A Look Back At: Baz Luhrmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy

Drew Dietsch

The Bard once wrote, “What’s past is prologue,” and that certainly applies to our pop culture landscape. It’s always important to reflect upon and reevaluate what has come before. Doing so can help us to better appreciate something new, or possibly unlock some hidden meaning in the past that we never considered. To understand where we are, we have to know where we’ve been. With that in mind, let’s take a look back at Baz Luhrmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy

It’s Baz Luhrmann’s birthday, and here at Fandom, we feel like celebrating. The lavish director of The Great Gatsby and Netflix’s The Get Down is one of the most theatrical filmmakers working today. To that end, we decided to take look back at his first three films which established Luhrmann as a powerhouse of an artist. These three movies – referred to as the Red Curtain Trilogy – utilize the inherently theatrical nature of storytelling and the arts. They focus on different artistic expressions – dance, poetry, and music respectively – and how they can be used to tell powerful and moving stories.

Strictly Ballroom (1992)

Luhrmann’s 1992 romantic comedy, Strictly Ballroom, is the movie that started it all. The first in the Red Curtain Trilogy, Strictly Ballroom was based on a play that Luhrmann staged in Sydney during the late ’80s. A film producer saw the show, and the rest is history. The story, which is kind of a riff on Cinderella, David and Goliath, and other underdog tales (but with dancing!), follows an Australian ballroom dancer, Scott, who falls for Fran, an amateur dancer with remarkable natural ability. The lovestruck pair rebel against the ballroom dancing establishment — yes, that’s actually a thing — as they prepare to compete in the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix competition.

Strictly Ballroom isn’t a perfect movie in the technical sense — there are moments when Luhrmann over-indulges as a filmmaker, as he’s apt to do. But his passion, energy, and excitement for the material are apparent in every single frame, and that’s what makes the movie great. The cast is both charming and hilarious, and it’s a treat watching the two leads throw themselves completely into their performances.

The zany backdrop of the ballroom dancing world gives the movie a touch of lunacy that would become a foundational characteristic of Baz’s work, not to mention his masterful use of music and a wonderfully extravagant aesthetic. [Brian Linder]

Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Leave it to Baz Luhrmann to take William Shakespeare’s most famous play and turn it into something we’d never seen before. Not only does Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet update the setting to modern times, but he turns the entire affair into something out of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. This adaptation is so self-assured in its over-the-top nature that the film starts with a trailer for itself. That’s incredible.

The warring families are cartoonish mafia types whose guns are made by a company called Dagger. The location is a Miami-esque fantasy land of excess. And the acting is appropriately melodramatic, with Leonardo DiCaprio and John Leguizamo playing their roles as if they had to be heard and seen by everyone in the Globe Theatre. Though there are more subdued performances from the likes of Claire Danes and Pete Postlethwaite.

But really, Romeo + Juliet is the kind of aggressive and flamboyant theater that Shakespeare would have loved. Many artists have updated the Bard for some modern setting, but none did it with the flair and style of Baz Luhrmann. He revels in the gaudy production and breathes cinematic panache into the classic drama. It’s not for everyone. For those it is for? It’s a sugar rush of candy-coated indulgence. [Drew Dietsch]

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Baz Luhrmann’s films are always loud, explosive and colorful. It’s sometimes forgotten that his movies also examine some very human and often painful themes. That’s so true with Moulin Rouge, the romantic masterpiece that is as bright and aggressive as any of his features. Yet despite all the sound and fury, Moulin Rouge is really all about love. It’s about how important love is, how tender love is and how quickly it can all be gone.

Luhrmann pulls no punches in Moulin Rouge. It’s brutally bleak, especially in the film’s closing moments. Of course, that’s par for the course for Luhrmann. Hell, he directed an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. But the filmmaker masks that pain and darkness in electric musical numbers that make you want to tap your foot and sing along. This is a movie that sneaks up on you. It takes you on a magical musical journey that brings a smile to your face then – boom! – brings you back down to earth with crippling heartbreak.

Despite the pain, Moulin Rouge is a gorgeous love story. A sad love story, true, but still so beautiful and pure and moving. It’s a movie that has it all: music, comedy, romance and sorrow. So, so much sorrow. [Brandon Marcus]

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