Monday, December 1, 2008

FotM: Pulling Back the Curtain

I will be the first to admit that as Baz Luhrmann’s films were being released (and I was enjoying them in the theatre) I had no idea that they were related as anything more than three distinctive films by a rising director. As a fan I simply assumed that these three films were done in Luhrmann’s directorial style; little did I know that Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! were actually a trilogy – The Red Curtain Trilogy.

The Red Curtain Trilogy is not a traditional trilogy following characters through one epic story (i.e. - Star Wars or Lord of the Rings) but three films that celebrate and showcase a style of filmmaking. Due to this, defining the trilogy becomes complicated; lucky for me I am a Luhrmann geek and I’ve seen the three films so many times that picking out the patterns in the three films was much easier than it should have been – my film school education put to good use.

What attracted me to Luhrmann’s films before I knew they were a trilogy is the hyperkinetic sense about them. Everything about Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet & Moulin Rouge! is loud, colorful, and tweaked. In a way so specific to Luhrmann, reality is in his films but altered enough that it comes off as pure fantasy, yet enough of the real world is present that we are able to empathize with the characters plights, romances, and random happenstances. Luhrmann makes the kind of film that reminds me about the creative possibilities of the medium – not just the unique stories you can tell but how greatly a filmmaker can control the environment in which stories take place. For me it’s like being a kid that’s discovered the movies all over again.

Part of this uniqueness is of course the images and colors that are key to Luhrmann’s assembly of his trilogy; there are other elements that hold his trilogy together but I feel this obvious touch makes the tie between the movies the most obvious. Before Australia I assumed that the bold color choices and fast moving camera were what Luhrmann uniquely contributed to his films; I now know that while Luhrmann still composes strong images and beautiful colors, the editing, camera work and colors attributed to his first three films are indicative to the style of The Red Curtain Trilogy. This visual style was evident in Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet but I do believe it culminated in Moulin Rouge! - I still remember my younger brother telling me that he loved the film but the colors, motion, etc., made him dizzy.

Besides the crazy visuals of Luhrmann’s trilogy there is one very obvious thing that holds all three films together – the dumb thing is that even with a degree in film it was so obvious that I didn’t notice it until it was pointed out to me. Each of Luhrmann’s first three movies begins in a theatre with a red velvet curtain that must be drawn back before the audience is introduced to the story, hence the red curtain in the name of the trilogy. Looking back you might assume that this was put in the DVD releases after as a marketing ploy but I assure you it was not. Having seen both Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge when they were first released I can tell you that the curtain was always there.

One thing I feel I also must point out is the beginning of each film. I am a person that hates using exposition in films; with the exception of the Star Wars trilogy and that crawl that comes up at the beginning of each film I kind of feel like exposition in general – but especially at the beginning of a film – is a weak story telling device, it almost always seems like the writer put it there because he thought the audience was too dumb to figure it out themselves. I hate exposition. However, Luhrmann does exposition at the beginning of each Red Curtain film beautifully and it becomes another thing that ties all three films together.

At the head of each film after the red curtain opens Luhrmann has a sequence that is unlike the body of each movie and this sequence gets the audience up to speed with where the characters are at this point in their world. In Strictly Ballroom the opening is a faux documentary where everyone in Scott Hastings life laments about how he is throwing his career away; in Romeo + Juliet the opening is Shakespeare’s traditional chorus monologue told through a news reporter on a TV set which launches us into a beautiful expository faux title sequence; finally, Moulin Rouge! has the opening black & white/silent film-esque sequence where we are brought up to speed on Christian’s life that has led him to Paris. Each sequence sets the style tone for the film but is different enough from the body of the film to stand out as being visually apart from it. I do think this is something that very few filmmakers could do and make it feel natural but Luhrmann manages to pull it off which is just another reason he is one of my favorite directors.

I do have to say that The Red Curtain Trilogy is one of my favorite trilogies because it manages to inspire, thrill and entertain me without ever making me feel like I have to shut down part of my film filled brain and not think about what I am seeing in order to enjoy it. Personally, Luhrmann just has a unique way about his visuals and stories that just makes my love of film renew each time I watch one of them; just as The Red Curtain Trilogy is not a typical trilogy, Luhrmann is not a typical filmmaker and that is more than fine with me. As long as he keeps making movies I will keep seeing them opening weekend and if his four films so far are any indication I will be able to find something fresh and breathtaking in every one.


Anonymous said...

I hope that he returns to the musical genre again soon. He truly is one of the Auteurs that will be remembred long after we're all gone.

Adam said...

I just watched "Strictly Ballroom" last night. I loved it.

I hope he gets back to the Red Curtain style soon. "Australia" was ok, but could/should have been so much more. Besides, he's SO GOOD at it!

Anonymous said...

My friend who's a Baz fan is in love with Australia but its mainly due to her fiancee being from there.