredible wit and bon vivant.
A large Australian ensemble comprises the Bohemians (Bohos) in ringleader Toulouse's gang, with Garry McDonald as the hallucinogenically inspired Doctor, Jacek Koman as the tango-dancing Unconscious Argentinean; Matthew Whittet as Satie, and David Wenham as writer Audrey.
In addition, West End musical star Caroline O'Connor, plays can-can dancer Nini-Legs-in-the-Air, Australian theatre veteran Kerry Walker plays Satine's dresser, Marie; Deobia Oparei plays performer Le Chocolat, while Lara Mulcahy plays dancer Môme Fromage. Australian pop star Kylie Minogue also takes on a key role.
With his principal cast on board, Luhrmann held a series of workshops and rehearsals at the House of Iona, a sprawling Victorian Mansion where all of his productions are developed and created. Ewan McGregor recalls: "We had four months in rehearsal to sail into that world using music and dancing to tell the story. Perhaps the most important thing about the whole rehearsal process was that by the time we started shooting, singing wasn't an issue. Try coming and doing that on two weeks rehearsal and it would be, 'Wait a minute what am I doing, singing?' By rehearsing, the singing had become second nature. "
Though entirely set in Paris, most of MOULIN ROUGE was shot over five sound stages at Fox Studios Australia. "We made a decision at a certain point to realize nearly every aspect of the show on studio stages," says producer Martin Brown. "It's reminiscent, in a way, of studio films of the 1940s where westerns gave you a guy with a fake campfire and a backdrop vista.
"MOULIN ROUGE is intentionally theatrical," Brown continues. "You have to enter into a contract with the film whereby you're prepared to suspend your disbelief. Believability comes from the two leads' love story - that's what you connect to emotionally. Baz calls it 'wide awake cinema. '"
Lavish sets recreated - and reinterpreted - the Moulin Rouge. Production Designer Catherine Martin, set decorator Brigitte Broch and supervising art director Ian Gracie oversaw a vast array of designers, sculptors, graphic designers, model makers, and scenic artists who meticulously manufactured the sets.
One of the many striking sets was an interpretation of the Moulin Rouge's three-story, paper-maché elephant that contained an Arabian-themed gentlemen's club in its belly. For the cinematic incarnation, the elephant houses Satine's Red Room, where the courtesan seduces Christian, mistaking the young poet for the wealthy Duke. "There's a seedy side to our rendition of the elephant, because the characters were selling sex, as well as glamour," CM notes.
Shooting requirements necessitated the construction of several different elephant sets, including a forehead and back, designed at ground level for the lovers to sing atop. The head and belly housed the interior action. The production built a full-scale elephant on a steel frame, which they then covered in polystyrene to stand in the garden, as well as a model built to one-fifth scale.
The filmmakers also built one-fifth scale models of the Moulin Rouge and other sets, all of which contributed to the desired feel of a created world. "We treated this world in a very self-consciously theatrical way," notes CM. "Baz wants a completeness to the world, and every design detail tried to reinforce this. "
Veteran director of photography Donald M. McAlpine, ACS/ASC, who previously worked with Luhrmann on William Shakespeare's ROMEO + JULIET (1996), was a close collaborator with the director and production designer Catherine Martin to create MOULIN ROUGE's heightened world. "The last thing this film could be used for is historical reference," says McAlpine. "Everything, including the costumes, which are probably the nearest to historical 'correctness' is still only inspired by the period. There's an operatic approach by Baz and CM, and I'm on the same train. "
Electricity was new to turn-of-the-century Paris - a novelty for which McAlpine tried to find a modern equivalent. "We assume that when people saw electricity back then, they thought they were seeing the brightest, most glittering, most wonderful thing that had ever happened," states McAlpine. "We're interpreting that time into our own. As far as lighting is concerned, nothing can be over the top. It's heightened lighting as befits the Moulin Rouge: all glamour. "
McAlpine also embraced the challenges of the intrinsic limitations of filming almost entirely on sets and reduced scale models, with virtually no location work. "Because you can't have a new set for every scene - which is what every cinematographer would love - you have to visit the sets many times. In order to underline the story, one of our guiding principles has been to make the sets different every time we hit a new turn in the story. "
Initially, CM found the idea of designing costumes for a film called MOULIN ROUGE, troubling, to say the least. She recalls awakening one night in horror, exclaiming to her collaborator and husband: "Oh my God, we're making a can-can movie, Baz! This is a hideous and revolting thing! How are we going to do it?"
