01 June 2001

Baz Luhrmann's delirious kitsch: Moulin Rouge

BAZ LUHRMANN WANTS TO ASTONISH. He says he wants to "reinvent musical cinema," and in his first two movies, Strictly Ballroom and William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, he took his first tentative steps, making a frenetic scratch-mix of music from many eras and of history with all the prankish savvy of contemporary theater and opera directors.

Contemporary American movies are usually slaves to naturalism, but with his third film, Moulin Rouge, Luhrmann is only a slave to the rhythm. Making a movie that is choking with extravagance and detail and a love of "love," with quotation marks and without, Lurhmann is working in a form akin to Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia: impatient, operatic too-muchness. He designs and directs and music-produces not as though he'd never be allowed to make a movie again, but as if no movie would ever be made again.

While the story is a mass hallucination of the half-remembered tropes of the turn-of-the-century Parisian bohemian epoch, the music draws from dozens of sources with improvident alacrity. Luhrmann's show-within-the-show is an India-set stage show that mimics the wild fantasias of multi-hour Indian Bollywood musical epics, and the feast is for the eyes as well as the ears. But the ditty-simple libretto simply sets us in Montmartre 1899, where "a bohemian storm is brewing." Courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman, icy, then champagne-giggly) finds her future and that of the Moulin Rouge nightclub have been staked by lascivious impresario Zidler (Jim Broadbent, bellowingly merry) on her accomodation of a dweeby Duke (Richard Roxburgh). Young writer Christian (Ewan McGregor), new to the quartier, falls in with Toulouse Lautrec (John LeGuizamo, playing him as the truth-telling soul of the scene), who leads a bohemian band of artists who are impressed only with "truth, beauty, freedom and love." Lautrec pushes Christian and Satine into each others' arms in a screwball comedy turn of mistaken identity; Satine believes Christian is the duke. Cue the recurring refrain: "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is to love and be loved in return."

An absinthe-drenched reimagining of pop opera and the American musical comedy, each and every scene is a full-throated shouting down of any notion of understatement. Luhrmann is fixed on attaining the authentic through the inauthentic. How do we get to genuine feeling when we've been told how to feel so many times in movies and songs? Contemporary American movies are feats of naturalism, but with Moulin Rouge, Luhrmann & Co. are interested in feats of levitation. They're willing to tempt the notion: Can you die of too much beauty? If anything will sell the movie to the world at large, it's the dense, generous, post-modern soundtrack, delineating the recombinant DNA of a century of pop music: the "can can" heard in Moulin Rouge is courtesy of Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) who sings, "Because you can-can-can!" over a track in his now-familiar rave-cum-frat-party fashion.

The movie unfurls on vast, lavish sets filled with color and action, augmented with swooping, physically impossible, computer-effects-enhanced shots of the end-of-the-century capital by day and night. The duke agrees to finance a show, which mirrors the love intrigues in the "real" world; it's designed and told in the excessive, brilliantly colored style of Bollywood as well. But you don't have to know that background for the movie's look and insurgent soundtrack to knock your socks off. Everything is iconic: the characters exist only in our visual rapture (or lack thereof) in watching them maneuver around their feelings through song. Most effective is how Lurhmann and Co. weave their soundtrack from dozens of sources, with the actors singing their own roles (Kidman's is lovely but thin; McGregor's is pretty damn terrific). The best example might be a love duet between Satine and Christian, when they are in full swoon over one another, which starts with bits of Phil Collins' "One More Night," segues into U2's "Pride: In the Name of Love," veers into "Don't Leave Me This Way," Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs," "Up Where We Belong," and then David Bowie and Brian Eno's soaring dirge to teenage love, "Heroes." The ace in the hole? The medley then moves to the climactic soar of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" and Elton John's "Your Song." Sounds either dizzying or dumb, but in fact, it soars above jokiness into some kind of sensation that finds emotional authenticity in the most synthetic parts of our shared pop consciousness.

