The Dazzling World of Baz Lurhmann

Last week I watched The Great Gatsby directed by Baz Lurhmann and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan. Maybe you might be expecting me to review this movie on my blog, and I have considered it but I won’t. It’s not like I don’t have much to say on the film, but I rather do a comparison post between film and book at a later date when I have reread the book again. The Great Gatsby written by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorite books, and to try and even talk about the movie in relation to the book would be difficult. It has been years since I’ve read Gatsby and my memory on all the details of the book are fuzzy at best. I don’t think I would do the post justice if I tried to review the movie.

While we’re on the topic of movies, I also saw Star Trek: Into Darkness last week too. I could have reviewed that movie for my blog, but there are plenty of good reviews on the film on other blogs as we speak. I’m taking a different approach for this week’s post. The Great Gatsby is a film where opinion is split down the middle. Rotten Tomatoes overall score for the movie is 49%, not the best rating for one of summer’s highly anticipated films. The general consensus is that while Gatsby is visually stunning, the story based on one of America’s best loved literary classics is drowning in its own fountain of champagne. This brings me to the man behind this film––Baz Luhrmann. No matter what your opinion of the director is, his films have the signature razzle and dazzle you’d expect from a Baz Lurhmann production.

Baz Lurhmann on the set of The Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio & Carey Mulligan
Baz Lurhmann on the set of The Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio & Carey Mulligan

If you are at all familiar with Lurhmann’s body of work, he has directed movies such as Romeo + Juliet (also starring DiCaprio), Moulin Rouge, and Strictly Ballroom. When you watch Lurhmann’s films, you start noticing a pattern in his style of work. All films are presented on a grand scale with a flashy and glitzy visual style. There is chaos and beauty when you watch scene after scene of his movies. Lurhmann creates a world where everything seems like one big, fun, and boozy party you want to be a part of. It’s as surreal as it is gorgeous to gaze at it. Watching his films feels like being on another plane of existence. It’s an illusion, a fantasy world you are meant to plunge right into for two hours of your time.

Strictly Ballroom
Strictly Ballroom

Lurhmann is one of those film directors you either love or hate. His films are full of noise and chaos when you look at them closely. The pretty visuals tend to take precedence over the actual story in the film. Romeo + Juliet is set in the modern world where carriages are fast cars and swords are shiny guns. Moulin Rouge can at times be liken to an acid trip with the dizzying can-can dances and the rush of people popping in and out of scenes like a demented Jack-in-a-Box. Strictly Ballroom, one of his earlier films, is much tamer in comparison to his later works but it still has that touch of sparkle and over-the-top spectacle you expect in all his movies. Almost all his films include a fancy party scene where he lets everything loose. The parties and costumes are decadent and the party goers are wild and careless. It’s similar to letting caged animals in a zoo go free and run completely amok.

There’s a scene in the movie Gatsby where Tom Buchanan (played by Joel Edgarton) surveys the out-of-control party scene at Gatsby’s massive mansion on Long Island and remarks to Nick Carraway (played by Tobey Maguire), “What a circus.” This particular line from the film stuck out in my mind because this line perfectly describes Lurhmann’s film style. It is a circus. Lurhmann is the ringleader in charge of the show and the actors are his performers who are ready to take their cues to put on the kind of show an audience won’t ever forget, whether you want to or not.

You can argue Lurhmann’s films have too much going on at once to really be capable of finding the actual story buried underneath all the glitter, glamor, and modern music selections blaring in the background. That’s the point of his films. They are a spectacle, which makes it enjoyable to watch if you don’t mind chaotic scenes and over-the-top flourishes. I do agree Lurhmann’s films has too much noise and pomp and circumstance to be taken seriously at times. Despite all that, there is something charming about his films and a giddiness that is infectious. Lurhmann’s world adds a dash of magic and a splash of color when reality seems drab in comparison. His films invite you to leave your cares and worries at the door and enter his world of wonder and splendor.

