Review: Moulin Rouge! (2001)

>> Friday, September 24, 2010

USA/C-127m./Dir: Baz Luhrmann/Wr: Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce/Cast: Ewan McGregor (Christian), Nicole Kidman (Satine), John Leguizamo (Toulouse-Lautrec), Jim Broadbent (Harold Zidler), Richard Roxburgh (The Duke), Jacek Koman (The Narcoleptic Argentinean), Kylie Minogue (The Green Fairy)

No drink has been subject to more misinformation and unwarranted vilification than absinthe. In the early 1900’s, the forces of Prohibition and the competing French wine industry spread rumors that absinthe was poisonous, hallucinogenic, and unnaturally addictive. The propaganda stuck, and absinthe was banned in most countries until the last decade. However, in truth, absinthe is simply an herbal spirit distilled from aniseed, fennel seed, and wormwood. It is no more dangerous than any other hard alcohol.

In recent years, the truth about absinthe has begun to surface and most of the bans have been lifted. Curious drinkers can once again enjoy the spirit through the traditional louching method (water added slowly, usually over a sugar cube to slightly sweeten the drink) or as an essential ingredient in many classic cocktails. Unfortunately, the new century has been just as cruel to absinthe as it has been kind, in that the beverage has been irrevocably linked with Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 musical crap-tacular Moulin Rouge!

If modern drinkers think of absinthe at all, it is likely in relation to the instantly iconic “I’m the Green Fairy” scene from Moulin Rouge! In the film, Christian(Ewan McGregor), a naïve writer, settles in the Montmartre district of Paris and falls in with a group of bohemians, led by Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo). The ragtag band of artists and musicians not only rope the young poet into writing a musical production for the Moulin Rouge cabaret; they also introduce the innocent to absinthe. In the film, hallucinations beset Christian as soon as he takes his first taste. He imagines that the fairy illustrated on the label of the bottle comes to life. At first, the animated pixie (Kylie Minogue) allures the writer by dancing suggestively, and then she bedevils him with more dizzying visions. Not only does the film propagate the hallucinatory myths surrounding absinthe; it also depicts the bohemians preparing the drink incorrectly (fire was never a part of the traditional louching method).

Of course, you probably wonder what I think of the film beyond the inaccurate depiction of absinthe and its effects. In truth, I try to think about it as little as possible. The film is god-awful. Sure it’s pretty to look at, for two seconds at a time--because that is the longest the editor chooses to hold a shot--but story-wise and musically it’s anemic. The characters are barely one-dimensional, the narrative is pure melodrama, and the stabs at humor (punctuated by cartoon sound effects) are embarrassing.

It must be said that Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman have pleasant singing voices and a few of the musical mash-ups are somewhat clever. However, for every pop song that is repurposed well in Moulin Rouge! (such as Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy” and the “Love” medley) there are twice as many that are cringe-inducing (the uses of “Like a Virgin” and “Roxanne” are especially nauseating); and the recycling of familiar show tunes (such as “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and “The Sound of Music”) make you wish you were watching better films that came before.

Lovers of good movies are advised to stay far away from Moulin Rouge! I’d recommend visiting The Wormwood Society and finding a good absinthe to sample instead.

Drinks Consumed--Absinthe, Champagne, and various wines

Intoxicating Effects--Melancholy, harmonizing, seeing things, and bickering

Potent Quotables--CHRISTIAN: It was the perfect plan. I was to audition for Satine, and I would taste my first glass of absinthe.
FAIRY: I’m the Green Fairy.

Video Availability--DVD and Blu-ray (20th Century Fox)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--
José Ferrer starred in John Huston’s Toulouse-Lautrec biopic, Moulin Rouge (1952).

Absinthe: History in a Bottle
Bonnecaze & Cie Absinthe Glass
Bonnecaze & Cie Wormwood Leaf Absinthe Spoon No:15
Bonnecaze & Cie Glass 2 Spout Absinthe Fountain


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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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