But CM and Baz's design strategies and concepts quickly assuaged any such reservations. She approached the costumes much as she had the production design: the costumes would reflect the sensationalism and shock of the Moulin Rouge, but for today's audiences. CM and Strathie aimed to capture a fundamental tension between period veracity and creating a world that was seductive, sexy and even a little shocking to a contemporary eye.
"We haven't sacrificed Nicole's look for the sake of period correctness," notes CM. "The fact that she would have been wearing a woolen body stocking to perform in is an unnecessarily realistic reference. Instead, we looked to the glamour of classic film divas like Dietrich and Garbo and Joan Crawford. We also considered Nicole's innate glamour because glamour is so intrinsic to the world we created. "
For the dancers, CM and Strathie started with the idea that the can-can was incredibly shocking and sexy, revealing "a world of entertainment under women's dresses. " To capture that world, CM and Strathie created a series of erotic stereotypes for each of can-can girls, including a French maid, schoolgirl, dominatrix, cross dresser and baby doll.
The can-can was also all about the revelation of the girls' petticoats and panties - or lack thereof (which made the dance even more popular and scandalous). Strathie and CM came up with a series of petticoats and underpants that were revealing, but not too revealing. Some of the multi-layered undergarments weighed up to thirty pounds, requiring the dancers to wear braces worn on their shoulders to support the costume's weight.
This same attention was lavished on the men's costumes, including Zidler's "fat-suits" (fashioned from a full body cast of actor Jim Broadbent), and the period suits worn by Christian, the Duke and Toulouse-Lautrec took a month to hand-tailor.
To provide period realism to CM's and Strathie's reinvention of the period, the production crafted the costumes with much attention to detail. The large costume production team made the costumes in a huge workshop at Fox Studios Australia, with some intricate detail work done in India.
HAIR AND MAKEUP DESIGN
Between them, key hair designer Aldo Signoretti and make-up designer Maurizio Silvi have worked with such legendary directors as Bertolucci, Fellini and Visconti. The heightened colors of Signoretti's and Silvi's designs make important contributions to the heightened world of Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE.
Signoretti's starting point was Toulouse-Lautrec's jarring and lushly theatrical color palette -white, pink, orange, red - acid colors that give the film a modern feel. As shooting progressed, Signoretti and Silvi's color templates intensified to match the crazy quilt of the set and costume design. "Zidler's hair, for instance, is a bizarre orange-red with spots almost like a fox or a big cat," explains Signoretti. "The boho writer, Audrey's, is dark blue. For Satine, instead of a 19th century courtesan look, we went for a glamorous, kind of diva from the '40s, with deep red hair in waves and pearly skin. "
Says makeup and hair coordinator Lesley Vanderwalt, who oversaw a crew of sixty: "Subtle or 'true' period hair and makeup would have been lost in the grandness and lushness of MOULIN ROUGE sets and costumes. It would have been all sets and frocks without heads - you simply would have lost them."
Signoretti, who, like Silvi, first worked with Luhrmann on William Shakespeare's ROMEO + JULIET (1996), designed some eighty-five flamboyantly colored wigs, which were custom-made in Rome. All but two characters - Ewan McGregor's Christian and John Leguizamo's Toulouse - donned a wig.
According to visual effects supervisor Chris Godfrey, MOULIN ROUGE's three-hundred-plus visual effects primarily serve to "underline the story" - to extend Luhrmann's created world, rather than create a world of their own.
Luhrmann elaborates: "We live in a world where audiences are not only aware but profoundly bored of the perfection of digital magic. Cameras move perfectly at impossible angles, reality has a beyond-real sharpness. CM and I gave Chris and the team at Animal Logic (visual effects house) a commission that we wanted to use digital power not to create perfection but imperfection, to reproduce camera shake, deconstruct imagery and create a sense that this film was hand made.
