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Postmodern and Oriental Elements in 'Moulin Rouge!': Film Analysis

Bachelorarbeit 2007 113 Seiten


Die Arbeit analysiert Baz Luhrmanns Film „Moulin Rouge!“ (2001) vor dem Hintergrund postmoderner und orientalischer Stilmittel in Literatur und Film. Moulin Rouge! ist nach Strictly Ballroom (1992) und William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1996) das letzte Werk in Luhrmanns ‚Red Curtain Trilogy‘. Charakterisierend für diese Art des Filmschaffens ist, dass der Fokus auf der Art der Erzählung bzw. der Erzählform liegt, und nicht primär auf ihrem Inhalt. Moulin Rouge! verknüpft Elemente des amerikanischen Musicals der 40er und 50er Jahre mit europäischen Charthits der 1990er und Erzähltechniken aus Bollywood Filmen. Dabei spielt er mit postmodernen und poststrukturalistischen Phänomenen wie Intertextualität, mehreren Erzählebenen sowie der Selbstreflexivität der Figuren als auch der Geschichte. Der Film ist laut, bunt und hektisch. Kitsch oder Kunst oder beides - das bleibt eine Frage des Geschmacks.


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Orientalism
2.1 From Oriental Studies to Orientalism
2.2 Orientalism in English Literature
2.3 Orientalism in Film
2.4 Preliminary Conclusion

3 Bollywood – the Hollywood of the East?
3.1 History of Bollywood Cinema
3.2 The Bollywood Aesthetics
3.3. Preliminary Conclusion

4 Postmodernism
4.1 A Short Note on Postmodernism
4.2 Postmodernism in Film
4.3 Preliminary Conclusion

5 Film Analysis ofMoulin Rouge!
5.1 Postmodern Elements inMoulin Rouge!
5.1.1 The Many Faces ofMoulin Rouge!
5.1.2 The Theatricalized Cinema Style
5.1.3 Essential Postmodernism: Imitation, Intertextuality and Self-reflexivity
5.2 Orientalism inMoulin Rouge!
5.2.1 Orientalism and the Bohemian Revolution
5.2.2 The Bollywood Style

6 Conclusion

Works Cited


1 Introduction

"The show will be a magnificent, opulent, tremendous, stupendous, gargantuan, bedazzlement! A sensual ravishment. It will be Spectacular, Spectacular."[1](Moulin Rouge 12) Zidler is right. That is whatMoulin Rouge!is – spectacular. Zidler (the impresario of the Moulin Rouge) tries to sell the bohemian play 'Spectacular, Spectacular', which Toulouse and Christian present to the Duke. However,Moulin Rouge!is 'Spectacular, Spectacular' and vice versa. The Duke is the maharajah, Christian is the penniless sitar player and Satine is the beautiful courtesan. Baz Luhrmann'sMoulin Rouge!(2001) is loud, colorful, fast, postmodern, a melodrama and a musical, and it is about love. Opinions are much divided over this film and many critics wonder if it is just bad taste and kitsch or an ingenious piece of filmic art. In other words, it is an original Baz Luhrmann.

Until today, the Australian director has made three movies, which are interconnected as he calls them the 'Red Curtain Trilogy'. He started it withStrictly Ballroomin 1992, which was followed byWilliam Shakespeare'sRomeo + Julietin 1996 and which was completed withMoulin Rouge!in 2001. Baz Luhrmann calls his way of filmmaking "a theatricalized cinema style" (Luhrmann 9). Luhrmann definitely is a unique and versatile character himself. However, ifMoulin Rouge!belongs to the category of art or trash remains a matter of opinion. Luhrmann himself disassociates from any categorization in the sense of low culture and high art, taking into account that back in time Shakespeare was also considered as popular culture in the same way as operas were the lowest form of culture at their peak times. He counters his critics and their objections that "die Story ist dünn und simpel", with, "Doch gerade das ist eine Konvention des Musicals, aber auch der Oper, mit Ausnahme von Wagner. Aber eigentlich zieht auch Wagner nur einen dünnen Plot in die Länge." (Bühler). The other often expressed criticism that his latest work was "a direct assault on eyes, ears, and expectations" (Abele), and hard to exceed in terms of kitsch, he only retorts with the credo that, "Persönlicher Geschmack ist der Feind der Kunst."[2](Bühler).

Moulin Rouge!is a mélange of film, music and dance. Set in 1899 but somewhat ‘furnished’ with contemporary music, it is a work of extremes. Everything in this film seems to be screaming 'Anything goes!'. Nevertheless, Luhrmann follows a certain concept. Nothing in this film happens accidentally - it is all part of the director’s distinctive style. Luhrmann's 'Red Curtain Trilogy' comprises several distinct storytelling choices. He uses a rather simple story, based on a well-known myth, which inMoulin Rouge!is the myth of Orpheus. Luhrmann wants the audience to know from the very beginning how the story will end, and by using a simple play-within-the play, Luhrmann manages to capture the audience's attention. He sets the story in a man-made world "that is once familiar yet distant and exotic" (Luhrmann 9). Finally, each of his films has its own device, which raises the audience’s awareness of the storyteller's presence and their being conscious of the fact that they are watching a film (cf. Stoppe 19). InMoulin Rouge!music and dance are the two devices that create the effect of an unnatural world. Although this movie sometimes seems chaotic, particularly regarding its widely differing influences of opera, Greek myth, latest film techniques, modern pop music and Bollywood, in the end Baz Luhrmann meets the ravages of time.

After all, Bollywood is en vogue. In 2001, Andrew Lloyds Webber stages his West End and Broadway hitBombay Dreams, the Victoria & Albert Museum opens an exhibition about Hindi Cinema’s visual culture, and Bollywood music as well as Hangar raps enter the charts all over Europe (cf. Stadtler pp. 518). Luhrmann uses the exotic Orient in the form of the relatively unknown – at least to the Western audiences – Bollywood cinema to reinvent the old musical tradition "in a style as iconically heightened as any of the classic musical spectaculars [...] in a form ironic as never before." (Luhrmann 73).

This paper aims at examining the use of the concepts of Orientalism and Postmodernism inMoulin Rouge!and their significance in the larger scale regarding Bollywood as a representative of the East, and Hollywood as the agent of the West. The paper shows that first of all, Luhrmann is in good company when utilizing the Orient for a genre rejuvenation and second, that the use of oriental references inevitably leads to the broader discussion of Orientalism. More precisely, this paper elaborates on the subject of oriental and postmodern elements inMoulin Rouge!.But what is considered oriental or stands for the Orient respectively? Moreover, the question comes up as to what Luhrmann's motivation was to give his film an oriental look. The answer to the first question is part of a diverse and complex discussion circling around Edward Said'sOrientalism. Thus, chapter two gives an overview of the development of the term 'Orientalism' and critically explores the subject of using oriental styles in literature and film. The latter aspect also partly covers for the second question, but the essential notion here is Bollywood. Therefore, chapter three provides a history of Bollywood cinema and the basics of Bollywood aesthetics.