The "we" that Luhrmann compulsively alludes to in conversation is less royal than communal, encompassing several key Bazmark, Inq. collaborators, including production and costume designer Catherine Martin ("CM"), to whom he is married, and Craig Pearce, his co-writer. Feline and impatient, Lurhmann is a cat who is self-consciously hep. With a shoulder-length fall of nicotine-gray hair, the 38-year-old impresario loves "a bit of a chat." Lurhmann is one of the fastest talkers I've ever encountered, and is willing to let his thoughts tumble over each other in his clipped, sometimes nasal speech, as this slightly edited transcript demonstrates. (Plot turns are discussed below, but the same information is provided in the opening narration.) These conversations took place at the Raffles L'ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills on May 13 and 14, 2001, a few days after the Cannes 2001 opening night debut of Moulin Rouge.

Pride: The refrain from "Heroes" in the big production number is bugging me right now.

Lurhmann: [pleased] Is it?

Pride: That and the da-DAH-da-DAH of the "Because you can-can-can" refrain.

Lurhmann: I think the fun thing about it is taking a [song] you've lived with it many, many years. The device in that duet is that it's all pop, and we're dealing with it in a very classical form [the musical comedy duet]. So you're suddenly going, y'know, I mean, maybe my personal taste, I would love to have heard Beck do a remix of it or something, in terms of what I like on my turntable. But because it's emotional storytelling, it does stick, you know what I mean? Like opera. It just gets a bit of a working out.

Pride: That song's meant something to me since I was 19, and I'm bringing the backstory of the lyrics to the scene, of Bowie in a hotel room watching a pair of teenage lovers on either side of barbed wire between East and West Berlin, unable to touch: that would put them at risk of being shot as they made contact.

Lurhmann: Yeah.

Pride: And you have it so exuberant, soaring, when Satine and Christian light up toward each other in the medley.

Lurhmann: It's inherent. I think what you pick up there proves to me that when a piece of art is true, it transcends time and geography. Let's take your point on "Heroes." Like whether you knew that story or not, that idea is embodied in that, it's a hero's song, it's about a boy and girl saying, "Look, just for one day..." It's got incredible hope yet sadness in it. Then when suddenly, it's interpreted in a scene that has the same notion embodied in it, it amplifies that. Same with say the tango piece, right? I only set it because I think that which is true, whatever anybody else says, it defies time and geography, y'know.

Pride: There's a Flaubert quotation I ran across the other day that seems to suit our give-and-take about process: "Talent is long patience and originality an effort of will and intense observation."

Lurhmann: Boy, has he been around recently in my gig? I don't know if I'm very talented, but I do know that creativity is only those things you've listed. There is this perception, I think, that y'know, someone who makes something goes up to a mountain and imagines it and you mystify the process. ninety percent of it is simply—y'know, ten percent is having a notion. It's one thing to have an idea and another thing to make it actually happen. The rest of it is those things you mentioned before that.

Pride: I admire at least the simplistic description of your communal process, a kind of magpie distillation of all these influences, you want to make diamonds. It's like a rare, modest idea that a "vision" can work this way, that it doesn't burst fully-formed from one ego.

Lurhmann: It can't. And I don't think, unless you are a painter and it is a relationship between you and the canvas, then the moment you step outside that frame and you involve one other person, while one—my job is to know where we are going to. How we get there is totally a collaboration. It's totally in the hands of many. And then even, I think the destination never actually changes, it can't change, one—you move the destination, a whole lot of your circus folk get freaked out, "What, we're not in the circus anymore?" I mean that in a really genuine sense. I mean, to me, it's no big deal, it's like I've been doing that for all my life.

Pride: It's the only process you've known.

Lurhmann: That's right. I've only ever known that process. From working with my brothers as a kid to what I'm doing now, it doesn't make any... When I get down to, say, doing a record, and I'm only down to two people... I mean, I can go out on my own, write text and whatever. I feel it is always better, the bottom line is I can enjoy it more, right, it's a richer better experience to work with people? I think that's probably what I can contribute, is that I help others to give forth.

