SATURDAY REVIEW: “The Greatest Showman” loses to the intensity of “Moulin Rouge”

The Greatest Showman promised entertainment and it delivered exactly that. A change for Hugh Jackman after the heavy, dark Logan, it excited me to see the actor in the character of an inspired businessman. However, I held off from reviewing until I had, finally, also watched Moulin Rouge.

Lively dance routines and positive vibes fill the stage in The Greatest Showman

A consumer of rather classical opera in my youth, I hadn’t attended a musical on stage until 2012. A friend and I arranged for a theatre date a few months before her returning to the Philippines. We saw Les Miserables and the production lasted as my one and only top reference since.

Like a flutter of butterfly wings: pretty, joyful, and soon forgotten

Until recently, I could not compare the famous London stage production with anything else. A very likable, good buzz musical, The Greatest Showman flew through my head like a flutter of butterfly wings. Colourful, light, joy inspiring, a grace of movement, easily enjoyed and easily forgotten – it is the best way I can describe its effect on me.

On our way home, my partner played in the car some significant parts of the soundtrack from Moulin Rouge. Right away I realised I couldn’t review Hugh Jackman’s movie without watching the old Nicole KidmanEwan MacGregor  production. The result materialised as expected: the later blew my mind both visually, musically and emotionally.

A very visual person (my mind works best with images), I applauded the dance routines and, foremost, the duet between Zac Efron and Zendaya (photo below). My partner is subject to aphantasiaprecisely the reason why he appreciates beautiful imagery when he sees it. He perceived the same scene as the best of the whole movie. Also, music reigns over his artistic sense. It stimulates emotion, and that is what he remembers most out of movies: emotion, feeling, characters, ideas.

Photo by Niko Tavernise – © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

The traps of the American dream fail to catch

I found memorable the image of the Swedish Nightingale opera singer, gracious, confident, classy. I recall her lipstick, her posture, her eye glances, her gleam towards Barnum whom she passionately tries to seduce. At the same time, the whole story of them stands out as the depository for the poisonous temptations of the American dream. It presents the typical concoction: the successful man turns his dreams into profit, the diva appears as a seductress who needs him, and the faithful wife always awaits home for her husband.
The potential tension of such a context could have created more emotional impact. But the story line, altogether, keeps at the same level, linear, without major surprises, risks, tragedy or ecstasy.

Bohemian visions come alive with emotion, sounds and movement

The Moulin Rouge, on the other hand…
The whole beginning of the movie hits you like a colourful chaotic vision. A writer lost his lover while on a quest for the ultimate bohemian dream: to create for the Parisian stage, to live a true and deep passion, to dedicate himself to Truth, Freedom, Beauty and Love. Through a mixture of fortunate circumstances, which become very believable in such a mad, wonderful world, the writer finds a way to turn his imagination into reality and back.

Note: I remember all the characters in this movie by their name. It doesn’t happen with The Greatest Showman.

@ Photo by SUE ADLER/AFP/Getty Images

A trove of images invades my mind at any point of me recalling parts of the movie. I see Satine swaying high on the swing in her silvery white corset, over the crowd who howl in admiration. Then follows the picture of her neck wrapped in the coldness of the diamond choker necklace from the Duke. Next, Satine wears her somber suit, and a fascinator with a veil covers her face, when she convinces Christian she does not love him. What about her satin liquid metal red dress?

But then the echoes of her breath, distressed, lost, or passionate, invade the memory. Christian’s voice, as clear and strong as his dedication, follows close behind. And with show must go on Zidler expresses an immeasurable pain, the tragedy of the clown who knows all the intoxicated, bohemian happiness they live and promise bears a price. For me, this particularly stands out as the tragedy of such a world. There is nothing Zidler can do more for his little sparrow, the star of his shows. Resignation and acceptance of the immutable nature of things are the only wise options.

“Moulin Rouge” cultivates a taste for musicals

And that is exactly what the constant, deep sound of the Moulin Rouge mill represents. In filling the gaps between emotions, it doesn’t even flicker at the passions of the humans caught under its swing. As a very visual person, I still get caught in a soundscape which renders the breath of a whole world. And this one definitely does. Not to forget the “Roxanne” tango, so raw and hopeless and dark that somehow it reminded me of the brutal eroticism mixed with sadness in the original Blade Runner.

With Moulin Rouge, my taste for musicals has finally been cultivated. I will only try not to be too demanding of all the productions I will watch from now on. While scoring The Greatest Showman a 6 now, I remain hopeful for something in the future at least remotely reflecting the power of Baz Luhrmann’s vision.

 

 

 

 

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