Secondly, it is the term of Postmodernism that is always mentioned in the same breath withMoulin Rouge!, which is why this concept will first be outlined very briefly and generally. Secondly, its use in film will be focused on, which provides the basis for the discussion of postmodern elements inMoulin Rouge!.Each of the first three chapters ends with a preliminary conclusion to link those different concepts. The main part is the film analysis with regard to the oriental and postmodern elements in the context of the previous discussions and results. Luhrmann's 'Red Curtain' style serves as a structuring element for the postmodern analysis.

2 Orientalism

2.1 From Oriental Studies to Orientalism

The all-embracing name in the discussion of Orientalism, or rather anything that is related to the Orient, is Edward Said. He is omnipresent in nearly every book or essay that deals with Orientalism or oriental studies after 1978. This is the date when Said's influential and controversial bookOrientalismwas published. This chapter aims at giving an overview of the development of Oriental studies and the term Orientalism before and after Said. This implicitly touches on the period before the term Orientalism became "an academic buzzword" (169), as Heehs calls it in his essayShades of Orientalism. What he alludes to is the negative connotation of Orientalism as "the Other" and the associated imperialistic discussion in postcolonial studies, an aspect which will be addressed in the following text as well.

Oriental studies as a discipline have a long tradition especially in Europe and particularly in Germany (cf. Irwin 153). However, the attempt to commit on a date that marks the beginning of Orientalism turns out to be rather difficult. Some regard Ancient Greece to be the origin of Orientalism. Others in turn have thought of scholars such as Guillame Postel (1510-81) and Edward Pococke (1604-91) or Silvestre de Sacy (1758-1838) as the founding fathers of Orientalism. There are also scholars who do not speak of Orientalism until Bonaparte's invasion of Egypt in 1789 (cf. Irwin pp. 6). The institutionalization of Orientalism proceeded with Sir William Jones - also known as 'Oriental Jones' - who founded theAsiatick Society of Bengalin 1784 (cf. Irwin 122). In the first half of the nineteenth century, other important scholarly associations as for instance the Société Asiatique (1821), theRoyal Asiatic society of Great Britain and Ireland(1824), the American Oriental Society (1842) and theDeutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft(1845) were founded (cf. Gaeffke 67). This was also the time of the establishment of English rule in India and shortly after Napoleon's raid on Egypt, which Said often uses to legitimize his view of Orientalism only in relation to Imperialism. However, many of the scholars among Said's critics continually stress that originally, interest was first and foremost put into Oriental languages mostly with regard to theology or, as Irwin describes it, "Orientalism was founded upon academic drudgery and close attention to philological detail" (Irwin 8).

Moreover, it is important to distinguish between the already described academic Orientalism and Orientalism in arts. Schlegel, for instance, spoke of Indian scholars as "the most cultivated and wisest people of antiquity" (qtd. in Heehs 174). Heehs points out that in arts "the word 'Orientalism' meant the study of literature, language, religion, arts and social life of the East to make the West aware of another culture." (Heehs 174). Novelists and poets saw themselves driven towards the Orient out of curiosity and fascination about the exotic, unknown Eastern wisdom and the aspiration of some sort of a second Renaissance (cf. Gaeffke pp. 67).

In the same way the term 'Orientalism' changed its meaning over time, the notion of the 'Orient' was adapted and expanded with the increasing exploration of the East. Much eighteenth-century literature about the Orient refers to what we today know as the Middle East, whereas in nineteenth-century texts, it also included North Africa, and in the twentieth century Central and Southeast Asia (cf. Lowe 7). However, despite the British rule over India and large parts of the Arabic world, British scholars were not notably engaged in Oriental scholarship for a long time and Germany still held the primacy in this field with names such as the Brothers Grimm, Schlegel, Humboldt and Max Müller (cf. Irwin,Oriental Discourses). Only during World War II, Britain started to show more interest in Arabic, Asian and African languages and culture (cf. Irwin 237). From the 1930’s onwards, Orientalism also reached American universities, which heavily started to recruit European and Arab Orientalists to set up their departments (cf. Irwin 247). The period of decolonization after the end of World War II was the starting point of the transformation of 'Orientalism' as referring to a scholar versed in oriental languages and literature or to an artist playing with oriental styles, into an ideological and political term. The moving spirits were (American) scholars and intellectuals who came from or had been living in the Orient before, as was the case with Edward Said (cf. Macfie 2).

Since the 1970’s, 'Otherness' is starting to become an issue in the discourses about Orientalism. In the course of the growing economic and cultural globalization, ideas of 'self' and 'other', of identity and gender became popular. It seems as if the Orientalism debate awakened a multitude of other related and postcolonial studies. A new concern as to how Western societies have perceived and interpreted oriental societies through imperial expansion was in the air. In the 1980’s, the field of 'cultural discourse studies' emerged from those debates. From that point on, the discussion of 'the Other' entered feminism, black studies and recently also Postmodernism (cf. Turner 3).

After this overview of the historical development of oriental studies, the following paragraph provides a short discussion of Said's argumentation and the critical reactions. Said acknowledges the ordinary meaning of Orientalism as described earlier but also adds two more. First, Orientalism to him is above all a "style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between 'the Orient' and (most of the time) 'the Occident'" (Said 2). Second, it is "a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient." (Said 3) His main concerns are that 'the Orient' was abused and usurped to define it as 'the Other' of Europe and that Orientalism and these Western-dominated presentations have a long history in Europe. Thus, the Orient only exists as a social construct, a set of ideas that project the Western visions of the East into a concept of an 'imaginative geography'. Moreover, for Said Orientalism is a politically and ideologically driven discourse about the Orient as the 'Other' of Europe that not only comprises politics but also social, cultural and academic life on all levels. (cf. Balfe pp. 78). He heavily draws on Foucault's theory of power, and the relationships among power, knowledge, and discourse to argue that the only aim of Orientalists’ work and writing was to legitimate the domination and exploitation of the East and to establish a regime of knowledge (cf. Krug pp. 28). Said carries his point so far as to inextricably link Orientalism and Imperialism. Irwin summarizes Said's argumentation as follows: "Orientalism is the hegemonic discourse of imperialism that constrains everything written and thought in the West about the Orient and particularly about Islam and the Arabs", and, "[c]haracteristically Orientalism is essentialist, racialist, patronizing and ideologically motivated" (Irwin 3).

