Why Baz Luhrmann's Films Don't Suck

Clarisse Loughrey

I'm laying it all on the line here, but I love Baz Luhrmann. Guilty as charged. I even kind of liked Australia. Judge me all you like, but at least give me some respect. It's not exactly easy being a Luhrmann fan in this day and age, since the guy has more than his fair share of haters. The only time I've seen my dad angry in the past 6 months was at the anachronistic use of Jay-Z in Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby. And, believe me, I'm not saying these people don't have a right to hate on Baz. In fact, this very site got down and dirty with Gatsby's faults and came out the other end with some really valid points. But in the same way tigers lash out if they're feeling cornered, I'm fighting back. So here it is: five reasons why you should all back off and stop making me feel like a social pariah. Hey, at least James Franco's got my back on this. James Franco's always got my back. 

1. "Gimme gimme more, gimme more."

Did I just quote Britney Spears? I think I just did. Sure, sometimes less is more, but sometimes more is awesomer. Do you think anyone ever told Louis 'The Sun King' XIV to "tone it down"? Luhrmann is our cinematic Sun King, a purveyor of modern-day spectacle. Even on Strictly Ballroom's relatively small budget, Luhrmann turned a Coca-Cola billboard into a backdrop as glamourous as the soundstages of '50s musicals. And spectacle is a key word here. The colour, the detail, the movement: it's meant to be totally overwhelming, he wants you to be submerged in his own brand of visual escapism. Basically, the real world is boring and filled with Instagram photos of people's food, so why not leave it behind? 

2. Subtlety, schmubtlety.

Do you think anyone ever told the Italian Grand Opera to "show a little subtlety"? Luhrmann, who's personally cited Italian Grand Opera as a major influence on his work, should at least be commended for his attempts to cross artistic platforms and bring the epic quality of opera to the big screen. Big visuals need big themes, and Luhrmann is a master of the extremes of human emotion: from the dizzying heights of hedonistic parties to the all-consuming tragedy of heartbreak. Kind of like opera, then.

Maybe Luhrmann's operatic approach to storytelling comes off a little archaic in Hollywood terms, but it's not like the guy's coming out of nowhere. Contrast that with Luhrmann's postmodern direction and you've got one of the most unique directors working today. And, hey, look at it this way: the fact Romeo dies just as Juliet reaches up to touch his cheek might seem a little excessive in its ironic timing, but isn't ironic timing exactly what drives the majority of Shakespeare's masterpiece? I'd find it hard to argue that the playwright wouldn't have approved of Luhrmann's take on the scene. So you can add Shakespeare to the list of people who've got Baz's back. Which currently numbers to me and James Franco. 

3. It's the ultimate antidote to a cynical world.

You've got to admit, we've become a pretty cynical bunch. Doesn't the fact they actually made a romantic comedy called He's Just Not That Into You make you feel a little depressed? Isn't it just a little refreshing then to see a director who wears his heart on sleeve to the extent Baz Luhrmann does, to see his characters behave with such reckless earnestness? Who cares if it comes off a little naive in comparison? I seriously find it physically difficult to deal with people who don't feel uplifted by Satine and Christian's 'love conquers all' attitude in Moulin Rouge's closing moments. Whatever tragedy may befall his characters, they experience love as pure ecstasy. In that moment, love is everything. So shut your face, He's Just Not That Into You

4. Claire Danes' cry-face.

Baz Luhrmann knows how to get the best out of his actors. From Ewan Macgregor's unbreakable charm as Moulin Rouge's penniless poet, to Tara Morice's unique take on the ugly duckling cliché, he's created some pretty memorable, career-defining performances. I know on paper the idea of getting the King and Queen of the '90s to spout Shakespeare sounds super dumb, but it's not like Shakespeare's original characters were sober adults. They were angsty, dumb kids swept up in a love they'd only known for, like, five minutes. And DiCaprio and Danes nailed dumb and angsty, I won't hear anything to the contrary. The fact is, Luhrmann's combination of original text and ultra-modern direction brought out two of the most relatable Shakespearean characters to ever hit the big screen. I mean, just look at that cry-face. LOOK AT IT. IT IS SUBLIME. 

5. Excess and tragedy... Who said Baz shouldn't adapt The Great Gatsby?

I've never really understood why people were so surprised that Baz Luhrmann was the one to direct Gatsby. Everyone agreed that he's more than capable of capturing the hedonistic aspects of the Jazz Age, but what of the rest of Fitzgerald's novel? Well, there's a lot of common ground here: just like Gatsby's own obsessions, the intensity of love felt by Luhrmann's characters can just as easily lead to their downfall. While the director may celebrate the material excesses of the Moulin Rouge, don't forget that Satine's dissatisfaction with it all is a pretty big part of her character. Just like her pet bird, she feels like a pretty thing trapped in a gilded cage. I mean, heck, there's even a whole song about it ('One Day I'll Fly Away', geddit? Fly...like a bird...). And while covering her illness may have let the show go on, that tuberculosis always catches up with you. Luhrmann ain't only about a banging soundtrack and glamourous parties, his movies are just as much about dealing with the consequences of reckless loves and reckless lifestyles. 

I'm drawing a line in the sand. I know there's going to be a lot people who disagree with me, but hopefully a few will come to my aide (Franco, get in touch, we should do lunch). Either way, let's get the conversation flowing: are you a Baz lover or hater? Let us know in the comments!

Follow Clarisse on Twitter: @clarisselou

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