There have been loads of comments on the recent film, Moulin Rouge

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Surely we will find laud and criticism. But the question is, at the first glance of the film, how many of the spectators really know the worthy of remark in it? I am sure not a high number. This is because “nobody knows for sure” what the postmodern is or what the elements of a postmodern camera are. In this essay, I would like to elaborate the way that Moulin Rouge becomes a masterpiece of a postmodernist film. First of all, the film embodies the quality of “eclecticism and hybridism”.

From the very beginning and the very end of the film, it seems convincing the moviegoers that they are watching a musical. As we see the dwarf, Toulouse and someone are ‘singing out’ the story and it ends with a curtain falling down. It is not hard to pick a scene with characters singing and dancing operatically. Moreover, the director has “blurred genres”. Basically, this is a romance telling “a story of love”. In the opening scene, it is suggesting a road movie, as from Toulouse’s lyrics, “a boy… wander very far… over land and sea”, are telling that the main protagonist, Christian has traveled for a long distance.

Also, the accommodation hotel with a French name, ‘Chambres a La Journee’, has the meaning of ‘a room of journey’. So Christian is on the way of searching for truth, freedom, beauty and above all, love. The director has concocted animated-like scenes and fantasy. Fantasia of characters like Kylie Minologue as a green fairy and the animated moon with a moustached man’s face singing lead the spectators into the tradition Disney world. The setting of the film enters into a fantastic blue heaven while Christian sings “Your Song” to Satine, the main protagonist, who is the “Sparkling Diamond” in Moulin Rouge.

While the impresario, Zidler is singing “Can Can Can” to introduce Moulin Rouge Club, his body is flying to the sky and returns in somersaults. All these “playful” scenes may give the spectators a greater fun. In short, we see the film and opera, different generic conventions are mixed together. Second, fragmentation of the story brings another postmodern essence. The film begins with Toulouse singing out how Christian comes to settle in Monmartre, a town in Paris, at the year of 1899. It seems like a curtain raiser. It follows with Christian starting to type.

The camera then bounces back and forth. As we see, the scenes of typing are emerged occasionally throughout the story, with Christian’s reading like an aside. There are one or two pieces of flashback of Christian’s father previous speaking to the camera, warns him of ruining the life in Monmartre. Such decentered and non-chronological narration sometimes makes spectators confused. For instance, the scene of the Duke coercing Satine into sex is cut into pieces and then pasted into a dancing sequence. Anyway, it is a common practice in postmodernist film.

Third, another crucial characteristic is the practice of intertextuality. It is so apparent that the image of Satine counterfeits Madonna and Marilyn Monroe when Satine performs the songs, ‘Material Girl’ and ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in a provocative way. According to John Fiske (Reading the Popular, 1989:118), ‘ “Material Girl” is Madonna’s remark of Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”, which in its concrete recognition of the metaphor of woman as ultimate commodity is apparently sexist, fetishistic, and at the same time, in its enveloping narrative framing, conventionally romantic.

This performance scene parodies Madonna’s performance scene in the music video of “Material Girl”. We see Satine toys with the tuxed men and takes their jewels, money and admiration for her own use. She also parodies Madonna in the way that both have power to become men’s unobtainable fantasy. Satine disappoints the men by announcing “this is lady’s choice”. Also, in the end of the music video, even though Madonna stresses money and materialism, she chooses a sensitive but poor man, just like Satine accepts the love of Christian, an impoverished writer. In a word, Satine is the incarnation of Madonna.

Madonna once said to National Times (August 23/29, 1985:9) that she “grew up with two images of women: the virgin and the whore”. In the film, Satine is the highest paid star and courtesan in Moulin Rouge. Simultaneously, the name “Satine” suggests a great virgin goddess in ancient myth. Zidler sings ‘Like a Virgin’, Satine lives in the “Elephant”, where the city of elephant is a holy place of the Virgin Goddess in India, and in the closing scene, she dresses as a Virgin Queen Goddess further express this motif. Thus, Satine is, in many aspects, made to be an easily-recognized Madonna.

Apart from these, the postmodernist director deliberately blends some anachronism. The most manifest one are the songs and choreography. The film sets within 1899 to 1900, while the songs and dances are well-known ones in last 50 years. For instance, Madonna’s hit songs as mentioned before and Elton John’s “Your Song”, in which all the popular tunes are talentedly rearranged and sometimes re-invented to become a stately orchestral reading. The lyrics are spoken as dialogue repeatedly, for example, Satine responds to the Duke’s kiss by saying “Diamond are a girl’s best friend”. The dance with the song “Roxanne” parodies that in “Carman”.

Male characters, such as Christian and Zidler, sing in a familiar style as Pavarotti’s voice. In short, the relationship between textual and extra-textual information is clearly being exploited here. However, it is pitiful that sometimes, the spectators fail to recognize the intertextual reference to another star or another art. Finally, of all the above, the director is ultimately showing the audience the postmodern world. Monmartre, in the film, is a dark, fantastical underworld. Club Moulin Rouge is a meeting place of high and low life, in where slums aristocrats with workers, artists and whores.

The Bohemian Revolution and all these convey that this is a “mass consumption” society, which brings a prosperous society to us. Norman K. Denzin (Images of Postmodern Society: Social Theory and Contemporary Cinema, 1991:81) gives a clear description: ‘The postmodern world is characterized by the cultivation of conspicuous consumption consumer lifestyles which stress the prestige and exchange value of appearance, civility, and personal pleasure and desire”. We can see that Monmartre is a seedy world of sex and drugs from the opening scene.

While the camera is rapidly moving towards the town, it passes through a priest who stands outside the Moulin Rouge, and warns of the “spiritual sin” inside. Crime like prostitution and illegal drug dealing in our ‘underground world’. The consumer lifestyles have brought us “the commodification of sexuality and desire” (Norman K. Denzin, Images of Postmodern Society: Social Theory and Contemporary Cinema, 1991:81). This explains the reasons for a flourishing night clubs and prostitution industry. In Moulin Rouge, there are excessive sex and indulgence, some of the prominent features of our postmodern social life.

Zidler insisting “the show must go on” implies the “triumph of consumer capitalism”. In addition, it is ironic that Satine becomes unconscious and falls off the swing because of the “costume”, which refers to the newly popular corset. The second time of Satine’s short coma is the time she wears a black tight lingerie. If you look back to the past century, you will be surprised and may even be angry to find that such corset did take away women’s life, freedom and dignity. Corset is a symbol of patriarchal capitalism. All these are seemed to be the dark side of a postmodern world, as gloomy as the image of Monmartre.

If I had not had devoted time to study the postmodernism, I would have jumped to conclusions of how absurd the film was. But now, in the light of the postmodern, I can tell how successful the film is and how genius the director is. The same director of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1996) has once again poured the postmodern elements ripely into the screen, i. e. eclecticism, fragmentation, intertextualily and the image of postmodern life. Above all, we see is “an emphasis on parody and pastiche”. Moulin Rouge embodies almost thoroughly the qualities of the postmodern art.

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