"By quoting period camera moves and film stock, and actively pursuing cinematic imperfections of yesteryear, we hoped our audience would trust more in the world that was being created. It is an oddity with this project that we spent so much money trying to make things less perfect. "
MOULIN ROUGE's Paris was largely a digital creation. Early in the film's development, CM devised a series of Photoshop collages of turn-of-the-century Paris. Chris Godfrey and his team then built a digital Paris based on these original collages. The digital shots solved the problem of joining disparate sets into one neighborhood by working right up to edges of what could be done in camera, and then building on that. Godfrey further explains: "We've designed the effects so you travel over a two-dimensional Paris, which then becomes a 3-D model of the city, which is then joined to the one-fifth full scale main hall. Thus with a sweeping single shot we can travel from bourgeois Paris through streets of toothless rabble and up into Christian's garret. "
MUSICAL SCORE /SOUNDTRACK
The music in MOULIN ROUGE is a celebration of many of the great pop songs of the twentieth century, from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Lennon and McCartney, from Sting to Elton John, from Dolly Parton to David Bowie.
Luhrmann drew inspiration from the methods of some musicals from Hollywood's glory days. He explains: The device of contemporary music set against a period setting was standard fare in the heyday of the musical. Even though the film MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS is set in 1900, Judy Garland sings 'The Trolley Song,' a popular contemporary radio hit of the 1940s. Usually the musical numbers were already familiar to the audience, either by the virtue of having been radio hits or, as in the case of 'No Business Like Show Business' or 'White Christmas', favorites used in more than one production. This allowed the audience to have an immediate emotional connection to these songs. "
"In addition, the character of Christian needed to possess an extraordinary gift with poetry, so Craig Pearce and I created a device early on where our young poet channeled the great popular songs of the twentieth century. For example, in early drafts he would say, 'The times are a changing' or 'We can't go on together with suspicious minds'; from here we started using whole popular songs as storytelling text, e. g. 'Roxanne' or 'Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend.'"
For MOULIN ROUGE, Luhrmann wanted an electric score that would encompass opera, pop, rock, techno and standards, featuring the work of dozens of composers, producers, arrangers and musicians.
Says music director Marius DeVries: "We really had no limits or boundaries to where we could take the music. Our aim was to be as unexpected as we could - to push the emotional envelope as far as possible. " Composer Craig Armstrong adds: "Almost nothing is exactly what it seems at the start. Songs dissolve and become part of the score only to reappear in different form. I think that's a very Baz Luhrmann thing to do. "
Because the songs are crucial storytelling device, music supervisor and executive music producer Anton Monsted and music programmer/music development editor Josh G. Abrahams supplied Luhrmann and Pearce with songs, as the writing duo worked on the script. Monsted recalls: "The songs were to serve what Luhrmann and Pearce call STAFs: 'Scenes That Are Fundamental. ' Each STAF demanded a song cue that would work to illustrate the story in a way dialogue or regular action could not. "
As the songs were finalized, Luhrmann held workshops and rehearsals for the actors. The actors would then record the songs, followed by Luhrmann putting it all on film. Digital recording methods allowed the filmmakers to "fine tune" the music outside of the studio. To get the best performance, Luhrmann took advantage of different song recording options: to pre-record the vocal track so that the actors lip-sync to their own performance, or have the actors sing live on-set to a guide track or a live keyboard accompaniment. For the latter, the pianist could follow the emotional direction the singer wanted to take the song, resulting in a less mechanical, but more in-the-moment performance.
Armstrong, DeVries, Monsted, and Abrahams, along with additional score conductor Chris Elliott and music programmer Steve Sharples, collaborated closely with Luhrmann on the film's music and soundtrack, which features the work of some of today's hottest and most talented artists and composers.
The album opens and closes with David Bowie singing the 1940s standard "Nature Boy. " The opening draws on MOULIN ROUGE score composer Craig Armstrong's score version of the song. (Armstrong has also composed and arranged for Madonna, Massive Attack and Bjork. ) The album closes with Bowie's collaboration with Massive Attack on the same song. The two interpretations of the song, with its central lyric - "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is to love and be loved in return" - bookend the film.
