Filmmakers Profiles: Baz Luhrmann

The chaos that is The Red Curtain Trilogy is, in my eyes, the finest example of  Baz Luhrmann’s directing ability. All three films are ambitious and daring, they ooze style and passion, and unfold with a unique excitement which captivates the audience.

The Red Curtain Trilogy refers to the first three films Luhrmann directed: Strictly Ballroom, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, and Moulin Rouge! Although the three films have a similar story line, their plots are in no way related. They are a ‘trilogy’ in that they are all created using Luhrmann’s ‘Red Curtain’ filmmaking technique. Each of the three films focuses on a different  aspect of a theatrical performance in order to drive the plot: Strictly Ballroom uses dance, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet exploits poetry and language, whilst Moulin Rouge! uses song. The use of  bright colours and fast paced editing makes each of the films in The Red Curtain Trilogy instantly recognisable as one of Luhrmann’s creations.

The films are deliberately unrealistic which allowed  Luhrmann to experiment with pace, cross-cutting, absurdism, and surrealism. For me, the experimental nature of the films is what makes them so exciting and engaging. The idea that these films are experimental might suggest that Luhrmann approached them like a child would a playground, with no real aim but keen to try everything out. However, every shot of each of these films is obviously intently planned as the films have the rare ability to totally manipulate the audience and take them exactly where Luhrmann wants them to go. The mish mash of editing techniques and camera angles found in The Red Curtain films controls the pace and takes the viewers on a roller coaster ride allowing them to watch the party scenes – of which there are many – from the highest point, before they embark on a stomach churning drop when they discover a dying love interest.

The Red Curtain films are sporadic and jumpy and really just shouldn’t work. They should be confusing and annoying but the simple plot line, which is one of the main characteristics of these films, ensures that nothing is lost in the complete madness that is so often depicted. The three films in the trilogy have a very similar story line, they all follow couples who fall in love but can’t be together. Each film then continues to explore a different potential outcome of the forbidden love: in one the lovers live happily ever after; in another they both die; and in the last, one dies whilst the other survives. Luhrmann effectively tells the same story three times just with a slightly different ending. It is his directing genius that makes the audience feel like they are watching a totally new and original film each time and that is what makes Baz Luhrmann really very cool.

Baz Luhrmann moved away from his ‘Red Curtain’ style after Moulin Rouge! and demonstrated his diverse ability as a director in the powerful production of Australia. However, The Great Gatsby, Luhrmann’s latest film, draws influence from the wildly exciting Red Curtain trilogy and was a return to my favourite style of filmmaking.

Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby was a complete revitalisation of a classic tale, just as his take on Romeo + Juliet was. The story line was peppered with Red Curtain style parties and plenty of modern glitz and glamour in the 1920s setting. Luhrmann totally disregards the conventions of the classics and merges history with the present in a way that few others can. Heck, why wouldn’t  Jay Z and Kanye West provide the background music to a 1920s party? And why shouldn’t Shakespeare’s world famous tragedy unfold in Shakespearian English on Venice Beach in Los Angeles instead of ‘in fair Verona’?

Luhrmann does as he pleases and he knows what works. His confidence shines through in each one of his productions and something beautiful can always be found in the chaos which he creates on the screen. His films never fade into the melting pot of commercial cinema but burst onto the screen in a flurry of colour. Luhrmann’s films aren’t just films, they are experiences.

[Heather McCorriston]

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