Key Cinematic Devices Used in Baz Luhrmann's Films ‘William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet’ and ‘Moulin Rouge!’
Baz Luhrmann is an Australian writer, director and producer, notorious for his work in the Red Curtain Trilogy with it consisting of ‘Strictly Ballroom’ (1992), ‘William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet’ (1996), and ‘Moulin Rouge!’ (2001). Through these films he is recognized for creating an innovative style. To discuss the emotional response from his audience with the use of cinematic devices, it is essential to analyze how he builds emphasis through innovative techniques such as the different camera angles, etc., and extravagant directing specifically in his films ‘William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet’ and ‘Moulin Rouge!’. The key cinematic devices Luhrmann uses in directing his films are: camera angles, uses of modern music and how he builds moments in fundamental scenes to incorporate the audience’s active participation.
Luhrmann uses cinematic techniques to make Romeo and Juliet’s dialogues understandable to modern audiences. He does this through his camera angles such as slow-motion shots, low angle shots, close-ups, point of view shots and agitation of the camera to create agitation in the audience. One of the first scenes is a newspaper saying ‘Montague Vs Capulet’ to suggest to the audience that the two households have tension between them.
Luhrmann made sure of two things while directing this film, that the audience can understand that Romeo is so heartbroken and desperate for love, and Juliet is so innocent and acquitted that she can fall in love with Romeo so easily, which can be seen and noted by the audience. Luhrmann makes these characteristics well known by the camera angles in the opening scenes. It is a grey cloudy day and Romeo is seen as depressed by him smoking a cigarette while writing poetry aimlessly. The camera zooms in on his depressive expressions, showing the audience his sadness which in turn gives the viewers sympathy for his heartbreak. Baz Luhrmann uses these shots to show impressions of a man who is lost and upset. Not long after the scene with Romeo, Juliet is introduced as a young girl with an innocent personality. Close-ups are done on Juliet’s makeup-less face to show her innocence. By doing these different camera shots, the audience can feel as though they are with them.
At the point of them meeting, they are separated by a fish tank. Deep blue water and soft pastel colors are used to effect romance. When their eyes meet, Luhrmann zooms in on their faces (with some point of view shots) to make the audience feel the deep connection and love they have for each other. However, the Montagues and Capulets have a pure hatred for each other, meaning that Romeo and Juliet’s love is impossible.
Fast forward some time and Tybalt (Juliet’s cousin) finds out about the love between them, having a fit of rage and starting a fight. Mercutio (Romeo’s friend) comes in to protect Romeo and fights Tybalt himself. Luhrmann uses agitation of the camera during this scene and point of view shots to keep the audience’s participation. Mercutio is stabbed by Tybalt and the moment is slowed down to dramatize the importance of Tybalt’s actions. Low angle shots are then used to show Mercutio falling to the floor shouting “a plague on both your houses”. Luhrmann uses low angle shots to signify the implication of his death.
The camera angles in ‘Moulin Rouge!’ serve to tell the story and bring a desired feel to the film. Gary Johnson writes, “’Moulin Rouge!’ frequently descends into burdensome heaps of camera shots”. Luhrmann uses a moving camera throughout the film, this is to make the film more captivating.
One of the scenes in ‘Moulin Rouge!’ is when we see the Duke and the owner of the cabaret one side, and the group of bohemians on the other. There is a distinct line/separation between them, and Luhrmann puts the camera in front of them with its purpose to show the conflict between the two. Love being the reason for the conflict makes conflict seem a lot stronger.
Luhrmann does not want the audience to be passive, so to do this he uses modern music to keep the modern audience invested in specific scenes. He uses this to gain the audience’s attention and to help the audience understand what is happening in some scenes.
Using modern music in films keeps the audience involved in the film. Involved meaning that they can sing and dance along, sometimes getting the song stuck in their heads for the rest of the week. Whenever they hear a specific song, they could automatically think of the movie they watched that included it; which evokes an emotional response in the audience.
For example, ‘William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet’, when they are getting married, the song ‘When Doves Cry’. A picture from the film showing Romeo and Juliet getting married at the church by Prince is sung to make the modern audience invested because that song is popular, and as the song is sung slowly, the audience knows that this is a significant time of the film.
In the film ‘Moulin Rouge!’, the bright colors and music give the impression of joy throughout the film, which is enhanced by the iritic camera movements. There are many modern songs sung by very famous people. The elephant scene in ‘Moulin Rouge!’ is a great example of using this technique. The elephant love melody includes songs by Kiss, Elton John, The Beetles and more. These artists are very well-known and recognized by the modern audience, and the songs he used are all love songs, keeping them engrossed by the film and they can understand that this specific scene symbolizes love.
Building moments creates connections to characters, which then encourages the audience to become engaged.
Everyone knows how Romeo and Juliet ends; however, Baz Luhrmann builds moments to make it seem like it could end differently and keep the audience at the edge of their seats. At the end of the film, Romeo goes to Juliet’s ‘grave’, and seeing his love ‘dead’ really impacted on him. Juliet slowly wakes up, starting with her head moving. Romeo does not see. Then her fingers twitch. Romeo does not see. She starts to slowly open her eyes. Romeo does not see. She slowly raises her hand to his face, and he drinks poison just before she touches him. It makes the audience hope that just maybe Romeo does not die, and he realizes Juliet is not dead after all. After seeing Romeo die, Juliet commits suicide as she cannot live without Romeo.
In the film ‘Moulin Rouge!’, Luhrmann builds moments by speed. He does this by speeding up and slowing down scenes to make it appealing to the audience. The high angle shots make Christian seem weak and venerable. While the slow-paced editing makes the audience take in the surroundings.
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