Pride: I was talking to CM yesterday about the idea of "raising the temperature of the room," the idea that the challenges people who respect and know each other can throw each other that make the work smarter and richer and better.

Lurhmann: Totally. That's what we do, is argue. [laughs] But in a really, in a right way. What I mean by that is that's it's not personal, it's just dut-dut-a-dutta-dut and it's fun. Maybe we have a sickness [that] we're addicted to arguing, but we are addicted to it.

Pride: I was going through these recurring phrases, from the first time I talked to you for Romeo & Juliet, to all these other interviews here in my big book of Baz—

Lurhmann: [laughs] Right—

Pride: From Romeo & Julie and from the pre-release interviews for this, the most common set of words is "I believe in love." I was wondering how, for you, Moulin Rouge culminates your three films about the killing and thrilling aspects of love.

Lurhmann: Well, that's a good one, that's a good one. [Lurhmann stands, to illustrate the idea while pacing, folding his jacket over a chair.] Because if Strictly Ballroom is like the pure white light that's triumphantly perfect at the end, y'know, they live happily ever — well, they get together. It has the resonance of, y'know, love triumphs over oppression, right? We all know that—boy and girl, young, we will not be artistically oppressed, let's fight side by side, we fall in love, we triumph. But what happens after that? What's the sequel? One doesn't deal with that in a kind of David and Goliath myth, y'know. We don't see go and see Scott and Fran move on, move out to the suburbs, open a dance school and argue and he has an affair. Don't want to deal with that. That's the purity of that myth. Romeo & Juliet is love in conflict with society. Which is, y'know, the young couple, it's tragic, it's purely the other way. This is purely positive, this is purely negative. We completely lose that. It's more about what happens to the adult world instead of what happens to them. This one is about—actually, both of those, in a sense, in that Christian—Satine discovers before she dies, love. She is "like a virgin, touched for the very first time."

Pride: Touched by love for the very first time.

Lurhmann: First time. Because [as a courtesan, Satine] is born to a world of prostitution. And if you know someone born to the world of prostitution, they can be very, very, it's you don't ask them, "Why are you a prostitute?" The answer is too simple. It's like, there's that, then there's eating. So she's never been able to be emotionally involved. She discovers that just before she dies. Christian has this absolute ideal that love will conquer all things. He discovers, actually, that it won't, that he can't control things. That jealousy makes him do a dumb thing and he almost loses her. But right at the very end, y'know, the curtain rings down, their love triumphs at the end of Strictly Ballroom, doesn't it really? Y'know, curtain comes down. But suddenly, what they both realize is something bigger than even love—and that's death. That they can't control. Love can't solve all things. [It's a different myth. For instance, the characters] can't be [like the characters] at the end of Strictly Ballroom going, "Well, our love will sustain us." Because at some point, something will happen. What you do is bring in a black rider and you go—zhuuuuuuuuuuup—death. Y'know? Death steals away Satine and the part. Now, just before they part, what they have discovered is the point of the film. For Satine, it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. And for Christian, one hopes, although he has lost this kind of naive, idealistic perception of love, y'know, pure, absolute, unswerving? He is scared, but he goes on, changed. He doesn't give up on it altogether. See, I basically believe that your relationship to love evolves. I don't only believe it, I've experienced it. I've been Mr. Young-I-Will-Never-You-Will-Never-We-Will-Always. We've all done that.

Pride: Get older and do that, the youthful tack can be ridiculous, delirious, but you can remember it to find the necessary level now—

Lurhmann: That's right. That's right. The other thing is, you get to the point, hanging with someone for the rest of your life? Hm. And then you realize that actually there's another kind of love, y'know. It's... I suppose the bottom line is this, this is an easy answer, or a short one anyway. There's got to be something good about growing old. You've gotta get something in replace of all the apparent magnificence of youth that disappears as the years go by, the diamonds of youth and beauty, youthfulness, that disappears as you move through life. And what that is [that replaces it] is a kind of spirituality, a bigger spiritual power.

