Moulin Rouge: Huston Vs. Luhrmann

It took 22 years after “All That Jazz” for the next live-action musical to be nominated for Best Picture: Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge,” in 2001. The animated musical feature, “Beauty and the Beast,” competed for the top prize in 1991.

Except for sharing similar setting and some common characters, Luhrmann’s film is not to be confused with John Huston’s “Moulin Rouge” (1952), which was a fictionalized biopicture of Toulouse Lautrec, with a peculiar dramatic emphasis on the love affair of the dwarfish artist, for which Jose Ferrer received a second Best Actor nomination.

Huston showed strong interest in evoking the ambience of nineteenth-century Montmartre, especially in the film’s first Can Can sequence, though nothing else stood up to the initial exhilarating moments in a a picture that slowly slides into boredom.

In contrast to Huston’s film, the new Moulin Rouge showed such technical prowess and dazzling visual virtuosity that even those who disliked the movie found it hard to ignore. Catherine Martin, Luhrman’s collaborator and wife, won two Oscars: For Art direction and Costume design. .

“Moulin Rouge” had its passionate advocates, but also its vocal detractors. Distributor Fox had mounted a pugnacious and excessive and costly campaign, despite the “love it or leave it” status the film has acquired ever since its world premiere in Cannes, in May 2001. Trying to bolster its chances among the Academy’s older voters, Fox prominently displayed quotes from such industry top guns as Robert Wise, Stanley Donen and actress Cyd Charisse and Debbie Reynolds, all praising Nicole Kidman, who was nominated and Luhrman, who was not.