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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec frequently visits the Moulin Rouge, where he drinks cognac and draws sketches of the dancers and singers. Though the son of a French count, Henri's legs were badly deformed by a childhood fall, and his personal life is often unhappy as a result. While he is going home one night, a spirited young woman of the streets, Marie, asks him for help. He falls in love with her, and the two become involved in a tumultuous relationship. It becomes increasingly difficult for Toulouse-Lautrec to balance his personal feelings, his artistic abilities, and his family name and position. Written by
When Henri Lautrec arrives at the gallery for the showing of his pictures, as he 'walks' in, his shadow on the ground clearly shows Ferrar's legs tucked behind him as he walks, (in on his knees). See more »
I've always had a great affection for this film, although I realized long ago that it has its problems. Most casual viewers and amateur reviewers apparently like it, but it seems to rub some people decidedly the wrong way for various reasons.
Old-fashioned it certainly is, especially when compared to Baz Luhrmann's frenetic rock video-style musical. Though Luhrmann's film is in no way a remake of Houston's, you could legitimately compare the depictions of a night at the Moulin Rouge that occur early in both films. Luhrmann's objective seems to be completely different from Houston's. As flashy and exciting as his images are, the hyper-fast editing and use of pop music from the mid to late 20th century demonstrate absolutely no interest in evoking a sense of the time and place. What I like about Houston's depiction of the Moulin Rouge is the sense of atmosphere, the way a smoky haze can be seen hanging in the air, and the dances seem to more-or-less belong to the era. Interesting, too, is the way images from Toulouse-Lautrec's work are incorporated into this extended scene as he might have originally observed them. Those familiar with his paintings can recognize Moulin Rouge dancers like the tall, bizarre-looking Vincent DeSossier and "La Goulue," looking just as they do in the famous poster, and the sprightly black dancer "Chocolat." Patrons like the two women waltzing together serenely, and a pair of rather reserved Englishmen sitting at a table, are also familiar from the paintings.
I've always found Georges Auric's musical score rather effective. One of "Les Six," the group of avant-garde French composers who pushed the envelope of musical style in the early 20th century, he was a seasoned and sophisticated film composer who worked with Cocteau. Maybe the producers of "Moulin Rouge" thought an authentic French composer suitable for the project, and his score is sec (dry), not the least bit melodramatic, and lyrical in a way that seems to me distinctly French. This musical score may contribute to the reserved, stately, or detached quality that some reviewers see in the film.
For me that sec musical score seems appropriate to Jose Ferrer's portrayal of Toulouse-Lautrec. A pathetic figure, he does not beg us for pity, nor does the film itself turn maudlin or try to manipulate us to tears, which makes the final scene all the more moving. Some of the trick shots showing Ferrer kneeling with shoes stuck to his knees are a bit unfortunate. Too bad they couldn't come up with a better effect for this illusion. As for Zsa-Zsa Well, nothing's perfect, I guess, but I don't think a touch of kitsch kills this film. Made in the early 1950s, it's not surprising that "Moulin Rouge" avoids the raunchier aspects of turn-of-the-century bohemian life, but I still think it evokes the era admirably. A classic? I don't know, but definitely a classy film that has its staunch admirers, including me.
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