Pride: It's also the role someone finds themselves playing toward love as you grow older. A woman I know who's just turned 30 finally decided to have someone live with her. Now she's horrified, constantly irritated. I said, "I guess you don't want to be the old couple sitting around." Actually, she does, but with the wrong person, it's turning her manic.

Lurhmann: That's right. You've hit the magic number, 30. This is a generalization, but you turn 30, and that little bit of thing called youth, which you're not aware of when you're young, [it's going]. As Orson Welles said [does jokey Welles voice], "I know what it's like to be young, but you don't know what it's like to be old." It's quite true. You don't realize when you're under 30, what a get-out-of-jail-free card you've got. Y'know? Then slam, down comes the cage at 30. And it is about you're ready to deal with it. There's a reason why "Hamlet" is set at that age, why Romeo is one characteristic, absolutism. Hamlet is the complete opposite, he can't make up his mind about anything. And why Macbeth, having gone through that arc, is now engorged with power, and why Lear is really a silly old man in a sense. They all have the kind of primary fault of their age.

Pride: Speaking of Shakespeare, that brings up an interesting trend among some of the more interesting filmmakers working today, after they've made a few films: the willingness to be simple and direct. Audiences don't seem to have a problem accepting things being direct once they're in the seats, but sadly, with recent work from filmmakers like Wong Kar Wai, von Trier, Wayne Wang, there doesn't seem to be a critical vocabulary to discuss simple emotionality. That's going to be a problem with the way Moulin Rouge gets described as well. Simplicity and directness are sometimes taken for sentimentality or simple-mindedness.

Lurhmann: Look, it's really simple. I've made this kind of work all my life. I don't need to justify it. Y'know, hey. I spent the first fifteen years of my working creative life doing Brecht and Artaud, materials that were so complex my mother couldn't understand what they were. So having sat beside Peter Brook, working on the "Mahabarata," one of the great epics of the Indian theater, or y'know, working with Sir Peter Hall on "Watt." I'm learning the Elizabethan sound or investigations in Shakespeare over a two-year period. One understands it when you're doing the Shakespeare and Moliere. Exactly the same critical response was leveled at them. Because what they're dealing with is audiences from children to the Queen of England. What they had to find was a simplicity, right, in story structure, but a resonance and complexity in the layering. It's staggeringly naive for anyone, really, it is kind of naive not to understand the difference between those things, between... But on the other hand, one's got to be really, really committed to the journey, the journey of making the art to be received by the audience. It's not a demographic I'm chasing, it's a psychographic. Or you withdraw and hide in the kind of "let's hold up signs and symbols that tell a lot of critical folk that they can feel comfortable." I don't want to get negative about it, because you get drawn into it. Because for everyone like that, there is someone who is able to articulate in a really intelligent way, Y'know, what the material and the work is. That doesn't mean they have to get it or not get it. I would prefer if someone just said, "Look. I like Westerns." As opposed to, this is really direct-emotional, it's kind of all— Imagine saying in one breath, which one guy said, and I thought was just sort of naive, "Oh my god, wall-to-wall production design and a simple story!" In the same breath as saying, "It's a musical." It seems crazy, like, could anyone really be that naive?

Pride: So would a label like "delirious kitsch" be a problem? I'd say, "Why not? there's room."

Lurhmann: Well, what are we talking about here? Tastefulness? Because what is kitsch? Like, if I said to you, classical Greek art, statues the wall of the Acropolis. We think of that as being profoundly tasteful, but it was painted in disco colors in the time of the Greeks. I mean, all of those statues had rouge and pink faces and brightly colored clothes on.

