Director’s Chair Introduction: Baz Luhrmann

by Tony Cogan · July 10, 2022 · Director's Chair, Uncategorized · No Comments

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Hello everyone, it’s time to reveal the next director to be featured on Director’s Chair and this month, with the recent release of Elvis, I’ve decided to highlight the work of Baz Luhrmann.

Luhrmann got his start in front of the camera after finishing high school in Australia with the film Winter of Our Dreams, which led to a few other screen credits, the money he got from these enabling him to form a theatre company in Sydney. His first film, Strictly Ballroom started out as one of his plays and a successful run of the play led to music producer Ted Albert deciding to bring it to screen. Whilst there were difficulties following the death of Albert, his widow decided to carry on with the film in his memory. When it premiered at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival, it was a success, gaining a 15 minute long standing ovation, winning an award there and triggering a bidding war. After it was released, it was a critical and commercial success, becoming one of the highest grossing Australian films and winning 7 Australian Film Institute awards, including Best Picture and Best Director and was nominated for these awards at the BAFTAs.

After the success of Strictly Ballroom, Luhrmann took a while coming up with his next film, eventually deciding to direct an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Whilst there were some initial production issues, mainly through the age difference between Leonardo DiCaprio and Natalie Portman (who was originally cast as Juliet before being replaced with Clare Danes), the film was a success on release, winning prizes at the Berlin Film Festival, along with it winning Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay at the BAFTAs.

Luhrmann followed this up with his conclusion of what is known as the Red Curtain trilogy, Moulin Rouge. Drawing from the traditions of opera, Greek tragedy, Bollywood and melodrama, Moulin Rouge was a massive success on release, the success of which help to bring about a miniature revival in movie musicals, winning multiple Oscars, BAFTAs and Golden Globes and was ranked 53rd in the BBC’s 2016 list of the best films released in the 21st Century up to that point. The success of Moulin Rouge has now translated to the stage, with productions of it opening in Broadway in 2019 (winning 10 Tonys, including Best Musical) and has recently opened in London’s West End.

Luhrmann’s next film wasn’t as acclaimed as his earlier ones. Choosing to make an epic, adventure drama, focused on Australian history, Australia was released in 2008 to mixed reviews. There were hopes that the film would be used to drive tourism to Australia, the same way the Lord of the Rings trilogy drove tourism to New Zealand, but it’s unclear how successful this was. It also came out at a time when Australia was reckoning with its history of how the indigenous population of the country were treated, with the film depicting the forced removal of indigenous children from their families on racial grounds, an event the Australian government formally apologised for in 2008. It is currently intended for the film to be expanded with deleted scenes and turned into a 6 part miniseries for Hulu.

It was a few years before Luhrmann returned to the screen with a big budget adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Blending the art deco style of the 1920s with modern day hip-hop aesthetics (aided by a soundtrack produced by Jay Z), the film received mixed reviews, but was praised for its technical aspects, winning Best Production Design and Best Costume Design at the Oscars and it is currently the highest grossing film of Luhrmann’s career.

After he worked on the TV series The Get Down for Netflix, Luhrmann returned to film with a biopic of Elvis Presley, which he was linked to in 2014 but only formally announced in 2019, focusing on the relationship between Elvis and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Filming began in January 2020, but ended up being known as one of the first big productions to be heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, notably with Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson testing positive for the virus. After filming resumed in late 2020, and following numerous release delays due to the different phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, the film was released a few weeks ago to mostly positive reviews, receiving praise for the musical sequences and Austin Butler’s performance as Presley.

As a reminder, the films of Luhrmann’s you can cover are listed below.

  • Strictly Ballroom
  • Romeo + Juliet
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Australia
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Elvis

I look forward to seeing what is sent to me.