Since the publishing ofOrientalism,numerous critics appeared on scene which offered a differing view and which defended an entire scholar field against this compromise. The most popular names among them are Bernhard Lewis, Robert Irwin, Martin Kramer, Lisa Lowe, and John MacKenzie. The following discussion summarizes their major concerns in seven points of criticism. Generally, Said is criticized for his methodological approach, or in the words of Irwin, he was caught in "a labyrinth of false turns,trompe-l'oeilperspectives and cul-de-sacs (Irwin 4, italics in original). They blamed him for drawing conclusions from eighteenth and nineteenth century texts in order to explain current social and political developments that had primarily taken place in the Arabic world. Within this point, reproval is inscribed on at least two levels. Firstly, by trying to explain away Said’s assault on Orientalism as "a personal sense of loss and national disintegration", A.L. Mcafie criticizes the politicization of a literary criticism, thus connecting Said's assault on Orientalism to his own biography (Macfie 3). The other implicit reproach is the stereotypical depiction of more than three hundred years of Orientalism. According to Said, academic Orientalists, explorers and novelists participated in a common Orientalist discourse (cf. Irwin pp. 281). Thus, Said also sees no necessity to distinguish between Orientalism in arts and Orientalism as an academic discipline. Kramer quotes a critic who counters this point of view:

Who, after all, had ever thought that Lamartine and Olivia Manning, Chateaubriand and Byron, Carlyle, Camus, Voltaire, Gertrude Bell, the anonymous composers of El Cid and the Chanson de Roland, Arabists like Gibb, colonial rulers such as Cromer and Balfour, sundry quasi-literary figures like Edward Lane, scholars of Sufism like Massignon, Henry Kissinger — all belonged in the same archive and composed a deeply unified discursive formation!

Therefore, a main argument is that the same way Said accuses the West of a monolithic and stereotypical view of the East, he constructs a similar perception of the West, which implicitly is a form of Occidentalism (cf. MacKenzie pp. xvii). Lowe also rejects "a totalizing framework that would grant such authority to Orientalism" (x) that heavily reduces this discourse. Said should have been aware of the fact that Orientalism in serious scholarship and popular culture is not conveyed similarly. The portrayals of the Orient in films, for instance, differ from those in literature and can not be compared to Oriental studies of scholars (cf. Irwin pp. 8). Therefore, reductionism is the most predominant accusation towards Said. He reduces the Orient to the Arab world excluding North Africa and Asia, the Occident to France and England and Orientalism to Imperialism (cf. Irwin 5). Krug adds that Said ignores the historical context of Europe in the early nineteenth century where 'the Others' for England, for instance, were France, Ireland, or Jews and not only 'the Orient' (cf. Krug 30). Heehs and Kramer note that Said neglects the fact that German scholars, who did not possess an Eastern Empire, dominated Oriental studies in the 19th century. Also, Said disregards the fundamental differences of opinion amongst Western scholars regarding the Orient. In his bookFor the Lust of Knowing,Irwin presents the work of the most important Orientalists that Said failed to acknowledge, but also concedes that figures like Ernst Renan and Jospeh-Arthur de Gobineau were racist. Finally, as already mentioned in the very beginning of this chapter, Orientalists blame Edward Said for the stigmatization of an entire scholarly field. Bernhard Lewis complains that "Orientalism has been emptied of its previous content and given an entirely new one – that of unsympathetic or hostile treatment of Oriental peoples". For a more balanced view on this topic, it is important to note that Lewis is also accused of political reductionism and of over-generalizing the debate (cf. Bahmad 56).

At least most critics agree on the stimulating effect ofOrientalismon postcolonial studies and the influence it has had on many other fields such as Poststructuralism, Discourse Theory and Postmodernism (cf. MacKenzie xii). Particularly with respect to the ongoing discussion about globalization as 'westernization', it offers a necessary impulse for reflection and consideration. Many critics have also come to the understanding that Orientalism was always a source of inspiration for Western arts that was avowedly manipulated and reinterpreted, which produced stereotypes and which had its racial twists (cf. MacKenzie 203). Therefore, the following chapter gives a short overview of Orientalism in literature and film, of how it was used and particularly why the Orient was so popular for such a long period of time.

2.2 Orientalism in English Literature

The overview of Orientalism in literature and theatre is limited to British literature with a focus on nineteenth-century melodrama (cf. Krug). The use of oriental motifs and stage settings has been very prominent at that time in England whereas during that period and according to Mayer, the American melodrama only offers a few examples that draw on oriental images (21). The focus on nineteenth century texts also originates fromMoulin Rouge!being set in the nineteenth century and alluding to coeval theatre practices.

When Said attacks Orientalism, he often refers to the depiction of the East in literature and film. "The Orient", Said writes, "was almost a European invention, and had been since antiquity a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences." (qtd. in Bernstein 2) From early on the Orient had much to offer for writers who where looking for new ideas and inspiration. For them, everything was different from what they knew from their own traditions and conventions. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, writers got bored from contemporary literature at that time and were looking for rejuvenation, which they found in Orientalism. The Orient was admired for its "imaginative power, its characters, vegetation and fabrics" (Mac Kenzie 184). As early as in the 17th century, Horace Walpole admitted, "Read Sinbad and you will be quite sick of Aeneas." (IrwinOriental Discourses) Jones was of the same opinion and found more leisure in readingThe Thousand and One Nightsthan in reading the Classics - and he was not the only one. Addison, Coleridge, Tennyson and Proust read and were influenced by oriental literature (Irwin Oriental Discourses). According to the Norton Anthology of Literature, Orientalism in English literature started with the earliest translations ofThe Thousand and One Nightsfrom French into English (Grub Street translations). The most popular translations were made by Edward Lane in 1840, and Richard Burton in 1885. Lane was a linguist and anthropologist who regarded theNightsas an ethnographic text full of encyclopaedic information concerning Middle Eastern popular culture, whereas up to this day, Burton's translation is the main source for the erotic imagery associated with the Orient, which also caused a huge scandal in Victorian England (cf. Balfe 79 and Nishio 156). Both translations are criticized for not corresponding to an 'Oriental' reality but for freely enriching their translations with their own images and fantasies about the Orient (cf. Marzolph 5). Thus the so-called ‘Oriental Tale’, of which Samuel Johnson'sHistory of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssina(1759) is a good example, became popular in England. Romantic Orientalism produced various important works, among them poems, novels, pantomimes or melodramas with recognizable elements of Asian and African place names or historical and legendary people in them. As some of the most prominent examples, the dream of "an Arab of the Bedouin Tribes" in book 5 of Wordsworth'sPrelude,a tempting affair with an Indian maiden in Keats'sEndymionor Saife, and an Arab maiden in Mary Shelley'sFrankensteincome to mind (cf. The Norton).