Bono, Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer reinterpret the T-Rex classic "Children of the Revolution. " Multi-platinum recording artists Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya and Pink recorded a cover - and shot a disco-style music video - of the LaBelle classic "Lady Marmalade" (a. k. a. "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?"), which will be the first single from the soundtrack. Groundbreaking hip hop star Missy Elliott and Rockwilder produced the key music opener.
Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor make their on-screen/soundtrack singing debuts. The actors duet on "Come What May," a love song composed for the film, produced by multi-Grammy winner David Foster and Simon Franglen; and on "Elephant Love Medley. "
Kidman solos on "Sparkling Diamonds", "One Day I'll Fly Away" plus "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend. " and duets with one of India's most famed vocalists, Alka Yagnik on "Hindi Sad Diamonds,"
On "Your Song," McGregor teams with maestro Placido Domingo, who was the voice of the Man in the Moon in the film, while on the CD the duet is realized with Allesandro Safina. McGregor and actor Jacek Koman team up with Jose Feliciano to create a tango version of the classic Police track "Roxanne," which is part of a medley with the classic Argentinean tango "Tanguera" by Marianito Mores.
Valeria performs a hot Latin dance floor re-interpretation of the Diane Warren classic "Rhythm of the Night," and Fatboy Slim composes "Because We Can," a new track for the film. Beck and Timbaland unite on the David Bowie classic "Diamond Dogs," and Rufus Wainright sings "Complainte de la Butte," a ballad written by film director Jean Renoir for his 1950s film "French Can Can," also set at the Moulin Rouge. The original is sung in French; Wainwright performs it in a combination of French and English lyrics.
Baz Luhrmann's collaboration with John O'Connell goes back many years, he has worked consistently by his side on all of his films, music clips and stage productions. For MOULIN ROUGE, choreographer John O'Connell has eschewed formal numbers, in which performers break off a scene to take to the stage. Instead, numbers like the film's Tango, danced by Jacek Koman and Caroline O'Connor, act as story points that propel the action forward.
O'Connell harnessed the talents of the main cast and some sixty professional dancers for a wildly eclectic range of routines and movement styles. Early on, in the pre-production process, O'Connell began researching the film's signature dance, the can-can, as well as various musicals.
"I began by researching the old musicals, the Ritz Brothers who were like a dancing version of the Marx Brothers, Maurice Chevalier's first music movie in Hollywood, FOLIES BERGÈRE," O'Connell remembers. "When you see those old films you think they were on something; they were crazy. What inspired me was the wit and imagination, a kind of playfulness and joy that disappeared with later musicals. "
"I also looked at hundreds of Bollywood movies, which to me captured the essence of the forties and fifties Hollywood musicals, the fun," O'Connell continues. "And of course, I researched the can-can. Since the can-can has been seen so many times on film, we had to find a way to bring a freshness and energy to the film. We were inspired after learning that when (dancers at the Moulin Rouge) did the can-can, what was shocking was less that they lifted up their skirts and more that they had freedom of movement. "
O'Connell's diverse work in MOULIN ROUGE, like several other aspects of the film, is rich in cinematic references, including the Bollywood-influenced "Spectacular Spectacular," the Busby Berkeley-like culmination of "Your Song," and the old-Hollwood style kick lines seen of "Like a Virgin. "
Jill Bilcock's editing was instrumental in shaping the film's often breathtaking speed. "MOULIN ROUGE takes you on a ride," Bilcock explains. "A roller coaster ride from beginning to end with areas of light, shade and speed changes when you least expect them. Baz and I have made 'fast, fast, fast' our mantra, but as soon as the story gets to Christian and Satine - the love story, the tragedy - we slow down."
Bilcock worked to avoid traditional musical trappings. "Since the cast never actually stop to sing a song, we integrated the songs into the storytelling so that there isn't a distinction," she notes. "The singing is simply another storytelling device. "
Bringing his original concept of MOULIN ROUGE to final form on film was an almost four-year process for Baz Luhrmann and his company, Bazmark. In his forward to a book that features a behind-the-scenes story of the making of MOULIN ROUGE (illustrated by some of the world's most famous photographers), Luhrmann summarizes the experience to which he and his collaborators have devoted their energies:
"The film is ultimately about the journey from youthful idealism to the spiritual growth one seeks in adulthood. It is about one's changing relationship to truth, beauty, freedom and above all things love. "