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Moulin Rouge / Shrek

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  • Noel Vera
    The princess and the courtesan Noel Vera Television scriptwriter Dennis Potter was once asked why pop songs have so much power in his narratives, and Potter
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 23, 2001
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      The princess and the courtesan

      Noel Vera

      Television scriptwriter Dennis Potter was once asked why pop songs have so
      much power in his narratives, and Potter said that's because he's never made
      the mistake of confusing the song with the feelings they evoke in people.
      The song may be a cheap construct of lazy rhymes and easy sentiment, but he
      never forgets that the emotions they recall are often powerful and deep.

      And you can see that distinction operate in his works--you see it in such
      moments as the one in "Pennies from Heaven," when the entire front of
      Jimmy's Diner slides aside and Accordion Man steps out to dance the title
      song, pennies literally raining from the sky. The feelings of this wretched
      man, inarticulate and perhaps retarded, the tremendous amount of yearning
      blocked up inside for years, suddenly expressed in dance and song--and as
      quickly (and cruelly) sealed up again--that is Potter's dark magic.

      Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" is Dennis Potter run through an
      osterizer--everything has been so thoroughly chopped and liquefied you
      despair of finding anything recognizable, much less emotionally powerful. I
      remember Ewan McGregor as the hapless writer Christian, arriving at Bohemian
      Paris; I remember John Leguizamo playing Toulouse Lautrec as a swishingly
      lisping dwarf, leading Christian to the Moulin Rouge to write a show there.
      I even remember Jim Broadbent as club owner Harold Zidler and Nicole Kidman
      as star courtesan Satine trying to ape Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli's "Money"
      number in "Cabaret" (and not doing a very good job of it), scheming to find
      money to fund their show. The rest of the film's first half was lost to a
      migraine-inducing swirl of flashing lights, leering faces, and throbbing
      disco beat. And underwear. I remember a whole lot of ladies' underwear in
      "Moulin Rouge" of many different colors, most of them being thrust at the

      Hey, I'm as big a fan of vulgarity and camp as the next man--I like Jim
      Carrey, I like Pedro Almodovar, I even like ladies' underwear; "Moulin
      Rouge" is like an entire cast of Carreys bingeing on underwear while
      directed by an Almodovar on speed. But after a while, you either live up to
      the promise of chaotic incoherence by giving us even more chaos and even
      more incoherence, in a self-destructive orgy of cinematic excess, or you
      don't try for excess in the first place and give us an engaging narrative
      instead. There's something unbelievably stupid about a movie that does its
      level best to whack your head silly with its abrasiveness, then asks you to
      settle down and weep over its cheaply written love story. I've met whores
      who showed more finesse pulling my pants off.

      And all this talk about Luhrmann being "innovative," a "cinematic
      visionary." Hah. He's a conservative at heart, a mincing, wincing
      courtesan of a filmmaker who uses flash and filigree to wow his audience and
      pick their pockets (though I've encountered pickpockets with more
      dexterity?). Love for Luhrmann revolves on the question of whether or not
      Satine (unfortunate name, reminds me of the cracker) sleeps with the wealthy
      Duke (Richard Roxburgh) who has agreed to finance their show, or whether she
      stays faithful to poor Christian. At one point she has to make Christian
      believe she doesn't love him--which is an extremely old plot device, used in
      as recent a picture as Carlitos Siguion Reyna's "Ligaya ang Itawag Mo sa
      Akin" (Call Me Joy) backwards, to Greta Garbo's film "Camille;" Verdi's
      opera "La Traviata;" all the way back to Alexander Dumas' novel "La dame aux
      camelias." This is a storyline that has made the rounds several times over,
      and should have been retired long, long ago.

      And the money McGregor throws at Kidman's face--always with the money thrown
      with contempt at the whore's face. If all the money from all the
      adaptations and versions and variations in the world had been thrown in my
      face, I would have had enough to open a nightclub myself?

      I know opera uses old and simple storylines, but at least opera has all that
      beautiful music; Luhrmann, who's directed a few operas, knows that his
      "Moulin Rouge" lives or dies not by its story or dialogue but its visual
      music. Simply put, if you like Lurmann's unsubtle style, you're in for a
      fine time; if you don't like his style, the rest of the film is like
      visiting one of the lower circles of Hell for the next hour and a half?

      The film isn't a total botch. I liked Zidler and the Duke fawning over each
      other to the tune of Madonna's "Like a Virgin," and I liked the bittersweet
      tone of Sting's "Roxanne" suggesting Christian's despair (though as usual
      Luhrmann makes hash of everything that accompanies the song with his
      overacrobatic camerawork). I thought McGregor made for a persuasively
      ardent lover while Kidman, though beautiful, seemed oddly inexpressive, as
      if she were afraid to crack the thick cake of makeup applied to her face.
      But these are minor virtues in the face of the film's overwhelming flaws?I
      do recommend "Moulin Rouge," but strictly for hardcore masochists--the rest
      of us are better off better bringing flak jackets, steel helmets, and groin
      protectors to the theater...

      ...and I'd like to add that Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jemson's "Shrek" is a
      perfect example of everything "Moulin Rouge" fails to achieve, and leave it
      at that.

      No? May I add that it's possibly the best Hollywood film I've seen all year
      (not that the year has been brimming with good movies), and one of the best
      American animated features I've ever seen in the past few years?

      No? You mean I have to explain why I think the film is terrific?? Oh,

      First of all, it has a SCRIPT--one about an Ogre named Shrek (voice of Mike
      Myers) sent by Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) to rescue Princess Fiona
      (Cameron Diaz). And it deals with stories and fables, some of which are as
      old or even older than "La dames aux camelias" ("The Gingerbread Man;"
      "Pinocchio") but with a FRESH SPIN (the Gingerbread Man yells a defiant "Eat
      me!" after Lord Farquaad has him dipped in milk, while Geppetto sells
      Pinocchio off for a few shillings).

      It's not loud--okay, it's often loud, but not RELENTLESSLY loud. There are
      quiet moments and when these happen, recognizably human emotions peek
      through--as when Shrek admits to Donkey that he's standoffish because people
      fear him (and he's learned to pre-empt their fear), or when Princess Fiona
      learns the hard way that all her illusions, unlike fairy tales, are never
      going to come true.

      And it's FUNNY--Eddie Murphy as the Donkey, Shrek's loyal sidekick, has a
      nonstop monologue running throughout the entire film that's a marvel of
      consistently inventive humor; Lithgow's Lord Farquaad (whose surname only
      needs a consonant removed to be an obscene slur) is a bundle of vaulting
      ambition and stumbling insecurities, packed into a frame barely three feet
      high. Shrek himself, as Mike Myers plays him, is consistently irritable,
      crude, and likable; and Cameron Diaz's Princess Fiona matches him, crudity
      for endearing crudity.

      Not all the jokes are gross fart jokes--believe it or not, there's real wit
      working here, as when Shrek and Donkey first enter Farquaad's extremely tall
      castle ("making up for a shortcoming elsewhere," observes Shrek) and the
      inner courtyard is a picture-perfect copy of Disneyland's Main Street (down
      to the overpriced wares sold in "Ye Olde Accessorie Shoppe"). THIS is a
      film that bears watching again and again--not only because Adamson and
      Jemson and their writers (Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, Roger
      S.H. Schulman) don't shove every frame of film down your throat the way
      "Moulin Rouge" does, but because it's a genuinely moving, genuinely romantic
      little love story with a great big green ogre in the middle of it.

      (Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)

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