Another rich source for Orientalism was the extensive travel literature at that time, for instanceThe Turkish Embassy Lettersfrom British writer Lady Mary Montagu, or Jonathan Swifts'Gulliver's Travel(cf. Lowe pp. 34). The depiction of the Orient in all these writings in the eighteenth and nineteenth century was extremely heterogeneous and obviously always influenced by its time. The entrancing portrayals by many female writers travelling around the Orient often differ from popular depictions of an uncivilized and exotic Orient that were used to point at the putative, stable and powerful West (cf. Lowe 31). However, the question remains if this process only served to separate the English 'Self' from the Oriental 'Other' or whether the Orient was used as a stage, a free zone to evacuate the social or political issues of the time.

For example, one of the earliest successful melodramas with oriental motifs and "with entire new Dresses, Scenes, Machinery and Decorations" (qtd. in Krug 39), was Frederick Reynolds'The Crusade(1790). The transformation of the plot in the Orient enabled the indirect examination of the sensitive topic of French Revolution and it offered new perspectives with regard to scenery, costumes and props. Hannah CowleysA Day in Turkey; or The Russion Slaves(1791) is also a discussion of the French revolutionary society and alleviated by an Oriental wrapping (cf. Krug 48 and 160). In 1798, George Colemans'Blue Beard; or, Female Curiosity!,became one of the most successful melodrama of the time. The story was well known by the audience - only the relocation of the story in the Orient was a novelty (cf. Krug pp. 83). In the early nineteenth century, theater had a notable Orientalist touch with productions such as (again)Blue Beard,Timour the TartraandHarlequin and Pamanabe(cf. MacKenzie 183). Still, the Orient functioned as a space for political comment about the situation at home. For instance,Sinbad the Sailor(1833) serves as both projection and promotion of the new mercantile social class where courage, industry and commerce become the central virtues. The hitch was to parody 'the Self' through the portrayal of 'the Other' with the liberation from existing conventions including sexual conventions. Oskar Wilde, for instance, uses the archetype of Salomé in his one-act playSalomé(1876) written for Sarah Bernardt to explore the erotic constraints of those times. When he depicts Salomé as a Femme Fatale, he serves a male fantasy of women with a deadly power (cf. Grimm 8). There is no doubt that with the establishment of British rule in India and the ongoing colonization, British writing was influenced by the colonial idea and the image of the superior West versus the inferior East. Said consults Joseph Conrad’sHeart of Darkness(1902) to highlight the imperialistic discourse dominating English literature at that time (cf. Said pp. 200). On the other hand, many writers were primarily fascinated by the extravagance of events, characters, behavioral patterns, the emotions displayed and the escape the Orient offered the English from their everyday reality. Theaters were able to build stunning new set design, and plants and animals were both used to convey novelty and to create a new exotic fantasy world (cf. MacKenzie 181).

Back then, Orientalism never failed to fascinate writers and readers, playwrights and audiences alike - and it still does, as Baz Luhrmann’sMoulin Rouge!proves. In 2001, Frances Sheridan'sHistory of Nourjahad,William Beckford'sVathekand Byron'sGiaourwere published asThree Oriental Talesand featured an introduction by Alan Richardson who emphasized the "use of ‘Oriental' motifs to criticize European social arrangements" (qtd. in The Norton). John Barth takes up the story ofScheherazadefor hisDunyazadiadinChimera(1972) and in the preface toThe Arabian Nights and Orientalism, Irwin points out the eroticism and fantasy in Nabokovs'Ada(1969) (cf. Irwin Preface x). Although there are little undiscovered spots left on earth, and although in our global world, everything seems to be just around the corner, the Orient still seems to be holding an unbroken fascination to authors all over the Western world.

2.3 Orientalism in Film

Oriental motifs and settings have occurred in films virtually from the beginning of filmmaking. From 1910 onwards, each year several films were produced as action dramas with a North African setting. In 1917/18, films likeAladdin andHis LamporAli Babaand the Forty Thievesand the first screen adaption ofKismet(1920) were very popular. They all represented the East as the conventional construction, Said points out (cf. Bernstein 3). According to him, the films of that period were looking for the sensational as well as spectacular and exotic feature that would attract audiences. This urge for exploring new sets, new plots, and new characters often came at the expense of 'the Other'. Most films express the 'imaginative geography' Said refers to. In contrast to the discussion of Orientalism in literature, cultural critics and theorists take up Said’s paradigm for the representation of race, identity and gender in film. They acknowledge Orientalism in film as often being an expression of colonialist and imperialist ideas (cf. Bernstein pp. 1). Ella Shohat stresses the discovery and explorative perspective of films likeLawrence of Arabia(1962), theAdventures of Robinson Crusoe(1954) or theIndiana Jonesseries, where the natives are presented as passive, uncivilized and primitive (cf. ShohatGender27). Also the sexualization of the Orient, the fostering of rape and rescue fantasies as well as the image of the black or Arab woman driven by her libido were abundantly used, for instance inThe Sheik(1921) andThe Birth of a Nation(1915) (cf. Shohat Gender pp. 41). However, just like in literature the Orient is used as a space for comment on conflicts back home. InThe Sheikthe debate about women’s rights and Western women rebelling, changing the dress-code and demanding the vote are transferred to the Sahara desert. In the end, the female protagonist has to learn that it is advising to be an obedient woman when the Western hero finally rescues her from the Oriental savage man (cf. Shohat Between pp. 223). In the prude America of the first half of the twentieth century, the Orient was also used for a more revealing depiction of nakedness than it seemed fit in those times, as for instance in Vincent Mineli'sKismet(1955) (cf. ShohatBetween222). Dance plays a crucial role in Hollywood's visualization of the Orient and its unreleased sexual desires (cf. Studlar 105). In the 1940’s and 1950’s, Jack Cole and his "coupling of 'accurately observed' oriental, Indian, and African-American dance movements to jazz music" (McLean 131) played a key role during the peak time of the Hollywood musical that created film stars such as Jack Lemmon, Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe.

