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CRITICAL VIEWS

‘The Show Must Go On’ Transgression and the Carnivalesque in Moulin Rouge!

ABOVE: SATINE (NICOLE KIDMAN) SEDUCES CHRISTIAN (EWAN MCGREGOR) (TWO IMAGES) OPPOSITE, FROM TOP: SATIE (MATTHEW WHITTET), THE DOCTOR (GARRY MCDONALD), CHRISTIAN, HAROLD ZIDLER (JIM BROADBENT), SATINE, THE UNCONSCIOUS ARGENTINIAN (JACEK KOMAN) AND TOULOUSE (JOHN LEGUIZAMO); THE DOCTOR, AUDREY (DAVID WENHAM) AND SATIE; ZIDLER AND HIS ‘DIAMOND DOGS’

Ripe for critical re-evaluation after two decades, Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 musical is a whirlwind of excess, crafting a turn-of-the-twentieth-century Paris that is both historically inspired and wildly fantastical: a fascinating study in what theorists such as Mikhail Bakhtin and Patrick Fuery have described as the ‘carnivalesque’. In its celebration of bohemian counterculture and romantic love, however, the film treats the less privileged member of its central couple as little more than a catalyst for tragedy, as Adolfo Aranjuez discusses. Before it even truly begins, the period musical Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001) invites us into the spectacle at its heart: behind an onstage conductor leading an unseen orchestra, a red curtain is drawn to reveal a white screen, onto which is projected a series of silentfilm-style title cards listing credits and the words ‘Paris, 1900’. This sense of constructedness is maintained as the first character we meet, Toulouse (John Leguizamo), materialises – in black-and-white, framed by graphical L-brackets – to sing the film’s prologue, ‘Nature Boy’. We get a ghostly glimpse of our protagonist, Christian (Ewan McGregor), then the camera launches over Paris and

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