The movie will open in Singapore on July 5, and now I couldn’t wait. The soundtrack of Moulin Rouge! is beautiful beyond description. It’s a rough, unpolished, unsightly, and gaudy overly pomp extravanganza, but I find myself enjoying every track. Oozing with over-the-top romanticism one either loathes or loves, this soundtrack reels me in and leaves me breathless.
Apart from five tracks sung by professional songsters, the rest of this fifteen-track musical extravaganza are performed by the actors and actresses of the movie. And they do a commendable job – not perfect, especially the main leads Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, but that’s the charm. Their flawed delivery of familiar love songs in the most bizarre and bombastic manner win me over.
Maybe I should start with the banshee shriek-fest of Lady Marmalade, an obvious must-have song for its “Hookers of the New Millennium” funk. Christina Aguilera, Mya, Lil’ Kim, and Pink combine vocals in this faithful but funky cover. I am surprised Missy Misdemeanor Elliott manages to actually make this song work. Lady Marmalade is simultaneously ghastly and mesmerizing (just like the music video – check out Ms Aguilera’s hair!). I wince when Ms Aguilera cuts in with her banshee vocal acrobatics (“Hey, hey, HEEYYYYY…” – there goes my eardrums), but I find myself replaying this track and going “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” myself to the track. It’s hypnotic.
David Bowie’s Nature Boy, reprised twice here, one in vocal collaboration with Massive Attack, is sensual as well as foreboding. Beck’s Diamond Dogs is likewise mesmerizing. It’s like being seduced by hypnosis despite myself. I find Fatboy Slim’s Because We Can unexceptional though.
Bono, Gavin Friday, and Maurice Seezer makes Children of the Revolution rousing, uplifting, and Bono actually sounds like he’s having fun. Amazing stuff here, and perfect for hands-up-waving-wildly-singalongs too.
The rest of the soundtrack is… weird. Baz Luhrmann, Anton Monsted, Laura Zelfino, and Marius DeVries have taken familiar songs and gel them together, for want of a better phrase, into barely unrecognizable anthems. Marilyn Monroe’s Diamond are a Girl’s Best Friend and Madonna’s Material Girl are fused together in a hybrid cabaret-electronica moment. Nicole Kidman acquits herself in Sparkling Diamonds. Then there’s DeBarge’s Rhythm Of The Night given a more electronic but faithful update by Valeria.
A great and delicious surprise is Elton John’s Your Song given a rousing operatic/choral treatment, thanks to Ewan McGregor and Alessandro Safina. But this is nothing compared to the duet between Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, Elephant Love Medley which seamlessly segues the Beatles’ All You Need is Love, KISS’s I Was Made for Lovin’ You, Phil Collins’s One More Night, U2’s Pride (In the Name Of Love), the Communards’s Don’t Leave Me This Way, Paul McCartney’s Silly Love Songs, the Joe Cocker-Jennifer Warnes duet Up Where We Belong, David Bowie’s Heroes, and Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You – and the result is beautiful cacophony! Mr McGregor’s earnest, unpolished vocals as he beseeches Ms Kidman to love him back is heartbreaking to listen to. This is one of the rare songs that cause my heart to ache as I listen. Less impressive but still great is their other duet of Come What May.
Other memorable moments are the Bollywood-Hollywood hybrid of Hindi Sad Diamonds and El Tango De Roxanne (the former Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend turned Hindi musicale, the latter Sting’s Roxanne sung in a low, menacing, predatory tone that makes its sinister theme even more menacing – and contrasted beautifully with Mr McGregor’s bitter laments of his love sold to another man).
A bohemian storm is indeed brewing in Moulin Rouge!, and I, for one, am won over by the vulgar glitter, crass and bombastic melodrama. It’s all in the heart, they say, and baby, this ugly Quasimodo of a musical showcase has all the heart and glitter I can want and more. I’m in love.