2.4 Preliminary Conclusion

The previous presentation of the development of the term Orientalism with regard to its academic use and its meaning in arts strikingly demonstrated the inherent complexity of the debate. There always seems to be a 'but' to any argument, and from every party. Said's critics accuse him of dangerous reductionism, which is why they actually have been enforcing these antipodes and its associated prejudices instead of resolving the concept of 'the Orient' and 'the Occident'. On the other hand, it becomes obvious that Said's argumentation gains ground in many representations of the Orient in literature, and most notably in film. It is what he calls 'latent Orientalism’, which means the unconscious, untouchable certainty of how the Orient is supposed to be: eccentric, backward, feminine and powerless (cf. Said 206). Therefore, the argument that the Orient functions as a projection screen for the discussion of Western morals and conflicts also rings true. InOrientalismSaid even observes that "Orientalism responded more to the culture that produced it than to its putative object, which was also produced by the West" (Said 22). The problem is the politicization of this literary criticism and the subliminal Occidentalism in his work when he says: "My contention is that Orientalism is fundamentally a political doctrine willed over the Orient because the Orient was weaker than the West..." (Said 204). In continually depicting the Orient as the dominated part, Said himself assigns the Orient a passive role without attempting to search for counter examples. Lewis concludes: "The tragedy of Mr. Said'sOrientalismis that it takes a genuine problem of real importance and reduces it to the level of political polemic and personal abuse" (Lewis). Amongst the critics of his theory are many who are actually praised by Said in his book. The French scholar Jacques Berque for example announced that Said had "done quite a disservice to his countrymen in allowing them to believe in a Western intelligence coalition against them." (qtd. in Kramer). Similar to Krug in his bookDas Eigene im Fremden,in this paper Said'sOrientalismis primarily applied as setting and as inspiration for haunting imagery, colorful costumes, and props as it was already common practice in the nineteenth century (cf. Krug 31). Moulin Rouge!heavily draws on oriental imagery - and moreover, is produced with the idea of Bollywood at the back of Luhrmann's mind, an aspect which will be focused on in the following chapter.

3 Bollywood – the Hollywood of the East?

3.1 History of Bollywood Cinema

Before Bollywood'sLagaan(2001) was entered as a contestant for the Oscars in the foreign film category, or before Baz Luhrmann declared his debt to Bollywood's spectacular musicality in the making of the filmMoulin Rouge!(2001), or before Andrew Lloyd Webber deployed Bollywood's camivalesque musicality in hisBombay Dreams(2002), Bollywood was a relatively unknown quantity in the west. (Bhattacharya 161)

In the beginning, the term 'Bollywood' as a synonym for Hindi/Urdu cinema had a pejorative connotation as it implied that Bollywood simply was an Eastern copy of Hollywood. In the meantime it has become a term that stands for Indian popular culture all over the world. 'Bollywood' actually derives from 'Hollywood' and 'Bombay' (which was renamed Mumbai in 1995), however, the tradition of Indian film is as old as that of Hollywood and can in no way be considered second-rate or inferior. Quite the contrary, and that also because Bollywood produces far more movies per year than Hollywood does (cf. Stadtler 517, Dawson 174). Many sources give production numbers of nine hundred to one thousand films a year (cf. Follath 131, Shedde 25). This, however, only accounts for films produced in Bollywood together with films produced in Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu. Bollywood, which is the name for Indian commercial films in Hindi - the lingua franca of India - account for one-forth of Indian cinema. (cf. Mishra 1; Follath 131). However, since the invention of sound film in India, Hollywood has been stuck with a market share of under five percent (cf. Knörer). Indian cinema has its origins in Sanskrit theatre, Urdu-Parsi theatre and folk theatre, which were similarly kept together with a number of songs. (cf. Nelmes 346). Shedde even traces it back to Bharata's classic treatise on theater, theNatyashastra(second century B.C.), which called for dramatic action, joy and comic, folk music, song and dance, as well as conflict and a happy ending (cf. Shedde 25).

In 1896, the Lumière brothers' filmArrival of a Trainwas shown in Mumbai and from then on, the first films, mostly documentaries, were produced. The early films partly consisted of filmed theater in the Bhangwadi tradition, thus emphasizing an interactive relationship with the audience. Film soon became a popular medium for everybody across any strata of caste and class (cf. Shedde pp. 25). Soon the British occupying force realized the influence film had on the public opinion about nationalism, social reforms and war. In 1918, the British government introduced film censorship for two reasons. First, they wanted to use the cinema as an organ for British propaganda and introduce India to British high culture in form of Shakespeare. Second, they wanted to protect the Indians from the immorality in American films that dominated Indian cinema at that time, which eventually lead to the well known 'kissing ban' that is still in effect today. Probably, the underlying intention was to somewhat ‘squeeze out’ Indian and American films to give way for British leadership (cf. Baskaran; Alexowitz pp. 45). From the thirties on they tightened film censorship particularly with regard to Indian princes, communist ideas and Gandhi. Consequently, Indian filmmakers had to switch to more shallow topics. The tradition of escapist cinema, which has been since the dominant form of Bollywood films, was born.

The first Indian sound filmAlam Ara(1931) with its seven songs already set the standard for popular cinema. (cf. Nelmes 346). Due to Indian theater tradition and language barriers, Bollywood films have always been musicals. The 50’s and 60’s are regarded as the golden era of Bollywood and the beginning of the multi-genre film. It was also the time of up-coming art house or 'parallel' cinema and its dissociation from mainstream 'Bollywood' cinema. Classic post-independence films such asMother India(1957) figured as allegorical references to India's struggle for self-reliance through modernization (cf. Sharpe 60). In the 60’s, Bollywood went global long before the West was talking about globalization. Eversince Indian independence, Indian films have made their way to the former Soviet Union, Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Fiji, the Middle East and Oceania (cf. Nelmes 339; Bhattacharya 162). It became a cultural phenomenon due to millions of NRI (Non-resident Indians) Diaspora all over the world (cf. Athique pp. 124; Dawson pp. 163). Meanwhile, the separation of commercial and art house cinema continued throughout the 70’s and culminated in the purely political and realistic depiction of social problems in 'parallel' cinema and the increasing use of spectacle, emotions and escapism in Bollywood films (cf. Knörer). The 80’s are characterized by a shift to action films an increasing number of trivial films with trash-chic. When in 1985 the trade embargo against America ended, it did not pose any threat to the Indian film distribution but rather inspired and reawakened the local film business (cf. Nelmes 337). Thus, the 90’s marked a turning point for commercially successful films. The increasing number of well-off NRI in the USA and Great Britain and the emerging middle class in prospering Indian cities changed the focus on topics like wealth, fast cars, youth culture, and cosmopolitan lifestyles.

Most of the Bollywood films still circle around family dramas and love relations, but nowadays the song-and-dance sequences are mixed with hip-hop style and Western dance moves in the MTV tradition (cf. Sharpe 60). Globalization establishes themes like migration and displacement in Indian cinema. In this context, Said's Orientalism takes on a complete new form. Indian filmmakers make use of Western styles and even settings – many scenes in Bollywood films are actually shot in Switzerland or Wales – to conquer the Western market (cf. Athique 117; Alexowitz 192). Moreover, Bollywood takes traditional English literature as basis for its film as isBride and Prejudice(2004), and Diaspora filmmakers are directing successful Western films such asEliszabeth,Four Feathers, orBend it like Beckham(cf. Jaikumar 28). In the meantime, Lars von Trier borrows from the Bollywood filmDil Sefor a scene in hisDancers in the Dark, ARTE shows a regular Bollywood special and the most famous entertainment star of the twentieth century is Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan[3](cf. Knörer).

