Moulin Rouge directed by Baz Luhrmann and Superstar: A Karen Carpenter Story directed by Todd Haynes were both created by auteur film directors. Moulin Rouge (2001) is a tragic love story told from the point of few of a poet who fell in love with a courtesan and is now telling their love story after she has dies. Superstar: A Karen Carpenter Story (1988) is a retelling of Karen Carpenter’s personal struggle with anorexia filmed with Barbie dolls as the characters. Both directors’ styles are unique, these two films being evidence of their creative and artistic approach. In terms of similar plot, the main female characters both in Moulin Rouge and Superstar: A Karen Carpenter Story are both sick with a disease that is holding them back from their full potential and they both are unable to fight their sickness in the end and pass away; Satine (Moulin Rouge) from Tuberculosis and Karen from Anorexia. The themes of the stories are therefore also connected, both women are performers and the stress on them personally as well as their bodies is partially to blame for their illnesses. There is a focus on self-image in these films, as both female characters are subjected to public view and opinion. The similarities and differences between these two films can be better understood if the directors are analyzed for their personal commonalities and directorial uniqueness with regard to their auteur technique, other films, and personal stories.
Baz Luhrmann who won the “Auteur Award” in 2008 is well known for his theatrical films which often display extravagant color choices, the increase and/or decrease of the speed in which a scene plays out, and the use of well-known contemporary songs and artists in films that take place in the past (Elton John –Moulin Rouge, Beyoncé – The Great Gatsby, Radiohead – Romeo + Juliet). Moulin Rouge is arguably Baz Luhrmann’s most well-known movie; it was nominated for fifteen awards in 2001 and won four including Best Picture by the National Board of Review. Baz Luhrmann grew up a ballroom dancer and was always interested in theater. Moulin Rouge is first and foremost a musical which exhibits many singing and dancing numbers. Strictly Ballroom, another film by Luhrmann, also displays some of the auteur director’s personal interests with regard to dancing. One particular stylistic choice that is common among Luhrmann’s films is the adding in of unrealistic sound effects that don’t necessarily fit in with the scene, especially in Moulin Rouge, as well as over stylizing scenes with gimmicky special effects like sparkles. Some of these choices can only be explained through knowing that Luhrmann was interested in theatrics including acting at the beginning of his career. Moulin Rouge is only similar to Luhrmann’s other films because of these rather unique choices. Both Australia and Moulin Rouge exhibit moments where the filming seems to randomly speed up.
Chris Wisniewski, a writer for the online film website Reverse Shot says
Luhrmann is one of Hollywood’s few remaining celebrity auteurs, a filmmaker with such a brazen and bombastic sense of his own vision that he’s capable, for better and usually for worse, of co-opting and overwhelming even the most formidable source material.
Although not all film critics are as complimentary of his more unconventional style, Luhrmann is still widely acknowledged as a very talented director.
Todd Haynes is also considered an auteur director whose relatively few movies seem to often focus on music, sexuality, and self-image. Superstar: A Karen Carpenter Story was Haynes second film created when he was in graduate school. When compared with some of his other films (Far From Heaven, Velvet Goldmine) Superstar does seem to stick out as uniquely different because of his brave decision to use Barbie dolls as the main characters. But there are commonalities in theme. Both Superstar and Velvet Goldmine are about musical artists and self-image. Even in Haynes earlier movies, his desire to portray the stress and anxiety both men and women face over self-image is prevalent. The involvement of parents in the child’s life is also a common theme throughout his films. In both Superstar and Velvet Goldmine, the parent figures are controlling and put stress on their children, holding them back from being who they want to be. Haynes is also well known for his part in contributing to “New Queer Cinema” however White, who has a written a book on Contemporary Film Artists, says on the subject:
Queer is perhaps most usefully thought about in relation to Haynes’s films not as a sexual orientation but as a general name for refusing social and artistic norms.
Haynes films often star characters who are gay or bisexual (Poison, Velvet Goldmine) however it is clear that he doesn’t intend this to define his work, it is an artistic decision that often adds drama and tragedy into his plotlines.
Ed Howard, a film critic from Slant Magazine says that:
In all of his films, Todd Haynes takes elements of gaudy tabloid culture and warps them to his own purposes, because he sees—in the lurid stories about sexuality and decadence and violence that we like to tell ourselves, in the celebrity gossip rags and TV news and hyped-up movies—deeper truths about identity, gender, politics, entertainment and sexuality.
Todd Haynes, along with being a film director, is also a commentator on past and present society. He creates films that are often dramatic, tragic, and have a poignant message.
Both directors are considered auteur because they show technical competence, have a distinguishable personality (themes/style), and there is always an interior meaning connecting the directors to their work. In Moulin Rouge and Superstar, the general techniques used in the films (mise en scene, sound design, cinematography, etc.) were professionally done and show that as directors they are well versed in their field. Luhrmann and Haynes’s films are also recognizable as their own; both directors have stylistic preferences and reoccurring themes in their films. The interior meanings in all their films also reflect the personal interests of their directors. Moulin Rouge was directed by a director who has experience in dance and acting, he also shows a particular interest in music in the majority of his films. Superstar was directed by a director who is also interested in music and the arts. Therefore, there are overlapping themes in films created by both directors. Moulin Rouge was also filmed a few years after Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine, which the actor Ewan McGregor also starred in, so they even overlap in actor preferences.
In conclusion, the similarities and differences between the films Moulin Rouge and Superstar are understandable after looking into the director’s auteur technique, other films they have directed, and their personal stories. Both directors are well-known for their specific styles and reoccurring themes. When looking at their other films it is clear that music and the arts are often portrayed. Baz Luhrmann in particular, grew up ballroom dancing and has a very emotional and theatrical flair that comes through in his films. Todd Haynes has also always been interested in commenting on music and the lives of stars. Others say he is part of the “New Queer Cinema” but he has said before that just because a film has a gay couple in it, it should not be labeled a “gay film,” so he does not necessarily like his style being put under such a limited label. Other films made by auteurs such as Hitchcock, Kubrick or Ingmar Bergman, share similar qualities with these two directors, all their films are technologically proficient, they have their own style, and they have a personal connection to their films. All great auteurs should be recognized and respected for their gift to the art of film.
Chris Wisniewski. “A Not-So-American Tale.” Reverse Shot. http://www.reverseshot.com/article/great_gatsby