Moulin Rouge uses songs mainly to describe characters particular feelings towards something. The songs and scenes are linked by a series of events that take places chronologically within the time space of the film. This makes it a narrative musical.
The opening of Moulin Rouge beings with a medium shot of a man on a rooftop balcony with a windmill and city scene behind him. The scene is in black and white, allowing only white or bright things to stand out; this includes the man on the rooftop who is dressed in an entertainers costume and makeup. The light does not particularly focus in one place; it is just from the top right hand corner of the screen allowing the audience to see the basic scenery. This is done because the director of the film may not want the audience to focus on one part of the scenery, as it would draw attention from the rest. The city background looks dull and dirty, and the black and white colouring may suggest a time of poverty and/or unhappiness in the town, which is Paris during 1990.
As the scene opens you can hear a violin playing and the man begins his song. This particular scene allows the audience to listen to the man singing, which is like a prologue to the storyline. A violin is a classical example of an instrument used to create a sad, mourning atmosphere for a scene in a film, and the voice singing uses a low pitch, slow singing voice to add to this effect. This continues for approximately 3minutes, setting the scene, mood and atmosphere for the musical.
The scene then fades into a long medium shot of a small windmill on a rooftop surrounded by buildings and a city in the background. There is different music by now and this is slightly more upbeat. However even though the music has sped up, it still gives off sad, depressed feelings to the audience. Whilst focusing on the buildings the young man from the previous shot says “Moulin Rouge” over the music. The lighting changes again back to black and white, showing the dinginess and bleakness of the city. There is then a jump cut to scene 12. In this scene there are girls dancing the ‘can-can’ across a large ballroom. The girls’ dresses are brightly coloured and luxurious, which is a contrast to how the outside world is. The bright colours and brightly lit dance floor gives the impression of a fun, happy world where nothing bad can happen. However the music does not change, and still sounds sullen and sad. This can indicate that all inside the dance place is not as good as what it seems, and gives the audience some more ideas for why the priest from a previous shot called it “A village of sin”.
It is clear from the beginning of the film that the story is being told backwards, and that these flashes of colour are past glory. As the story unfolds it uses very well known musical songs, as though they are trying to create a musical within a musical. The fact that the songs being used are famous from other musicals encourages the audience to feel more involved in the film, maybe encouraging an audience ‘sing along’. One of the first main songs is ‘Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend’. Marilyn Monroe first sang this in the musical film Gentlemen Prefer Blonds. This is, as it was for Monroe a ‘vehicle’ for the producers, directors and Nicole Kidman, a vehicle to in effect ‘show off’ the talent within the film. This song has no effect on the films story line, just merely announces a new musical star to the audience.
The Elephant is where the first ‘love’ song appears. This has a great influence on the film. It includes many well-known pop songs such as Elton John “Your Song”. This shows the two characters Christian and Satine falling in love with each other. The elephant itself is lavishly and seductively decorated – red and gold. This expensive colouring is sometimes classically placed in musicals to give them a bright and lively feel – inviting the audience to watch and take part. As the song continues they move onto the rooftop, where there are billowing clouds, glittering stars and bright moon. The two dancing shows the audience how within these calm serene settings the pair have fallen in love with each other. When the Duke catches them they integrate this song with their own musical ‘Spectacular Spectacular’. This again allows the audience to watch the couple fall in love even more. This song shows off the musical talents of both Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman.
The song ‘Fly Away’ shows the audience Satine’s dreams and aspirations mentioned earlier on in the film. It shows how she longs to be a free, long to be away from all that is going on around her at that point in time. Christian’s input in the song allows the audience to feel as though he is the answer to Satine’s dreams and prayers. However whilst all this is going on, Satine has stood up the Duke. The Duke currently holds the deeds to the Moulin Rouge; therefore Harold needs to convince him that Satine is not well. He convinces the Duke of how Satine feels about him, using the song Like A Virgin, by Madonna. This convinces the Duke, giving the audience a sense of relief that the show will still go on and that Satine and Christians secret will be safe for longer.
However as Satine discovers she is ill and the Dukes evil plan, she realises her dream will fall apart. The song ‘Fool To Believe’ shows how things will eventually fall apart for her and she will not become a great actress and ‘fly away’. As she plans to run away Harold explains to her how the ‘underground’ life really works and how she is dying of the Consumption. His song shows how it is one large circle and as one woman is deemed useless another replaces her, you have to fight to survive and keep the circle going.
The film conforms to the ‘generic conventions’ of the musicals. There is a journey involved – a journey of love, career, happiness and money. The film follows a specific pattern too. It tells the story in a regular pattern, and follows a sequence. As each dramatic or important event happens in the film, a song shows it. A song that tells the audience how the character(s) affected by this event feel about what is going on. Because of this many of the songs allow the plot of the film to advance. E.g. Christian’s song about how he loves Satine advances the plot of the film by allowing her to fall in love with him, this then allows the love triangle to continue – the Duke loves Satine, Satine loves Christian, Christian loves Satine.
There are many visual signifiers in Moulin Rouge. Visual signifiers ( iconography) is where the look and feel of the set is associated with the genre of the film. Moulin Rouge has one excellent example of this, and this is in the Elephant. During this scene Christian and Satine fall in love. The Elephant is lavishly decorated in romantic, loving colours like reds, golds, lace and silk. It is very extravagant and sets a warm looking scene for the audience to look at. Red and gold is commonly linked to love, as they are very rich intensifying colours.
The film Moulin Rouge aims to show the audience different styles that the actors within the film can perform in. Ewan McGregor (Star Wars, Down With Love, Black Hawk Down, Young Adam, Little Voice, Trainspotting and Velvet Goldmine) has performed in other musicals but none as big as Moulin Rouge. It is not so much a ‘vehicle’ for him to show off, but to attraction from female viewers. Where as Nicole Kidman (Practical Magic, Eyes Wide Shut, Batman Forever and The Others) tries musicals maybe for the first successful time. The directors use her song Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend to promote her talent, which may up until Moulin Rouge not have been recognised as widely as others. The casting for Moulin Rouge was successful, using different actors who are not known for appearing in many musicals, this gives the effect of ‘new stars’ refreshing the audience.
Propp identified eight types of main character that are usually found in a film. When applied to Moulin Rouge this theory provides all main characters.
* The hero. The hero is Christian. A poor English writer who set out to London to write, make money and find love, which he did in the form of Satine.
* The Villain. This particular character is in the form of The Duke, who wishes to ‘seduce’ Satine and keep her for himself. He holds the deeds to the Moulin Rouge during the ‘play’ Spectacular Spectacular, as a form of insurance to ensure he will get Satine from Harold at the end.
* The Helper. Toulouse and his friends try to help Christian by putting on the play, so that his and Satine’s relationship can continue behind the Dukes back. The whole idea of a musical was brought up when the Duke caught Satine with Christian.
* The Princess. Satine. She is known as ‘The Sparkling Diamond’ in the Moulin Rouge. All men who visit the club want her and both the Duke and Christian are in love with her. She is in love with Christian.
* The Father. Although Satine’s father is not involved or mentioned in the film, the person who promises to her to the Duke is Harold. He promises her to him after the show has taken place. He is also the dispatcher, who commands Satine to send Christian away, and the Donor, who has handed the Duke the Moulin Rouge deeds, and will exchange Satine for them once the show has been completed and the Duke is satisfied.
Overall the Moulin Rouge gives the audience a good sense of belonging to the film. Well-known musical songs used in such a way allow the audience to maybe see those songs in a different way, possibly seeing a different meaning to them. The bright colours and dancing gives the audience some form of satisfaction, keeping them awake and making them watch the film.