Bollywood films are anything but real. "If Hollywood has techniques that permit its fictional world to appear internally coherent, Indian films are orchestrated by another sensibility of reality" (Jaikumar 27). In terms of Baudrillard, Bollywood is a simulation of a new model India: global, upcoming, prospering, powerful, playing on the chords of capitalism but relying on Indian morals, traditions, and values. The main factor of success is its own distinct style, the Bollywood formula of song, dance, tragic, joy and emotion that mesmerizes its audience. In a country that is still mostly poor, Bollywood films epitomize an escapist fantasy far off every day life reality.

3.2 The Bollywood Aesthetics

The most striking feature in Bollywood films are the lavish song and dance sequences. The music captures the spirit of every Bollywood film and it is even more important than the plot or the characters (cf. Alexowitz 73; Kabir 153). The film stars are not singing themselves; they are "picturazing" the unspoken feelings expressed through the songs (Shedde 26). The actors only move their lips to the voices of playback singers, who together with film music directors and choreographers achieve the same popularity as film stars. Some critics even state that actually the film’s story only functions as decoration to promote the songs. Indeed, the film music is sold prior to the film start and accounts for half of the sold music in total in India (cf. Nelmes pp. 345).

Music is an important and dominant part of Indian culture, where each religion and every ritual has its own compositions. In Bollywood films, however, it is often used to present erotic scenes and therefore the wet-Sari-scene became a typical feature of Bollywood cinema (cf. Kabir pp. 153). Nevertheless, the song and dance sequence is very much a formal device. Indian cinema is a "cinema of interruptions" (Nelmes 337). The song and dance sequences are often extra-diegetic. They deliberately interrupt the narrative and can be compared to interior monologues in novels. Either the lyrics pick up what just happened in order to create space for emotional contemplation, or they refer to what will follow. These sequences often are completely disconnected from the actual story time and space. E.g., the location can switch to Switzerland where the heroine is dancing surrounded by dozens of other dancers, changing outfits seven times within a single song. The film historian Baskaran writes, "The flow of the film would not be affected in the least if song sequences were exercised, wholly or partly." (qtd. in Nelmes 348).

This escapist form of narrative goes back to a traditional Indian literary convention that derives from the two major Sanscrit epics, theMahabharataand theRamayana. Rasa theory, the system of aesthetics in classical Sanskrit – is present in every Bollywood film. Thus, nearly all Bollywood films are multi-genre musical melodramas, confronting their audience with a mixture of love and beauty, comedy, compassion, anger, terror and peace (cf. Shedde pp. 24; Mishra pp. 4). According to Mishra, all popular Hindi films are a literal replay of these master mythological texts of Indian culture. Thus, the plots resemble each other and turn predictability into a vital part of the pleasure of watching Hindi films (cf. Mishra pp. 4). The use of frontality also intensifies the unrealistic impression of Bollywood films. Vitali concludes that frontality is "blocking the spectators’ capacity of one-to-one identification with a character" (Vitali 174).

Another common narrative device in Indian cinema is the interval, which has a crucial function for the narrative structure of a film. Nelmes describes it as a "unique form of cinematic punctuation", that is, "the cornerstone of inventiveness in Indian cinema, a structuring device that inflects our reading of this cinema." (352). Compared to Hollywood cinema, those devices seem inconsistent and exaggerated. Especially the basic artificiality of Bollywood cinema is quite unfamiliar to Western audiences who are used to a more realistic narrative. Most Hollywood musicals and melodramas are characterized by single-stranded narratives and psychologically coherent characters (cf. Knörer; Jaikumar 24).

"The Bollywood aesthetic is so different from Western cinema," Ramchandran points out. "It's purely escapism, to the point where it loses touch with reality. You're here in one place and then somebody walks through the door and you're switched around to somewhere else and there's dancing." (qtd. in Lovgren)

In addition to a different narrative technique, Indian cinema also operates with different forms of camera and sound techniques. On instructions received from the film censorship board in the 1920’s, filmmakers were forced to come up with new techniques to hint at sexual relations between two lovers. The withdrawal-of-the-camera technique became a prominent device in Indian films. The camera withdraws just before the love scene would culminate in a kiss and "the film replaces it with extra-diegetic shots of waterfalls, flowers, thunder, lightning and tropical storms" (Nelmes 354). Whereas in Hollywood, the editing follows the principle of the 'invisible cut' to create the illusion of a continuous narrative, Bollywood cinema excessively uses hard cuts. Blends from the diegetic action to the extra-diegetic dance scenes are far from smooth transition. Fast camera movements and zooms, unfamiliar camera angles, abrupt close-ups and ingenuous crossing the line[4]distinguishes Bollywood cinema from classical Hollywood cinema (cf. Knörer; Bordwell pp. 89). Sound is another distinct feature. In Bollywood, filmmakers never work with unedited sound; all dialogues are synchronized in the studio. Sound design plays an important role and often even diegetic sound is composed and designed ex post - again, this happens without the Western convention of realism but rather features a comical underscore or the sound is sometimes asynchronous and without a recognizable claim for homogeneity (cf. Knörer).

The Bollywood formula comprises the indispensable relationship between drama, music and dance and the actors often directly address the audience and act with exaggerated, sometimes burlesque gestures. It is about love, romance and family drama without any fear of getting too kitsch whenever characters break out in song and dance. Music dominates the form, thus leading to thin plot lines and redundant stories where foolish comic alternates with deepest tragedy (cf. Jaikumar 25; Follath 131). It is not without reason that Bollywood cinema is called the cinema of interruptions and discontinuities (cf. Basu 151). Bollywood films still pose a challenge to Western audiences who are not used to "All that singing! All that feeling! For three hours!?" (Corliss)