Nicole Kidman & Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge
Nicole Kidman & Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge

Lurhmann’s films are also capable of those quiet, intimate moments to bring out the visceral heart of a story, despite critics believing the contrary. In my opinion, you have to be patient and look for those moments. It’s subtle, but it’s there. When the lights dim and the parties fade, all that’s left are the characters and their relationship to each other in Lurhmann’s world. The best actors are chosen to play parts in his films and when it’s time to lay all the emotions bare, they are ready to go to bat. Moulin Rouge has made me cry the first and second time I saw the film, thanks in part to Nicole Kidman’s performance as Satine and Ewan McGregor’s performance as Christian. This Romeo and Juliet-esque story has the kind of love story that is both epic as it is heartbreaking. Without these actors in the role, I doubt I would have been so moved. I enjoyed the song and dance that made up the entirety of this movie, but it’s the performances by the actors I remember the most.

Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio & Claire Danes
Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio & Claire Danes

Romeo + Juliet made me fall in love with DiCaprio’s Romeo and Claire Danes’ Juliet. They are young and in love, and you are taken along for the ride. It’s that same romantic rush, despite knowing how it all ends for these lovers, that made me long to find a love that will incite the kind of feelings these characters have. At least it’s better to love than to not have loved at all. Life is fleeting and if all you have are a few precious moments, one would hope you can spend it with an incredible love. Those are the feelings I took away from that film when I was a kid. I’m sure I’ll feel the same way now if I watched it again.

As for Gatsby (DiCaprio in the role many have said he’s born to play), it draws out feelings anyone can relate to. These are feelings of hope, longing, and determination. Gatsby’s story is tragic, if you have read the book at all before seeing the film, but he’s a lasting character in Lurhmann’s latest adaptation you can’t forget about. Lurhmann’s films are a heady trip to be a part of, but it’s a ride I don’t mind taking again and again when you have characters who refuse to let you forget about them once you get past the smoke and mirrors.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby
Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby

6 thoughts on “The Dazzling World of Baz Lurhmann

  1. I totally agree, and I think you nailed it when you said that the “giddiness is infectious”! Baz is one of my three favorite filmmakers, and I love the spectacle. I also think the melodrama can be really funny at times — like the scene where Gatsby has arranged the (super awkward) meeting with Daisy, etc. It’s not for everyone, but I find it all really endearing and humorous, and part of the fun is how bright his films are. Even the sad movies have a way of making me see the world in color again if I’m feeling down.

    I also really like the movie Australia. I’ve actually watched that one more than any of his other films, because it’s such a sweeping, romantic story… and maybe because I’ve always wanted to go to Australia. Baz definitely has a way of making you want to be a part of his fictional worlds, like you said! Great escapism. =)

    1. His films are sheer entertainment and I love it! As you said, it’s one of those films where you come to escape. It’s all in good fun at the end of the day. His films also tend to be very romantic. I’m a sucker for good romances. It’s all very dreamy too! 😀

      I did enjoy Australia too, but I find I like all his other films more than this one. It did make me want to travel to Australia more than ever after seeing that movie!

  2. Romeo and Juliet was brilliantly done and the subtle details that Baz adds to a film is part of what makes them brilliant. The guns being named for swords was one thing I loved about that movie. The over the top nature of Baz’s films make turns the story more into a dream than just a simple story being played out on screen. There is wonder and passion in a Baz Luhrman film.

    1. I agree. The guns being called “swords” in Romeo + Juliet was really creative. It retained Shakespeare’s work, but it gave the perfect amount of modernism Baz was going for.

      His films can be likened to a dream and it’s a pleasant dream to be a part of I think. I can never get tired of his films at all.

  3. The Great Gatsby sounds intriguing. You hit the nail on the head as to exactly what’s so compelling about his movies. Sure, I wouldn’t say they’re perfect by any means, but the ability to transport the audience to another world I would say is more important than technique. I thought I was one of the few people to really like Romeo + Juliet. I’m glad to hear that’s not the case!
    Also, I’ve nominated you for the Sunshine Blogger Award, because you’re awesome! Check out the details here:

    1. Really? I’m surprised not too many people you know cared for Romeo + Juliet. I’m the opposite where I have at least a good number of friends who enjoyed this movie.

      I already addressed this on your actual blog post, but thanks again for the nomination! I will address this in my own blog soon. You rock! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.