Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Van Der Merwe, Ann. “Music, the Musical, and Postmodernism in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge.” Music and the Moving Image 3 (Fall 2010): 31-38.

The complexity of musical meaning in Moulin Rouge demands detailed analysis and a better understanding of how director Baz Luhrmann uses music both literally and figuratively, in order to provide a more well-rounded assessment of the film and its relationship to postmodernism and the Hollywood musical. Luhrmann borrows the complete melody and lyrics of The Sound of Music, but re-orchestrates the accompaniment. In doing so, he relies on listeners’ recognition of this familiar tune to portray Christian as a creative talent. Smells Like Teen Spirit constitutes one of the most daring quotations throughout the entire film. Luhrmann keeps the melody and lyrics intact but endows the quotation with a new contextual meaning, effectively creating a mocking contradiction and parodic simplification of the original’s more complex meaning. Luhrmann’s borrowing of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend is specially tailored for the leading lady, Satine, and invites comparison to Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Both Satine and Lorelei are beautiful entertainers who depend on their beauty and sexuality to manipulate men, but Satine aspires to be a true actress instead of a prostitute-like figure, so Luhrmann turns the original show-within-a-show production to an entire production based on Satine’s number. Other modifications include changing the original lyrics and singing them more slowly and intentionally than Lorelei’s version. Luhrmann’s borrowing of Elton John’s Your Song once again defines Christian as a man with creative musical talents, as he successfully wins the heart of Satine when he began setting the lyrics to music. It also represents a communicative channel for Christian as he is able to express his thoughts and emotions more clearly using music. Luhrmann’s exaggerated staging of Like a Virgin offers comic relief, and Christian’s musical genius is contrasted with the lack of singing lines on the Duke’s part.

Works: Baz Luhrmann: Moulin Rouge (31-37).

Sources: Rodgers and Hammerstein: The Sound of Music (32-33); Kurt Cobain: Smells Like Teen Spirit (33-34); Jule Styne and Leo Robin: Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend (34-35); Elton John: Your Song (35); Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly: Like a Virgin (35-36); Gordon Matthew Sumner: El Tango de Roxanne (36-37).

Index Classifications: 2000s, Film

Contributed by: Jingyi Zhang

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