Pride: Color was expensive. Only the rich could afford to be gaudy. Only they had perfume and finery.

Lurhmann: That's right. It's a funny thing about kitsch. Because, by the way, I do embrace that notion—

Pride: I like the word, but it gets used pro forma to suggest that immediately we're all supposed to recognize it as a pejorative, a culturally received constant.

Lurhmann: Well, if you're going to make a reference to a screwball comedy, [why] you can't make it look like an MGM musical? It's not a fruitless dialogue, it's an interesting one. But unfortunately, the thing is that whenever I've ever had someone on the mat about this, they kind of disappear into zero. One has never—I have never been able to find anyone who engaged in an argument on it—and as I've said, we like to argue—who's really been able to last more than five seconds. They just haven't been able to present an argument. And often, they've gone into—one guy, I remember, in Spain, went into a mumbling thing about "Well, y'know, I just know it's wrong." And I said, well, I made a film where there was an all-powerful federation, the president going, "There's only one way to cha-cha-cha, mate, and you're breaking the rule book." When you put rules, so-called invisible rules, next to art, you know someone's insecure about something.

Pride: I'm trying to get more at how things are described and received than about your reaction to criticism—but movies do start conversations. Even people who reacted badly to being taken to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, there would be a conversation. They were engaged. They weren't only dismissive, the arguments began from there. And sometimes we don't want to admit we're swept away by a movie, so this kind of complaint is a way of resisting that engagement.

Lurhmann: It's an [important] thing you're pinpointing. Really, to go at something that by its very nature is meant to, it demands of you that you participate in the cinema—"audience participation cinema," that's what I call it—it says to an audience, "hey, whoa-whoa, wake up, wake up, you've gotta be involved or forget it, get out, y'know? If you're not gonna get on the bus, you won't get anything at the end." It's not a state that people who go in to do critique are necessarily ready [for]. It's not a criticism of the critique people—[laughs] but in all honesty, aren't you inherently—I've been in that situation, you're inherently going to make a sort of assessment about something, you're inherently in a position of, "Don't manipulate me. I'm not here to be manipulated, I'm here to make up my own opinion." Whereas, we say in the first five minutes of the movie, we are going to manipulate you, and we yell it loud and clear. We show on our sleeves, we go, "Manipulation is coming! Are you in or are you out? Because if you're not ready to be manipulated, there's no point. Y'know, ask for your money back."

Pride: It's bold even from frame one—the big red curtain even before the Fox logo, and then the tiny conductor leading the orchestra as the curtains part and we see the logo.

Lurhmann: And from moment one you're being, I hope, let in on the deal.

Pride: You have to bring something of yourself to observing any art. And sometimes we reveal more about ourselves through what we react against than what we claim to love.

Lurhmann: I've only got one concern. I don't want to win the war—I've lived all my creative life making films that have this 50-50—fifty percent who defend it and fifty percent who, it's not enough for them to say, "I like Westerns," they feel very vigilant that they must attack it like it's some hideous disease that's going to destroy cinema. And my only concern is not that war. It's that in the crossfire, the people that need Strictly Ballroom, or who need Romeo & Juliet, or who need this film—and I'm not saying like we're there to save the world, but there are audiences that need those mechanisms to feel. They need a kind of reversal on naturalism with theatricality to be touched and feel. [I don't want] them to get caught in the crossfire. The rewriting of the history on Romeo & Juliet is quite staggering when you think that we opened in the States, it was really only after it won six Academy Awards in Britain, against Titanic and Full Monty, that the critical history was being reassessed.

Pride: When I was doing research, I found Salon's review from when Romeo & Juliet was released that calls it "garish junk" and goes on to say, "It takes a special kind of idiot to screw up Romeo & Juliet, but then Baz Lurhmann isn't your garden variety idiot." Wow, she had a bug.