3.3. Preliminary Conclusion

In this preliminary conclusion, I shortly relate the discussion about Orientalism to Bollywood cinema in general. The previous chapter showed that Bollywood is not just another Hollywood, but has developed independently. In this context, it is important to link the notion of Edward Lane ofThe Arabian Nights(chapter 2.2) to the depiction of the Indian cinema in order not to equate the rather uncritical ever-smiling Bollywood films with the diverse Indian culture. Bollywood is the perceived India, however, the oriental and postcolonial discussion is always prominent in India, also with respect to Bollywood. Bollywood becomes increasingly present within Western perception. Thus, when globalization for many years has been regarded as "euphemism for Western cultural domination" (Stadtler 517), the increasing influence of South Asian cultures requires rethinking this one-way approach of cultural imperialism. The producer Amit Khanna states, "Die Welt dreht sich jetzt in Richtung Indien, und die ultimative Rache ist, dass wir mit unserer kulturellen Aggression den westlichen Geist erobern." (Follath 131) The nomination ofLagaanfor an Academy Award and the worldwide success ofMonsoon Weddingwhich was awarded the Golden Lion in Venice demonstrates that Bollywood has arrived in our Western world. "(T)his is a golden age for movies. The only problem is, they tend not to be in English." (Sandhu 38) The crux however is that modern Bollywood productions such asKoi Mil Gaya(borrowing formE.T.)andJoggers' Park(half in English) for instance are not sufficiently Indian enough for the Academy Awards. Priya Lal quotes the Film Federation of India that believes that, "Indian movies have to uphold some kind of traditional South Asian essence and meet some ill-defined standard of cultural 'authenticity'". According to Lal the success ofLagaansimply goes back to the presentation of an India,

"that Americans apparently understand or want to see: 19th century villagers clad in the richly colorful ethnic Gujarati costumes twirling and whirling and proving their dauntless spirit in the midst of a romantic rural landscape of drought-stricken deserts."

She explains her enragement with the fact that Bollywood films work with most modern filmmaking techniques and sensibilities, and deal with global themes but obviously only films that fulfill "certain still-pervasive Orientalist fantasies of an imagined, exotic, and premodern Other" become a box office hit in America. In her essay, she also takes up the discussion about cultural imperialism and adds another interesting point: Bollywood as one of the biggest export film industries is also accused of corrupting influence on lifestyles and culture in the importing countries. In Malaysia, for instance, nowadays the broadcasting of Bollywood films has been reduced to once a week from originally once a day. When she refers to Luhrmann’s use of Bollywood music and sensibilities inMoulin Rouge!, she complains that it seems justifiable for Hollywood cinema to deliberately borrow form Bollywood, which in contrast still has to meet some old-fashioned expectations." On the other hand, Hollywood films eke out a marginal existence in India. Sharpe, for instance, refers to the role of the heroine in Bollywood as "iconic function in representing family values that Western decadence and materialism have undermined." (62) A disentanglement in this discussion about Orientalism and Occidentalism seems nearly impossible; in any case it is still a long way to go. Lal encounters this conflict with the following postulation:

India is an idea, not an essence. Hong Kong is bigger than Jackie Chan. The Orient does not exist, and the West was invented. It's time for the world to be defined as more than just the opposite of Hollywood, and time for the lines between the high-art connotations of 'cinema' and the low-art connotations of 'movies' to be destroyed. In short: it's time to move beyond 'world cinema'. (Lal)

4 Postmodernism

4.1 A Short Note on Postmodernism

In virtually every text about postmodernism, the authors dissociate from giving a final definition of the term, which actually is quite a postmodern attitude to have. Similar to the discussion about Orientalism, there are numerous approaches to come to terms with postmodernism (cf. Huyssen 7; Fabe 173). Often the rise of postmodernism is appointed to the end of World War II but as the term ‘postmodern’ has been used in different areas of study to describe similar phenomena, one must differentiate between postmodernism as a period of time, a cultural theory and an aesthetic category (cf. Widmer 1). Postmodernism is everywhere, in literature, philosophy, politics and natural science. The world is seen as an increasingly complex and uncertain place where reality is no longer fixed or determined or encompasses some kind of ‘final truth’. All truth within a postmodern context is relative to one’s own viewpoint – an aspect from which the world becomes a representation of one’s own imagination (cf. Aylesworth).

Sandbothe's attempt of defining the term ‘Postmodernism’ is a process of eliminating the four most popular misunderstandings and clichés. First, postmodernism is not 'anti-modernism' or a strict 'after-modernism' in the sense of a completely different new era. The 'post' rather refers to a new interpretation and exposure to modern ideas. This leads to the second reproval, that postmodernism has no clear concept of modernism and can thus only fail at criticizing it. Modernism and postmodernism, however, developed nearly simultaneously towards the end of the nineteenth century. Postmodernism in this sense is a branch of modernism that emanated from artistic circles in the beginning of the twentieth century, where primacy was given to difference and heterogeneity. The idea was to accept different possible world views, lifestyles and thinking patterns. This again results in the most famous postmodern buzzword, the 'anything goes' attitude. Although postmodernism means to engage with chaotic structures and the distinctive complexity of reality it means not to lose itself in arbitrariness. Hence, a better formula would be to understand Postmodernism as a postulate for the subjectivity and relativity of all knowledge (cf. Kramer). Finally, Sandbothe argues against the reduced perception of Postmodernism as a sole cultural phenomenon. Postmodern thinking is also the prevailing idea in natural science, if we think of chaos theory, or new approaches in cognitive science and biology. Pluralism, individualism and incalculabilities are fundamental terms within these sciences (cf. Sandbothe pp. 41).

The works of Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva and Jean Baudrillard, as well as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault. Jean-Francois Lyotard and Frederic Jameson are milestones of Postmodern Theory (cf. Butler pp. 6). They formed such influential concepts like 'deconstruction' or the 'death of the author', which completely revolutionized the concept of meaning. Simulation, intertextuality, self-reflexivity and meta-fiction are the best known key words in the postmodern world. All literary work is related to other texts and language itself and is thus a product of fragments. Barthes states in his essayTheory of the Textthat every text is full of “unconscious or automatic quotations, given without quotation marks.” (39). He refers to Julia Kristeva's notion of intertextuality in the late 1960’s. She argues that "Any text is constructed of a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another." (66).

Mass media is another key word in this context and its agent is Jean Baudrillard and his provoking statement that "the image has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum" (6), and therefore reality as such has long been dead. There is no escape from these images (simulations) and signs (simulacra) in our mass-media culture. The boundary between the image, or simulation, and reality implodes and creates a world of 'hyper reality' where the distinction between real and unreal becomes impossible. Facts, information and entertainment merge into uniformities as for instance the new concept of infotainment. Baudrillard's pessimistic worldview culminates in the postulation of the refusal of meaning as the only form of resistance possible against the information overload. (cf. Baudrillard pp. 6). In contrast, Niklas Luhmann and his workThe Reality of the Mass Media(2000) would of course add to the discussion about mass media, however, this would definitely go beyond the scope of this paper.

