Jun 1, 2011

The Blue Eyes of Moulin Rouge!

*This post is dedicated to Nathaniel’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series.

How does one choose a favourite shot from Moulin Rouge!? It’s virtually impossible. Moulin Rouge! is the biggest visual spectacle in recent memory. Every frame is packed with so much detail, be it the colourful extravaganza of the costumes or the self-indulgent delights in the settings, there’s something to marvel at in every shot of this film.

Take a look at the shot above for instance. Making such a finely crafted and vibrant set from the mundane elements of a backstage washroom is no easy feat. The production designers of Moulin Rouge! though gave just as much attention to this room as they did to Satine’s boudoir, the aerial shots of Paris and the elephant, and the stage of the Moulin Rouge theatre in the film's finale. These colourful details are what make Moulin Rouge! the unique visual treat that it is.

But instead of facing the challenge of choosing from this long list of fantastic shots, I opted for what I remembered best from my first experience with the film several years ago. In the abundance of busy, colourful and vivid imagery that shapes Moulin Rouge! from start to finish, Luhrmann insists on close-ups or even extreme close-ups of his actors tens of times. Whether in the film’s noisiest moments of song and dance, or in its intense hide-and-seek conversational games between the Duke and others, or in Christian’s romantic serenades for Satine, or even the few moments of quietude, Luhrmann relies on the power of their gazes for expression. Seduction, love, jealousy, hatred, anger, illness, confusion, joy, surprise, passion, grief, despair... you name it. Everything can be read in their blue eyes.

In the end, I found it too difficult to even narrow these close-ups down to one favourite, so I settled for all the ones I loved.

P.S. On a side note, isn’t McGregor’s performance so underrated? At the time, it got no awards love – typical of awards bodies to ignore male romantic leads – but even now, nobody mentions it as one of the film’s strong suits. I’m happy for his comeback after The Ghost Writer. Hopefully he’ll get more roles of this magnitude.


  1. Great post Amir. The first shot you have - that of the backstage dressing area - is also one of my favorites (is it possible to choose just one?); when I first saw the film on VHS you can't really see it; when I first saw the film on DVD the film took my breath away, of course, but this shot in particular got me because the details of it suddenly made Satine's "poverty" much more specific, and thus her hopes for escaping that life more urgent.

    I also noticed, when I first saw the movie, that all of the leads have blue eyes (or blue-green-hazel, whatever the heck Ewan's are), and even the (arguably) most important Diamond Dog, Caroline O'Connor as Nini, does. this is not something I usually notice about movies, and for some reason struck me as odd at the time, but this post reminds me that if I noticed it, it was indeed because of all the intense close-ups, which probably helps to create the intensity and intimacy of the film. Baz sure knows how to vary his shots.

    BTW - I remember reading Entertainment Weekly give Ewan's perf here a shout-out a few years back on their list of performances that were not Oscar-nominated but deserved to be. And there was a blogging pair - Drunken Critic, or somesuch - who in their podcast gave Ewan credit for being the best performance of this film (when they then started dissing Nicole, I shut it off); for me it's the best example of onscreen chemistry since Redford and Streisand in The Way We Were, and you can't single out either one of the two performances from the other. (Was Kidman ever so warm, so sensual and open; was McGregor ever so charming, so passionate?)

  2. I gave Ewan McGregor a gold medal for his performance! One of the best examples ever of someone *acting* open hearted romantic naivete... he's just so "on" in this movie, as they all are. as if it's their movie and not just the directors.

    i have never noticed all the similar eye colors though.

  3. Janice - Yes, their chemistry's extraordinary. I never understand people who credit one performance and not the other when they're this "in-sync". But oh well, as Nat always says, a great performance is its own reward.

    Nat- I remember you gave him the medal. But you always give shout-outs to the underrated deserving performances. Awards bodies are a lot more ignorant.

  4. Brilliant way of unifying what makes this movie so wonderful. It's so freaking rich in detail and colorful, yet at the same time it's so soothing in a way. Back in the day I was pissed at all the crazy people who said it made them dizzy and it was ugly and stuff.

  5. Jose, I have friends who consider it overrated, and my SO called it "insipid" - and the thing is, I can understand their responses too (maybe because I also disliked it at first glance.) Something about this movie always scares me that it's going to give me an epileptic seizure (it never has but maybe that's part of the thrill of watching it?) And I can understand the impulse to want to stop, pause, slow down and look at things, look at all the richness of it, even as I understand what Baz is doing in sweeping us around quickly, getting us caught in the undertow.

  6. This is such a great film and takes so many viewings, I never get bored of it. Absolutely my favourite 'modern' musical by far. Love your montage! I would have trouble choosing a favourite shot, bur for me it would probably include a frame from the awesome Tango De La Roxanne scene!

  7. The dance sequences, costuming, and makeup are an amazing compliment to the cinematography, and casting. Visually, it's one of the few visionary movies that express creativity and vivacious energy. I am actually working on my blog, searching the net for news on art, and watching Moulin Rouge online all at the same time with my DISHONLINE.COM access. This is available to everyone with their subscription to DISH Network. For more information on how your subscription stacks up to DISH Network travel over to