Lurhmann: The great thing about that is, it is so staggeringly—honestly, some of them, you get a little more pricked by, but really, that, I don't, it's just so staggeringly humiliating for that person, because here is a work, retrospectively, it's now the major study at Oxford University in terms of contemporary Shakespeare. A very famous critic [from the U.S.] came to me and apologized for his review of Romeo & Juliet. There was a dialogue in the room. That was kind of quite something. In his film class, he had screened it and there was a different view of it. The bottom line is this. If you live by the critique game, you die by the critique game. If Shakespeare had chosen to fight that battle, his work would not be what it is toddy. That is the truth.

Pride: Maybe it's naturalism that's the unnatural state.

Lurhmann: Look, for what it's worth, after a four-year investigation and after doing this all my life, really, just show me a musical where you've had naturalism in the plot structure. There is a reason why we reference very directly Emile Zola's "Nana" and "Lady of the Camellias" and "La Boheme." So that they are recognizable, well-worn story structures. You don't expect people to go, "A-ha! A beat out of 'Nana.'" I expect them to recognize a story about a middle-class boy meeting a prostitute who's dying of consumption and that's going to be a tragic story. Shorthanding [gives us] the poetic resonance that's valuable, y'know. That's what's really important.

Pride: There's the bromide that clichés persist for a reason.

Lurhmann: Well, cliché and myth are basically a picture of our condition, and allows truth.

Pride: So let's say the "Elephant Medley," the recombinant batch of songs that includes Bowie's "Heroes," where you're attempting to scale the heights of musical duets, let's say that encouraged me to make a musical short on digital video. Obviously, I'd have fewer production values. But how simple can it get, how simple do the elements of story have to be in a case like yours or mine? Let's say the couple are writing a song; it's her inspiration, he tries to turn it into his.

Luhrmann: It's the scene. It's a scene, it's a dance, a forward and a backward movement, it's a dance through music. But if you turn it into... Look, for what it's worth, after a four-year investigation and after doing this all my life, really, just show me a musical where you've had naturalism in the plot structure. There is a reason why we reference very directly Emile Zola's "Nana" and "Lady of the Camelias" and "La Boheme." So that they are recognizable, well-worn story structures. You don't expect people to go, "A-ha! A beat out of 'Nana.'" I expect them to recognize a story about a middle-class boy meeting a prostitute who's dying from consumption and that's going to be a tragic story. Y'know? Shorthanding [gives us] the poetic resonance that's valuable, y'know. That's what's really important.

Pride: Let's talk about something even more obvious. You like to re-purpose popular song.

Luhrmann: [speeding through a standard reply] Specific to this project, really, in terms of trying to create a musical language that works now... It's quite an old idea. There are two parts to it. One, using contemporary music... When Judy Garland sings "Clang-clang-clang went the trolley" in Meet Me In St. Louis, that film is set in 1900, she is singing 1943 music off the radio. The device of that is to help the audience get inside character and story, to understand a different time and place through your own music. The second thing is, it's a basic rule of musicals, that the audience have a relationship with the music, pre-existing. You've heard it in Broadway musicals, "White Christmas" is in two or three films. Both of these things combined for us to say, look, let's try and tell story through songs we all have some kind of relationship with. It's really more a technical thing than, "Must we use contemporary music?"

Pride: Were the rights issues tough?

Luhrmann: I had to meet with publishing companies. They think, "My God, this is a new way to use [catalog] music, this could be good!" Some of these people who wrote music are friends of mine, like Bono, y'know? He's a good pal. People like Bowie and and Elton, I just had to meet with them and go through what I was doing and they all loved the idea. "My song being used in a musical? That would be good." Because these people would be writing musicals if we were in the forties now. So they were very, very positive.

Pride: Any you couldn't get?

Luhrmann: Yes. Cat Stevens' "Father and Son." It was sad, because it was a great scene. At the beginning of the film, [Christian's] dad would go, [growling the lyrics]"It's not time to make a change, just relaxxxx..."

Pride: Did you approach him?