4.2 Postmodernism in Film

This paragraph is meant to be a very short overview as the film analysis ofMoulin Rouge!is very detailed as regards Postmodernism. Postmodernism in the medium film – as part of mass media culture – consequently takes up the above-mentioned keywords. Thus, characteristically a postmodern film reflects a certain awareness of its being a film and of being part of a visual culture (cf. Denzin vii). Moreover, postmodern film is ever-aware of the history of films, film genres and conventions, and of the fact of its producing, rather than representing reality. Typically, earlier film styles or references to television programs are interwoven into postmodern film. Rock songs and other forms of popular culture reappear in recycled form. This is what Lyotard notes as eclecticism being "the degree zero of contemporary general culture" (120). However, the result is often referred to as ‘pastiche’. The term ‘pastiche’ describes the imitation of a peculiar or unique style. In film, it is often used to pay homage to another film style or any other reference. According to Jameson, pastiche in postmodern times only stands for a loss of depth (cf. Jameson pp. 113). Turner on the other hand speaks of the use of simulation but acknowledges it as stylistic means of self-parody and irony (cf. Turner 9). Woody Allen, for instance, is best known for his self-reflexive and parodic way of using the medium film to mirror and imitate life as it is presented in other films (cf. Fabe 176).

4.3 Preliminary Conclusion

In a last preliminary conclusion, I am briefly going to relate the concept of Postmodernism to the discussion about Orientalism and Bollywood. Postmodernism, according to theDictionary of Critical Theory, has become one of the main themes of Poststructuralism and Postcolonial Theory (cf. Macey 306). Said's critique of the monolithic presentation of 'the Orient' perfectly fits the postmodern claim for individuality and heterogeneity. Said - as were many postmodernists - was occupied with a reality that does not exist but is created through signs and symbolism and similarly, the questioning of reality and truth are the key themes of the postmodern condition. Both Baudrillard and Said died in the last few years. The postmodern discussion still goes on. However, after the death of Jean Baudrillard in 2007, the question arose whether "Postmodernism has gone the same way" (Kirby). The Orientalism debate has not been written off; instead, it is yet taking another turn. New approaches in Postcolonial Studies or sociology are more aware of the fact that modernity, postmodernity and globalization "are not simply Western export products" (King qtd. in Saldhana 338). The question is why everybody only speaks of the impact of Western cultures on so-called Third World cultures and not the other way around. Saldahna refers to salsa, sushi and yoga that find way to Western cultures. He questions the simplification of cultural imperialism and asks for a new engagement in the theory and interpretation of 'Occidentalism' (cf. 338). In his speech in Berlin in 2005, the Indian Minister of Finance, Palaniappan Chidambaram, proclaimed that "Amerikanische Jugendliche werden in 20 Jahren glauben, dass sich der Name Hollywood von Bollywood ableitet" (Follath 131). When watchingMoulin Rouge!,this quote seems not so far off from reality.

5 Film Analysis of Moulin Rouge!

5.1 Postmodern Elements in Moulin Rouge!

5.1.1 The Many Faces of Moulin Rouge!

The story is essentially about love. In 1899, the young English penniless writer Christian travels to Paris, the centre of the Bohemian revolution that celebrates truth, beauty, freedom and love. The same night he arrives in Montmartre he is persuaded by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and his Bohemian friends to write their new Bohemian show 'Spectacular Spectacular' which they want to perform at the famous nightclub Moulin Rouge. There he meets Satine, a courtesan and the diamond of the Moulin Rouge and immediately falls in love. Unfortunately, Satine suffers from consumption and is espoused to the Duke, who in return finances the conversion of the Moulin Rouge into a theatre. Satine breaks one of the golden rules of the Moulin Rouge and falls in love with Christian. The play Christian writes dictates and responds to the events of the love triangle between Christian, Satine and the Duke. After several twists, scenes of mistrust and dramatic jealousy, Satine and Christian are united in love, and in the end true love reigns.

Regardless of the plot itself,Moulin Rouge!is a musical and a melodrama largely presented in Bollywood aesthetic. It not only borrows from opera, silent film, MTV music videos and features countless references to films from the 40’s to the 60’s - the whole story is also structured by famous song lyrics of contemporary twentieth century music. Actually, to work with allusions and intertexts is not a new invention, as "practically all of Shakespeare's plots were borrowed." Yet, " [...] in the process of adaptation the borrowed plots became as truly his own as though they had been original products of his imagination." (Fort 36) This also holds true for Baz Luhrmann. Moreover, he carries the allusive form of postmodern narration to its extremes. In exhausting all genres, narrative devices and cinematic techniques, Luhrmann pushes the image of romantic love to such an extreme where it can never last in reality and death remains the only solution in order to preserve this kind of love forever.

The first device of Luhrmann's Red Curtain Cinema is to tell a simple, even naive story based on a well-known myth (cf. Luhrmann 9). The story is as simple as it is familiar: it follows a young man on a journey from his ideal view of love to adulthood. Christian is the Orphean young poet who travels into the underworld, the fin-de-siècle Montmartre, pursuing his ideal love (Satine) and rescuing her from her depraved place with the gift of his song. Due to his own jealousy, he loses his ideal love forever (cf. Luhrmann 76). The myth of Orpheus forms the framework and Henri Murger'sLa Vie de Bohemeand Verdi'sLa Traviataprovide the plot. Since in 1993, Luhrmann directedLa Bohemeat the Sydney Opera House, he is well grounded in these classical themes. Both operas are tragic love stories where a rich young man falls in love with a street girl and in both stories the heroine dies of consumption after the two lovers are reunited (cf. Bennett).


[1]The citation is based on the MLA Handbook. The reference of film quotations refer to scene numbers according to the film protocol in the appendix.

[2] Baz Luhrmann explains further: "Die unbequeme Wahrheit über klassische Statuen ist, dass sie zur Zeit der Griechen in Diskofarben bemalt waren, mit rosa Gesichtern und blauen Lidschatten. Sind die nun geschmacklos oder Kitsch? Das ist rein subjektiv."

[3] This is according to the BCC, which did a worldwide survey in 2005 about the most famous entertainment star of the 20th century (cf.

[4]Continuity problem when violating the 180-degrees rule (cf. Fabe 260; Nelmes 429).


ISBN (Paperback)
570 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Stuttgart
2013 (Juli)
Film Analysis Postmodernism Intertextuality Bollywood Orientalism


Sylvia Krenn wurde 1978 geboren. Nach einem Studium der Betriebswirtschaft und mehrjähriger Tätigkeit in der Versicherungswirtschaft entschied sich die Autorin für ein geisteswissenschaftliches Studium in den Fächern Anglistik und Soziologie, das sie 2007 mit dem Bachelor of Arts abschloss. Während des Studiums beschäftigte sich die Autorin insbesondere mit postmoderner englischer und amerikanischer Literatur. Seit einigen Jahren ist sie als Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin im Bereich der Berufsbildungsforschung tätig.

Titel: Postmodern and Oriental Elements in 'Moulin Rouge!': Film Analysis