The Creation Of Liveness In The Film Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge (2001) starts off with setting the tone of the film, the first few minutes are a roller coaster. Everything about the film is over the top, from Satine’s dresses to the set design With a combination of real sets and computer generated images, Baz Luhrmann shows us what Paris was like in the 19th century, both the good (a place of art, music and beauty) and the bad (plague, poverty and sin). This essay will highlight the aspects of Moulin Rouge that created a specific liveness in the film.    

Baz Luhrmann’s first three films consisted of The Red Curtain Trilogy, which caught the eyes of many, as a result he received many awards not only for his films but himself too. Luhrmann states 'the Red Curtain requires some basics. One is that the audience knows how it will end when it begins, it is fundamental that the story is extremely thin and extremely simple - that is a lot of labour. Then it is set in a heightened, created world. Then there is a device - the heightened world of Strictly Ballroom, Verona Beach. Then there is another device - dance or iambic pentameter or singing, and that's there to keep the audience awake and engaged. The other thing is that this piece was to be a comic tragedy. This is an unusual form, there's been a few goes at it but it's not common in Western cinematic form.”Moreover, the events shown in the films are “reel” not “real”, hence the continuity of time and the authenticity of events are overlooked for a cinematic experience. Finally, The Red Curtain Trilogy gives films are theatrical effect that engages with the audience.    

Moulin Rouge challenges the boundaries of genre because the images and sounds relate to an internal narrative and aesthetic ‘life’ as well as the external ‘lives’ of the characters in popular culture. Film genre is a web of metaphorical expressions allows us to capture the ‘liveness’, and is based on similarities either in the narrative of the film or the emotional responses the audience has towards it. The genre of the film is described as ‘Jukebox musical’. A jukebox musical is considered a musical film or stage presentation that stars famous popular music acts presenting their own recorded songs, which is similar to in a stage play where actors sing their own songs live during the performance. In Moulin Rouge, Nicole Kidman plays a singer in the show and Ewan McGregor, hence they sang most of the songs in the film such as Elephant Love Medley, One Day I'll Fly Away, El Tango De Roxanne and many others. The opening sequence sets the tone of the film as both informative and dramatic. Moulin Rouge begins with the lift in red curtains as if the audience has entered a show during the opening, hence create a sense of liveness. The story is told from Christian point-of-view about his love story with Satine; the shift in colours and music plays an important role in the distinction between the timeline. The past is set through bright colours and music that give an impression of joy throughout the film, however in the background we can hear the voice of Toulouse can be heard singing the story indicating that a tragedy and sorrow which is very similar to a live performance.    

The tone of the film seems to be fast, from the beginning of the film until the Andrew Lloyd Webber-style tragic ending, the film is a rollercoaster that makes the audience feel all kinds of emotions, there is laughter when Christian meets his neighbours as they fall through the roof of his new apartment, love when he meets Satine and sadness when they are separated. Luhrmann does not let him audience take a breath just like in a stage play where there is a constant flow in the storyline that keeps the audience engaged. Moreover, there is a consistent rush of energy and enthusiasm throughout the film which can be compared to the liveness in a play because there are no retakes hence everyone is giving their best shot.    

Luhrmann often uses jump-cut to help establish the tone throughout the film. Educalingo defines jump-cut as, “A jump cut is a cut in film editing in which two sequential shots of the same subject are taken from camera positions that vary only slightly. This type of edit gives the effect of jumping forwards in time. It is a manipulation of temporal space using the duration of a single shot, and fracturing the duration to move the audience ahead.” In the introduction shot of Satine to the audience, the camera captures the chaos during a show at Moulin Rouge and it seems like it is a repetitive process due to the way the dancers and staff react towards it.    

Luhrmann starts the scene off with slow music and progresses with dancers coming together on the floor, followed by several jump cuts switching between the dancers snarling faces, to the stunning dresses, to the male audience in their uniform-like tuxedos. The pace of the scene keeps increasing as the music gets faster and faster as the jump cuts per seconds increases and the tension in the audience rises, then when you feel like Moulin Rouge cannot get anymore chaotic, it all becomes abruptly silent and everyone turns to look at the beautiful sparkling diamond to look at Satine. The attention is all on her through the framing and lights, just like it would be in a play where the rest of the stage is in darkness and only the main character is in focus.    

On the other hand, the film does become slightly abstract through fantasy-like scenes in the musical, in the scene where Christian confesses his love for Satine through the song, Your Song by Alessandro Safina, they end up dancing in the clouds and jumping from the gigantic elephant into the sky at night, where the iconic Eiffel Tower looks small and the moon begins to sing creating an orchestra. Films that use highly stylized and distinctive camera work, editing, and lighting to convey stories set in unreal settings are antirealist. However, looking at it in a film, it creates a separate world that portrays the stereotypical feeling of love, where the moon starts singing, and the lovers are dancing through the sky expressing their love through the city, coincidentally, Paris is known as the city of love, so that adds on to the ambience. Another special effect is when Christian drinks the hallucinatory absinth, Kylie Minogue appears as a green fairy appears, she flies past the screen and writes the words “truth”, “beauty”, “freedom” and “love”, again this is telling you that the film is not realistic.    

David Patrick Green, a career consultant, has described the main differences between film and stage plays in his article, “The 3 Major Differences Between Stage and Screen Acting”.    

Firstly, the location at which the audience is placed is a major difference in stage and film, in a film there is a loss of liveness when a camera or microphone is involved because the audience isn’t as engaged as they would be in a play. During a play, actors engage with the audience during they show and can change their methods depending on the reaction from the audience which is done in Moulin Rouge throughout the shows, hence not building the story from scratch but making it seem like the audience has entered the lives of Satine and Christian recently. The main responsibility of on-screen actors is to behave naturally even though they are unaware of the audience’s response, but on stage, sound and movement is exaggerated to create an effect.    

Secondly, the content and material in stage plays compared to films is different, as a result the audiences reactions differ too. In play, actors performances are repetitive due to the frequency of the show but in films, the audience hasn’t seen the writing hence they have nothing to compare it to except other projects with similar stories. At a film audition, an actor can make mistakes or small changes without consequences that affect the performance of the cast, but in a play when an actor forgets his/her cue the cast would need to improvise depending on the situation. An original and believable performance is king.    

Thirdly, the nature of the characters and performances unfold in front of the audience varies in a film such as Moulin Rouge and on stage. The audiences and critics are often comparing an actors performance to previous roles. The producers are also looking for an actor to fit the character they have in mind, with some leeway. However, on stage, actors do need to follow a script, but it gives them some freedom to improvise, for instance, in Moulin Rouge, Satine set the standards for what everyone expected at the show, when she would enter, everyone’s eyes would be on her hence drowning out anyone who wasn’t her.    

All in all, Baz Luhrmann uses several techniques to help create liveness in the film, it takes us on a journey through Satine and Christian’s lives and how they put a stage performance together and fall in love. The sets used create a strong essence of realism throughout the film, as a result the audience connects with the story more closely. 


  • “Baz Luhrmann (I).” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 7 Sept. 2001,
  • YANG, MINA. “Moulin Rouge! and the Undoing of Opera.” Cambridge Opera Journal, vol. 20, no. 3, 2008, pp. 269–282. JSTOR,
  • Green, David Patrick. “The 3 Major Differences Between Stage and Screen Acting.”, 12 Sept. 2013,
  • Nelmes, Jill, editor. “Rethinking Genre as a Metaphor.” An Introduction to Film Studies, Psychology Press, 2003, pp. 162–163.
16 December 2021
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