Luhrmann: No. In fact, he's almost impossible to meet with. We dialogued with his brother and, look, I respect why he rejected it, because on religious grounds, [Christian and Satine] are not married, it's really simple. Anyone who didn't want to be in the film, I completely understood that, but he was the only one.

Pride: Rodgers and Hammerstein let you have a lot of play with "The Sound of Music."

Luhrmann: They were fantastic. In fact, they have historically, they've got this really groovy, swinging board. And they have to decide everything. they're really, like, "Yeah! How can we get this music into a more interesting and modern way?" In an early script, there was a scene, a moment where Toulouse [Luhrmann adopts the characters' thick-tongued lisp], "Lotth of healthy Bohemian outdoorth thex! Rolling in the thnow!" He was describing the show [to the Duke] and Rodgers and Hammerstein's board wrote back, we really like this idea, we're going to give you permission, and we particularly like the "lots of Bohemian outdoor sex" line. Which, unfortunately, I had to cut... So, y'know.

Pride: In a way, Moulin Rouge is one long, unrelenting set-piece. Artifice unrelenting. So what about Toulouse's line, when he spits out at the Duke, the financier of "Spectacular Spectacular," "I am against your stupid Dogma!"

Luhrmann: Yeahhhh... That came up in Cannes. An army of people come up and said, "We got your wink about Dogma." But in truth, really, we didn't. Lars and all those guys, Y'know, we're all distant cousins. We've watched each others' work for a long time and I have my own Dogma. We've [Bazmark] have always had our own Dogma. And the "stupid dogma" line, the only truth of that is, they're bohemians, they've got a philosophy, which is what Dogma is and what Lars' thing is, is just a philosophy, Y'know. Loosely used, perhaps. But the Duke says, "I don't care about dogma or philosophy, I want it to end my way." And y'know, really, that's the important part of it.

Pride: Your Dogma is your line about Red Curtain Cinema.

Luhrmann: [speeding up again] Red Curtain Cinema, yes, it is audience participation cinema. It is a cinema that demands of the audience that they participate. It is theatricalized cinema. It is meant to be a very common story that you know how it's going to end when it begins. It utilizes devices to wake you up, music, iambic pentameter, whatever. You're involved. That's the philosophy.

Pride: But you're not espousing it for anyone else.

Luhrmann: No, no. And I don't think the Dogma guys are that serious about it. I mean, I know those guys. they're not that serious about it on that level, they're not saying, "All films should be...." It's kind of like a club with a set of thinking. I don't know all of them, and I am sure there are people coming along who would be like, "I must be a zealot." My view would be, you have story, you have a notion to convey it, you invent a cinematic language for it. This is the last Red Curtain one I'm doing. The next piece may have a completely different cinematic language. When you get into, "there's only one way to cha-cha-cha," you're in trouble. People start telling you there's a rulebook about art, you've got a problem. You must have your own way of telling. You know David Hockney, the painter? He's quite a great fan of our operas, and when he talks about painting, he talks about, "It's my way of seeing." I think we have to find our way of telling. I like to think this is our way of doing it.

Pride: What killed the musical?

Luhrmann: I mean, like action is king, right? All these genres, there was a time when musicals were king, and when sword-and-sandal was king. It was a big reaction against artifice, quite interestingly, what we are doing, I think is a kind of reaction against super-naturalism. The last really big musicals, notwithstanding Grease and Saturday Night Fever, you get back to Sound of Music, maybe Cabaret... I mean Sound of Music, you still have Julie Andrews running to the top of the hill, singing; Cabaret, it's Greek chorus, none of the numbers advance the story and there are bad Nazis in them. What that is about, we hit a period, the 1970s, extreme reality, Mean Streets, y'know, reality cinema. It was about destroying the artifice of their parents. I mean, Martin Scorsese's parents were into musicals. the circle just goes round. Stories don't change, just how you tell them.

[Expresso, Lisboa, June 2001]